Why Use Email Preheader Text? Best Practices To Get Your Open Rate Up

Team MessageFlow
8 min
November 7, 2023

In the super-competitive world of Email marketing, grabbing your audience's attention is a top priority. One of the three crucial first signals that recipients consider when deciding whether to open an Email is the often underestimated preheader text. This feature isn't a space to leave to the recipient's Email client to fill with random copy. Instead, it's an extra chance to address your subscriber directly and entice them to explore what lies within your Email. Let's step into the world of preheaders to better understand the potential they hold for transforming your Email marketing campaigns.

In this article, we’ll address issues such as: 

  • How to use Email preheader

  • When to use Email preheader

  • How to add preheader text to Email

  • Email preheader examples

What is Email preheader text?

Email preheader is a short text that appears next to (on desktop) or underneath (on mobile) the subject line and serves as a sneak-peek into the Email content, usually, but not necessarily, offering a concise preview that entices recipients to open and engage. GMail refers to this preview text as Snippets, while Apple users may recognize it as Preview. These are seemingly only small glimpses buy they can make or break a subscriber's decision to open your Email, so don't underestimate them.

Extracting preheader text

Now, how is a preheader actually generated? Well, most Email clients pull the preheader from the first line of text in your Email. However, the extraction process isn't as straightforward, with some clients pulling it from image ALT text or even <a> tags. This underscores the importance of strategically placing compelling and relevant information in the initial lines of your Email.

The crucial role in open rate

The preheader, being the very first sentence that the Email app displays, serves an essential role in open rates. Its importance is amplified on mobile devices, where an engaging preheader significantly improves the user experience. As mobile Email usage continues to soar, crafting an impactful preheader becomes integral to optimizing your Email marketing strategy.

46% of all Emails are now being open on mobile (source)

Real estate in the digital world

As far as modern Email apps are concerned, the preheader stands out as one of the most exposed spaces – a digital real estate that demands attention. Ignoring its potential impact is like leaving prime real estate completely unattended.

What is ideal preheader length?

Before we move forward, let’s figure out just how much space you have at your disposal, as well as point out some other important factors to consider.

The optimal length

In short, stay crisp. When pondering the length of your preheader, aim somewhere between 35 to 50 character limit, leaning towards the lower limit and making sure your main message stays at the front. Staying concise maximizes visibility and captures your audience's attention effectively.

The complexity of previews

While the concept of an ideal preheader length seems clear enough, it's essential to acknowledge the complexity that can arise. Preview settings can be changed by the recipient, impacting how much of your preheader is visible. Understanding this variability is crucial in adapting your approach to different Email clients and recipient preferences.

The preview landscape varies across Email clients, with iOS showing from none to even 5 lines (around 250-260 characters), while many users will often likely have the default 2 on. GMail on Android shows either no preheader text or a single line (up to about 35 characters).

Navigating this variable terrain requires a flexible approach to designing preheaders. Consider adapting your strategy based on the recipient's Email client to optimize the visibility and impact of your copy.

Why use preview text at all?

Email preview text offers a number of advantages to those willing to spend time to experiment and optimize it. Failing to harness the power of this crucial element proves to be detrimental not only to yourself, but also your subscribers.

Preheader makes the message more mobile-friendly

In today's digital communication, mobile is no longer one of the options but rather the default. Including preheader text aligns with this paradigm, offering a mobile-friendly element that ensures your message is optimized for the on-the-go audience. 

85% of users use smartphones to access Email (source)

Boost Email open rates

One of the biggest benefits of incorporating preheader text is its impact on the open rate. A well-crafted preheader acts as a compelling teaser, enticing recipients to click and explore the full Email content. By strategically leveraging the preheader, you enhance the gateway to your message, increasing the likelihood of capturing your audience's attention and driving higher OR.

Enhance the Email subject line

Subject line and Email preheader work in tandem, supporting and enhancing each other. A carefully written preheader complements the subject line, providing additional context and intrigue. This synergy reinforces the overall message, creating a more compelling narrative that encourages recipients to see more of what's inside your Email.

Connect with the audience quicker

Capturing your audience's attention swiftly among all the digital noise is absolutely key. Preheader text serves as the tool to achieve this goal. It enables you to connect with your audience quickly, delivering a concise yet impactful message. By fostering a rapid connection, preheaders lay the foundation for a deeper and more meaningful engagement with your subscribers.

Effective Email preheader leads to greater engagement

The benefits of preheaders extend beyond the initial open. They play a crucial role in sustaining engagement throughout the subscriber's journey. By providing a glimpse into the Email content, preheaders set expectations and encourage recipients to continue interacting with your message. This sustained engagement is a key factor in nurturing relationships and fostering connections with your audience which, in the long-term, also positively impact the performance of your campaigns.

Email preheader best practices

Getting good at using the preheader text requires a commitment to following certain patterns. The single best practice, a guiding principle to etch into your Email marketing philosophy, is to never let the preheader space go unused. This element is a canvas for creativity, a tool for engagement, and a way to capture your audience's attention. Let's have a look at some specific best practices meant to elevate your preheader game and amplify the impact of your Email campaigns.

Subject line and preheader working in concert

Subject lines and preheaders pair perfectly like coffee and a sunny Sunday morning. They complement each other to create a harmonious experience for your audience. Use the preheader as a tool to add urgency or inject a touch of humor, enriching the narrative initiated by the subject line. This dynamic combination not only captures attention, but also sets the stage for a compelling message that encourages recipients to open and explore.

Optimizing limited desktop space for maximum impact

On a desktop, where the subject line of an Email and preheader are put all into a single line, it becomes crucial to balance out the length of the two elements. A longer subject line means less space for the preheader, and vice versa. This codependency requires strategic decision-making to ensure that your message remains concise yet impactful. Being mindful of this interplay allows you to maximize the limited real estate and craft a preheader that entices without overshadowing the subject line.

Multifaceted approach to Email campaign engagement

The preheader text gives you another golden opportunity to improve engagement, but repetition is your enemy. Email personalization via the preheader will make the message more relevant to the individual recipient. A summary of your Email content will provide a snapshot that sparks curiosity. You can also use your preheader text for a secondary call-to-action, directing recipients toward concrete actions. Highlighting a specific content piece inside the Email or being transparent and honest about your intentions in the preheader can also enhance engagement by setting clear expectations.

Continuous optimization of Email preheaders

The beauty of preheaders lies in their versatility and the ease with which they can be A/B tested. This flexibility opens up a vast realm for improvement. Experiment with different approaches, varying lengths, and content styles to identify what resonates most with your audience. A/B testing empowers you to refine and optimize your preheaders continuously, ensuring that each Email campaign becomes an opportunity for improvement.

💡 Pro tip for adding preheader text

As we've previously mentioned, popular Email clients pull preheader text from the initial lines of your Email copy. Now, if your preheader primarily serves to support the subject line and doesn't add any significant value beyond that role, feel free to consider not displaying it in the Email design. You can achieve this by, for example, matching the font color with the Email background.

This approach ensures a seamless integration of design and content, allowing the subject line to take center stage without redundancy. By judiciously deciding when to show or hide the preheader, you maintain control over the visual presentation of your Email while optimizing the impact of your messaging strategy.

Email preheader examples

Before we wrap up this discussion of preheaders, let's have a quick look at some examples. First, here's a comparison of how no preview vs. the maximum 5 lines of Email body look like on iOS:

email preheader examples


email preheader examples extended

Next up, we have two Emails on a desktop client, combining the use of emoji in the subject with a preheader emphasizing the main offering:

email preheader nike
email preheader ikea

The two previous examples were a bit lenghty, so here are brands going straight to the point:

short email preheader
short email preheader

Finally, we have something to showcase the need to balance the length of your Email subject and preview text, which becomes important on desktop:

email preheader desktop
email preheader desktop example
email preheader tripadvisor

Effective Email preheader text and its role in Email marketing

The preheader text is an Email marketing sleeper, holding the potential to shape the trajectory of your campaigns. From providing a sneak peek into the content of your message to boosting engagement and encouraging your subscribers to open the Email, the preheader is a versatile tool you don’t want to overlook. Approach it with intention, balancing mobile and desktop real estate, and embracing A/B testing to get the most of what it promises. Most importantly, never leave this space unused – it's a canvas waiting for your creative touch.

Now, although a great preheader will improve open rate, there’s more to a successful Email marketing campaign, other contributing factors. That's why working with a well-established Email service provider like MessageFlow can be a move for you to consider. As the best-in-class cross-communication platform, we offer solutions for efficient sending of Push Notifications, SMS, and high-conversion Emails.

Trusted by major brands, and loved by developers and marketers alike, MessageFlow ensures reliable and timely delivery of marketing and transactional communication. Drop us a line at contact@messageflow.com to discuss the details and start delivering your messages across to customers like never before. Let us be your partner in success and grow with the flow!

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