Do you use preheader text in your email marketing campaigns?

In the last five years, email opens on mobile devices have grown over 30%. There are now more emails opened on mobile devices than on desktops.

This shift to mobile has made the use of preheader text an important consideration for any marketer using email to grow sales and revenue.

In this post, we’ll explain what preheader text is, why you should use it and how to write effective preheader text to help your email marketing campaigns get opened and acted upon.

What is preheader text?

A preheader is the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. Many mobile, desktop and web email clients provide them to tip you off on what the email contains before you open it. Here’s an example in Gmail:

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Why is optimizing your preheader text important?

There are many reasons preheader text is an important consideration when creating your email campaigns:

Preheader text is used by subscribers as a prescreening tool

Along with the subject line, the preheader text is the first thing subscribers come into contact with when they receive your email campaign.

It’s these two elements that they use to decide whether or not to open your campaign, and without getting your email opened it’s impossible to get people to click-through and take your desired conversion action (like making a purchase on your website for instance).

Preheader text can be used as subliminal advertising

Some email marketers, like Dela Quist of the UK email agency Alchemy Worx, have claimed subject lines matter whether someone opens your email or not. They believe subject lines serve as a one-line advertisement in the inbox, and that the advertisement in and of itself has value.

The email agency Adestra echoed this sentiment recently in their 2015 Email Subject Line Analysis Report, “Whether or not your email gets opened, people see your subject line. What this means is that a subject line builds your brand in your customer’s inbox. Whether or not it gets opened, it creates a psychological association between your subject line and your brand. Over time, it creates a cognitive association between the language you use, and the perception your customers have about you.”

If that is true of subject lines, it may be true of preheader text, too. If a subscriber can read your subject line, they can at least read the beginning of your preheader text.

How to optimize your preheader text to get your emails opened

Keep it short to ensure proper display across different devices

How much of your preheader or your subject line a subscriber sees depends heavily on which device and email client they use. Even on a desktop, how much preheader text is visible depends on how wide a subscriber has set their browser window.

So how long should your preheader text be?

To give you some guidelines for how to write preheader text for different devices, here are the preheader character counts visible on some of those most popular email clients (Thanks to Litmus):

https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/LitmusPreheaderCharacterCountsFULL.png

Generally speaking, keeping your preheader text to between 40-50 characters should give you a good amount of room to say something meaningful and compelling while still ensuring it gets shown in full on most devices.

Consider how your preheader text will look in your email campaign

Preheader text doesn’t just appear in the inbox next to the email subject line, it appears at the top of your email campaign as well.

This is because email clients actually draw this text from the first few words of your email campaign.

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So when creating your email marketing campaign, you also need to consider how your preheader text will look in your the body of your campaign when combined with all the other elements of your email.

Given that the preheader’s main role is to facilitate getting your email opened, it probably doesn’t need to be made prominent within the design of your campaign.

In fact, Shopify goes as far as making their preheader text the same color as the email background, effectively hiding it from view and ensuring readers focus on the most important parts of their campaign.

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Regardless of whether you choose to make it small and discrete or hide it altogether, there are more important elements in your email campaign that you want your readers to focus on, so make sure the preheader doesn’t distract them from those.

Use it as an extension of your subject line

Given that the preheader text appears next to the email subject line, the two need to work together to tell a cohesive story rather than be thought about as two separate parts of your email campaign.

So when writing your preheader text, think about how it can be used as an extension of your subject line to appeal to people and get them to open the email.

Derek Halpern does a great job of this in the announcement campaign for his latest webinar.

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As you can see, the subject line talks to a very specific audience (people who don’t yet have 1,000 subscribers) and while it makes the email super appealing to those people, it does limit it’s appeal to others.

So he counters this by using the preheader text “Got more than 1000? Open anyway…” to address the other recipients who have more than 1000 subscribers already.

By using the subject line and preheader text together, Halpern makes the email appealing to a wider number of recipients and increases the chance they’ll open the email and click-through.

Include a call to action in your preheader text

A simple but effective way to increase your open rates using the preheader is to simply tell people to open the email.

Master copywriter Joanna Wiebe does a good job of this in her campaign announcing a new blog post she wrote.

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By telling people to ‘Click here’ to see the post, she makes it clear to people what the next step they should take is and increases the chances of them doing so.

The addition of the extra arrows around the call to action also help draw people’s attention to it and increase it’s effectiveness in getting the email opened.

So when writing preheader text for your next email campaign, try including a call to action to make it clear to people they should open your email and increase the chances they’ll do it.

How to add preheader content to your email campaigns

The preheader is a common element of email marketing campaigns, and as a result most email marketing tools will enable you to add it to your campaigns.

If you’re a Campaign Monitor customer using our drag-and-drop email builder, look for the text “Summarize this email” at the top of your email in the builder.

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By simply clicking the text and rewriting it to whatever you desire, you can create preheader text that will help your emails stand out in the inbox and get opened.

Wrap up

Using preheader text in your email marketing campaigns can provide your subscribers more context to what your email is about and encourage more of them to open and take action on your campaigns.

Use the best practices and information in this post to optimize the preheader in your next email campaign and enjoy the improved results it will bring.

Your turn: How do you use preheader text in your email marketing campaigns? Share your experience and best practices with our readers in the comments below.

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  • Tibbs

    Thanks so much for writing this article! I’ve been learning all about preheaders on my own for lack of good information about them, and I came to many of the same conclusions. I appreciate the breakdown of displayed characters by client. The only thing I’d add is that, if you hide your preheaders like Shopify does, it’s a good idea to add some fluff at the end since some clients will display much more than you expect. I usually front-load the good stuff, but then add more at the end to prevent the client from pulling in the copy in the email header area.

  • Thomas

    Really like the “Joanne Wiebe” example. Will put this to use in my next email. Very subtle be so effective.

  • Ted Goas

    Regarding the client support chart, I think more versions of Outlook support it. Outlook 2010 supports it, but the “preview text” option is turned off by default.
    https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Preview-messages-cb601bdc-3a70-401a-955f-73c2ff41cc2d#bm3

  • Georgie

    I’m a big fan of the pre-header, especially the way you can use it to link the subject line to the content and glide the customer into the campaign message. In the past though, using the same colour text as the background was a red flag for spam. Is this no longer the case?

  • Sharon J

    You can legitimately hide the preheader using code, rather than just disguising it with colour.

  • Asad

    I second Sharon J’s comments. Hiding the preheader in your code versus camouflaging the text color makes more sense. You can read more here

    https://gist.github.com/kbav/4126337

  • Niraj

    Excellent article, Kim. Well-written and well-researched. A preheader text that supplements the subject line of an email is a smart way to gain the attention of the recipient. Thanks, Niraj (Founder at grexit.com)

  • Thomas Deneuville

    “Preheader text doesn’t just appear in the inbox next to the email subject line, it appears at the top of your email campaign as well.”

    Not necessarily. It is actually quite easy to hide a preheader in the email campaign itself while still showing in the client preview. But maybe not in Campaign Monitor?

  • Karl

    Having problems editing the preheader text on my templates. I can see it on the preview, but it’s not accessible when I attempt to edit the content.

    What’s really bad about it, it’s old preheader text that is no longer relevant, so I can’t send my campaign :(

  • Campaign Monitor

    Hi Karl.

    Sorry to hear you are having trouble with the preheader text in your campaign.

    We’d be happy to take a look for you and see what we can work out. If you can send an email to support@campaignmonitor.com we can jump into your campaign and see what we can do.

    We look forward to hearing from you!

  • Kim

    Hi Thomas! Great question. If you are using one of our mobile-friendly, pre-designed templates, hiding the preheader is not possible – we show it as subtle grey text in the template which can be changed and customized for each campaign you send.

    However, if you have some coding skills, then you can “hide” the preheader.

    I hope this helps and if you need any assistance, feel free to reach out to our awesome Support team.

  • Thomas Deneuville

    Thank you, Kim. I’m actually not a Campaign Monitor user, even though I’m interested the tool. Good to know that one can’t hide the preheader in a pre-designed mobile-friendly template. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Tibo

    Hi, thanks for the article, it is great !
    About hidden pre-header, is there a way to display the preheader on desktop and hide it on smartphone ?

    Thank you !

  • Barnaby Wheller

    Great overview of preheader use, thanks.

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