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How to Write Better Preheader Text in Your Next Email Marketing Campaign

PAM NEELY - AUG 12, 2015

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:

Why is optimizing your preheader text important?

There are a few 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):

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

Typically, 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 draw this text from the first few words of your email campaign.

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 doesn’t need to as prominent in the design of your email campaign. In fact, long preheader text can significantly detract from the core content of your email when viewed on mobile because it can take up anywhere from 5-20% of the screen real estate.

The good news is you can have your cake, and eat it too in this case. Many of our customers are choosing to hide the preheader text in the body of their emails, in order to keep their offers above the fold.

This simple trick can make a big impact on both the readability and design of your email:

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.

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 its 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.

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 its 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,
click the cog at the top of the sidebar, scroll to the bottom of the pane and start editing. Once you’ve got the preheader text dialed in, check the box if you want to hide the text in the email body and hit preview to make sure everything looks exactly like you want it.

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.

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