Every component of your email marketing campaign matters, so taking any of them for granted is guaranteed to hurt your campaign’s results. Nonetheless, some components of your email marketing campaigns get a lot more attention than others.
Many marketers take years to master the art of email copy. Others focus on analytics, painstakingly working toward finding the best possible day and time to send their message for maximum opens.
While there’s no doubt that these elements are important factors, don’t forget about the one that will make your message’s initial impression: The email header.
What is an email header?
In terms of content, there are two main components of any email message. There’s the actual body of the message itself, often where the sender puts the bulk of their communication and effort, and there’s the email header, the portion above the body of the email.
The header includes:
- The Sender
- The Recipient
- The Date
- The Subject
- The Server Responsible for the Transmission
- Image (Optional)
Every email program will allow you to see the entire email header, but most primarily show the subject line, sender, and send date by default.
Legal requirements for your email headers
There are certain legal requirements you must follow with your email headers. In the U.S., there’s the CAN-SPAM act. In the United Kingdom, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003 outline the laws regarding email headers. CASL laws in Canada do the same. Almost every country has their own version of these types of legal requirements.
Fortunately, they stipulate the same thing when it comes to what is an email header: You can’t include any false or misleading information. Scammers often do this to trick recipients into opening up their emails, but it can tempt otherwise legitimate marketers to bend the rules for those all-important opens.
It’s perfectly fine to get creative, but if you are actively deceiving your email list, you could find yourself in trouble.
How email headers produce better open rates and engagement
Without a doubt, the best possible way your header can contribute to greater open rates—and, thus, engagement—is through the subject line. After all, if your subject line doesn’t convince the recipient to open the email, the rest of it won’t matter.
Here are some simple rules for successful subject lines that will lead to more of your emails getting opened.
Most importantly, use A/B testing to get a sense for what resonates with your audience. By sending out two identical emails that have different subject lines on the same day and time, open rates will show you which subject line makes your recipients more likely to open your emails.
The more emails get opened, the better your engagement will be. However, good subject lines can also prime readers for conversion, too. Give them something to get excited about in the subject line, follow it up with similar copy, and your CTA will have a much better click-through rate.
That being said, you can also improve engagement by adding an image to your header.
Here’s an example from Camellia by Brooklyn Botany:
Image source: Stripo
The company is still relatively young, so putting their name and logo in the header reminds the recipient who’s sending the email and why they’ll enjoy reading the rest of it.
Adidas takes things a step further. Their email header not only includes a nice piece of branding copy, it also offers the recipient the option to go straight to their site. Engagement doesn’t get much better than that.
Image source: Stripo
4 examples of successful email headers
Email headers generally don’t get as much attention as the body of the message, the time you schedule it, segmentation, and other factors that determine if your campaign is a successful one.
However, here are three examples of companies that clearly understand that their email headers can lead to increased open rates and improved engagement.
1. Birchbox uses a header image to promote its loyalty program
Birchbox does several smart things with their header in the email below.
To begin, they incorporate an emoji in their subject line. At the moment, emojis in subject lines are still enough of a novelty that they’re attention getters. In the near future, they may become as commonplace as letters and numbers but for now, they’re a surefire way to ensure a second glance.
The other element of Birchbox’s header to emulate is the information provided in the subject line. Recipients are immediately incentivized to open the message as its value is clearly spelled out: “TWO Birchboxes for $10 Inside.” That’s two numbers in one subject line that’s well within the aforementioned limit for characters.
While you want to be careful using all caps in your subject lines, Birchbox only capitalizes one word, not the entire subject line. In this example, they’re using all caps to draw attention to a two-for-one deal, emphasizing what it is that makes their offer so special.
Image source: Campaign Monitor
But by far, the real standout in this email header, though, is the image the company used in the space separating the header from the main body of the email. Unlike other features of the email header, the image is optional since it isn’t required by law.
But we’d recommend including an image since it’s one more opportunity to add information, convert your prospects, improve customer loyalty, or accomplish whatever goal you have for your company and your email marketing campaign. Otherwise, you leave a highly-visible portion of your email as blank, unused space.
In this case, Birchbox uses their header image to inform their subscribers about their status within the company’s loyalty program, ensuring the customer knows where they stand. If they have a lot of points, this email could suggest beneficial ways to capitalize on that value. If the person only has a few points, like in this example, the email could suggest ways to build up more or reasons why they even should.
The header image can prep your reader for the content in your email and motivate them to convert.
2. AFAR uses a preheader to promote their site
Experiential travel magazine, AFAR, has a lot of information they want to communicate in just one email, so they opted to use a preheader, the area between the subject line and the actual header image.
First, the subscriber sees text referring to the article they’re promoting below. It’s short and sweet but gets the point across, hopefully striking a chord with the subscriber and making them want to read more.
Second, AFAR makes it easy for their subscribers to share their articles, helping the company reach a new audience that might not already be aware of their publication.
Third, the header provides options for exploring the rest of AFAR’s site. If a message’s recipient is interested in other features of the magazine, they’re just a click away.
Image source: Campaign Monitor
Also, this email features a fantastic subject line: It’s specific (train travel is fairly niche) and promises to reveal a secret (“unexpected benefit”), triggering FOMO and encouraging readers to open the daily email.
3. Uberflip gets right to the point with an eye-catching image
While the body of your email usually succeeds or fails based on the copy you choose, that doesn’t mean you need a ton of words in your header image. As we’ve already seen, more words can lead to a more engaging email, but a large image can be equally effective in many cases, too.
Image source: bizzabo
Uberflip sent out the above email to advertise Conex, their content experience conference. If you operate within this world, the author of the best-selling book Vlog Like a Boss, Amy Landino, probably needs no introduction. Seeing her face in the large image that precedes the message would prime subscribers to be pretty excited about the rest of the message, even without a lot of copy.
4. Nintendo makes it impossible to stop reading
Speaking of eye-catching, it doesn’t get more vibrant—and thus impossible to ignore—than this header image from Nintendo:
Source: media co-schedule
As you can see, it’s actually a gif, which effectively sets the tone for what’s to come in the rest of the email.
The email is promoting Nintendo Labo, which lets users build their own cardboard toys and then “bring them to life” with their Nintendo Switches.
Hence, the tagline in the gif of: “Discover. Make. Play.”
Creating a gif like this will definitely help your email stand out, leading to better engagement and conversions. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to create your own gif than you may think. You can actually use the GIF Maker from GIPHY to create one for free, and then just upload it to your email template’s header.
Now that you know more about email headers and why adding one can be critical to boosting your engagement, don’t take your email headers for granted. While the importance of an email’s subject line is fairly obvious—and really can’t be overstated—marketers all-too-often forget about the rest of the headers’ potential to bring in more opens, click-throughs, and ultimately conversions.
As a result, businesses may spend time and money trying to improve every other factor in their email and still fall far short of their campaign’s potential.
If your email campaign doesn’t quite live up to its potential—and even if your campaigns do really well—you can improve your metrics by optimizing your email header. There are a number of different ways you can customize your email headers to produce higher open rates and encourage engagement, both of which will lead to more recipients clicking on your CTAs.