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This post has been updated as of May 2019

If you’ve been sending emails for a while, you may be looking for something new or different to help your emails stand out. Have you considered changing up your email headers?

Finding examples of email headers for your next campaign

What is an email header?

Headers are easy to forget about, as they’re part of the email templates you regularly use. However, you can make these required pieces more on-brand and more targeted to your subscribers. However, before you can do that, you need to have a solid understanding of what an email header is.

An email consists of two essential pieces:

  1. The email header
  2. The body/email text

The email header consists of all the information about the sender, the recipient, and more:

  • The sender
  • The recipient
  • The date
  • The subject
  • The server responsible for the transmission
  • Image (optional)

examples of excellent email headers

Source: Gmail

How to read an email header

While every email client will allow you to see all the email header information, many tend to hide it in a separate dropdown menu. In Gmail, you can see the small grey arrow that, when clicked, opens the header dropdown. Here, you can see all the information.

Generally speaking, most email headers will show you the sender, subject line, and the send date without having to use the dropdown option.

What makes an email header and preheader text different?

It’s worth noting that an email header and preheader text are two completely different things, although they’re both essential when it comes to the success of your email providing the ROI or conversion rate that you’re looking for.

You saw an example of what an email header was above, so what does email preheader text look like?

Inbox example - Email header examples

Source: Gmail

The preheader text is the material that’s shown after the email subject line before you go to open it. While the preheader text isn’t a requirement, it’s considered valuable real estate in a message.

Understand what’s required by law.

When it comes to email headers, creativity is important, but there are some additions that are required by law.

The anti-spam laws of most countries require the following information to help recipients know they’re opening and interacting with the right email, and to give readers some protection from email senders who may have ulterior and malicious motives.

The information in the header of an email needs to be accurate and not misleading. This means that, when your email lands in someone’s inbox, they know your company sent it, as well as a bit about what’ll be inside it.

  • “From” label – The “From” name should either be the name of your business, or your own name if your subscribers know you by it.
  • Reply-to email address – The reply-to email address needs to be a functioning address and it should connect to you or someone in your company who can answer any questions. Also, the domain in your sending email address needs to be correct.
  • Subject line – This is probably the trickiest one. The subject line must pertain to the content of the email in some way. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your subject line; just don’t try to use it to trick people into opening your email.

If you’re using an email marketing service like Campaign Monitor, the header will be automatically added, and you just need to make sure it’s accurate.

While there are laws that govern some of what’s required in the header of a commercial email, you can still liven things up. Let’s take a look at some fun and useful headers that can inspire you to try something new.

Pros & cons of using email headers and preheader text

As with many other things, there are pros and cons of using email headers and preheader text. Making good use of these areas can help increase key performance indicators (KPIs), such as your open rate and conversion rate. However, some things can lead to you simply wasting your time.

Pros

When properly formatted, both the header and preheader text can help you see an increase in KPIs and conversions, among other things:

  • Entice the reader to click through
  • Give users an incentive
  • Increase open rates
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Increase website views (if you’ve included CTAs that lead to your site)

Cons

While it’s difficult to name too many negative side effects of using headers and preheader text, there are a few. However, they revolve more around how you use them than actually using them.

  • Mistaking the preheader text for the subject line: Repeating your subject link in the preheader text is just sloppy.
  • Adding your unsubscribe link: You need to include a simple way for users to unsubscribe. However, you don’t want to include it in your preheader text. That’s like saying, “Hey, don’t bother reading.”
  • Having a long preheader text: Although you want to make good use of this area of your email header and preheader text, when you make it too long, it gets cut off. If you don’t make good use of the first few words, it can end up being a wasted effort.

It’s also worth noting that, while all email clients show the email header information, not every email client shows preheader text.

How many characters are displayed per email provider? This infographic explains.

Source: Campaign Monitor

5 Examples of excellent email headers

When it comes to email headers, the subject line and preheader are where you can start to have some fun, as long as nothing is deceptive. No matter what you decide to do, be sure to stay on-brand and use your logo, as it helps your subscribers know they’re looking at an email from your brand.

Since there are laws about some of the content in the header, seeing some creative approaches can help you see what’s possible. The following examples are in compliance with anti-spam laws and still shine.

1. Birchbox shares loyalty information.

Birchbox has all the required information in their header. The team also had a little fun with an emoji in the subject line.

Their header image is really creative in that it contains information about their loyalty program. The reader can click to find out more, see how many points they’ve accrued, and also subscribe to their service—all from the top of the email.

Birchbox – Email Marketing – Header Loyalty Information

2. AFAR makes good use of preheader text.

Preheader text remains one of the most under-utilized parts of an email. Preheader text shows up right after the subject line in the inbox and is the first line of text from the email itself. AFAR doesn’t try to hide the preheader text.

Instead, it’s called out by the gray box and is so compelling it helps to lead the reader into the rest of the email. AFAR has also included their social media icons up at the top of their email in an easy-to-find spot.

Afar - Email Marketing – Preheader Text

3. King Arthur Flour includes transactional info.

King Arthur Flour uses their shipping notification email as a way to help their customers find helpful information and ideas. They link directly to recipes and their blog to encourage customers to explore what the brand has to offer while they wait.

King Arthur Flour – Transactional Email Marketing

4. Conde Nast Travels links to their best articles.

Conde Nast Traveler has made it super easy for their readers to get to their articles via email. Above their header image, they’ve included links that go directly to the posts that the team feels will be interesting to subscribers.

Conde Nast Traveler – Email Marketing – Header Image and Links

5. Sublime Stitching keeps it simple.

Sometimes less is more. Sublime Stitching has simple preheader text, and includes their logo and a few links to their website. It’s easy to read and gets the point across without too much clutter. For a brand that has bright embroidery patterns, this makes it more compelling for a reader to dive into the rest of the email.

Sublime Stitching – Email Campaign – Simple Pre-Header Text

Wrap up

While headers may seem basic, they can be optimized to add life to your emails. Keep in compliance with the law, and, if you’re using email marketing software, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Just remember to add your own touch. As with all things in your email, it’s best to A/B test any major changes.

Need help with building your preheader text? Campaign Monitor’s email builder makes it easy! Get started for free today.

This post was originally published in April 2018

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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