Email Preheader Best Practices

Updated February 2018

When it comes deciding whether or not to open an email, the subject line and sender name are pivotal for subscribers. But what about the snippet of text that appears right next to or below the subject line on iPhones, iPads, some Android mobile phones, and most email clients? If you’re not optimizing this prime piece of inbox real estate, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to help drive up your open rates.

What Is Preheader Text?

What is an email preheader? An email preheader or preheader text is the short line of text displayed next to or just below the email subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. Although the email preheader (also commonly called email snippet text) can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of an email campaign, it’s something many marketers don’t take into consideration today.

In a Litmus-Fluent survey, 1,361 American adults were asked “What’s the first thing you look at when deciding whether to open an email?” Although sender name (42%) and subject line (34%) were the top responses, 24% of respondents said preview text.

MarketingSherpa ran some email preheader tests, which showed that having a well-written HTML email subject line and preheader are both important to the number of opens and clicks an email can receive. The study’s author Jon Powell concluded, “It’s not about having preheader text—it’s about increasing clarity of value for the customer.”

Preheader Text Best Practices—Tips for What to Include in Your Preheader

“If you are unable to see the message below, click here to view.” This type of message is still quite prevalent among the selection of preheader text you’ll see in a typical inbox. Not only does this type of preheader fail to grab attention, but it also does nothing to convince a recipient to open the email.

So what should you include in your HTML email preheader to help drive more opens, clicks, and conversions in the email-marketing campaigns you send? Here are some suggestions:

  • Succinctly summarize the email message
  • Provide more specific information to support or expand on the benefit presented in your subject line
  • Include a coupon code
  • Feature a call to action
  • Add a deadline to create a sense of urgency
  • Include your organization’s value proposition
  • Don’t include an option to unsubscribe
  • Test and optimize your preheader copy
  • Remember that the reader is interested in “What’s in it for me?” So, make a compelling offer!

In addition, consider personalizing your email preheader text by including recipients’ first name, for example, or perhaps an item they browsed at your website or left in their online shopping cart. In a Yes Lifecycle Marketing study, personalized subject lines (e.g. including a recipient’s first name or browsed/purchased items) generated 50% higher open rates and 58% higher click-to-open rates. This type of personalized data can also be used in email preheader text to help capture attention.

Creating Preheaders with the Traditional Approach

The first readable text in the HTML email header will commonly display as the default preheader in many email clients. That’s why messages such as “unsubscribe” and “view this email in your browser” appear under the subject line in many emails. To control what displays in the preheader, pay attention to the text that is located in the HTML before your header text (including logo ALT tags and navigation bar). This “first element solution” is the easiest approach to managing your preheader and involves simply coding a visible line of text in the first cell of the page (usually to the left of the “View as Webpage” text). This approach works for most email clients.

Known Problems with the Traditional Approach

In the example below, however, we use the proof line of the HTML email from a previous issue of NewsLever to demonstrate what happens to the email preheader in certain versions of Microsoft Outlook. The subject line shows up, but what should be the email snippets preheader text is either blank (because the HTML email preview text area was narrowed) or the first line of text is visible in the email newsletter headers (which in this case is the name and slogan of our email newsletter).

Example 1

In a different test that we ran, we noticed that the URL source code for a spacer.gif was automatically picked up as the preheader. The email client interpreted the URL as the first readable text in our HTML. To fix this, we used a non-displaying <div>.

Example 2

Another Solution — The Non-displaying <div>

Using a non-displaying <div> is another way to control the information that shows up in your preheader. Here’s an example:

<div style=”max-height:0; overflow:hidden; display:none; mso-hide: all;”>Preheader snippet text here.</div>

In the next, the visible preheader was removed and a hidden one was added immediately after the <body> tag. So now the email client sees this as the first readable text and adds it as the email preheader. This same snippet of text can be added as the first line in the text-only version, as well, so the more important line of email contents will be picked up, rather than simply the name of the newsletter.

Example 3

Even though most email clients will not display this hidden text within the email itself, certain older versions of email clients, such as Lotus, might. So, to be on the safe side, you can make the color of the text the same as the background color of the email. Keep in mind that some spam filters may see using the same color for both as a negative, so be sure to run tests to make sure it won’t impact deliverability.
Here’s an example of how this might look in an email with a white background:

<div style=”font-size: 1px; color: #ffffff; display: none !important; mso-hide:all;”>Preheader snippet text here.</div>

As you create your preheaders, keep the email preheader length between 85 and 100 characters. Although there is no character limit for preheaders, the number of characters displayed varies among email clients and devices. For instance, on some devices only the first 25 characters show up in the preheader. And, as we saw in the examples above, how wide someone has his or her preview window will impact how much text displays. That’s why testing your email over a variety of email clients and devices is critical to understanding how your subscribers will view the message. Plus, it will help ensure that the preheader is not misleading even if it gets cut off.

Does your company need help with optimizing your emails (including your email preheaders) and improving your overall campaign performance? FulcrumTech can help. Email optimization is one of our top email-marketing specialties! Contact our email-marketing experts today to learn more.


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