Email Preheader: Tiny Feature, Huge Impact

email preheader cover with an fountain ink pen

An email preheader is the text that comes after a subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. You may already be aware of this feature, but have you wondered about its impact on your email performance

We constantly see marketing emails that don’t make use of this snippet space and display code instead. But in an era where attention span is continually shortening, can you really afford to miss out on this strategic feature?

Join us as we cover this feature in detail and explain how you can use the email preheader to improve your open rates!

Email Preheader Explained

An email preheader is a short piece of text that follows the subject line in an email. It provides additional information or context about the email content and is typically visible in the recipient’s inbox before they open the email. People refer to preheader text as preview text, but they’re not quite the same; we will inspect the differences a little later.

Email clients and devices often display the subject line and preheader together, allowing senders to create a more compelling and informative message that encourages recipients to open the email. The preheader is an opportunity to complement the subject line and entice the recipient with a concise preview of the email content.

Email marketers can utilize preheader text to make emails more relevant, engaging, and consistent with the overall message of the email. This can contribute to higher open rates as recipients get a better sense of what to expect when they open the email.

Preview Text vs Preheader Text: Are They the Same?

The terms “preview text” and “preheader text” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to different elements in email marketing. 

Preheader text

  • The preheader text is the snippet of text that follows the subject line in an email and provides additional context about the content.
  • It is typically visible in the recipient’s inbox, right after or below the subject line, depending on the email client.
  • The preheader text offers a brief preview of the email content, helping recipients understand what the email is about before opening it.
  • Well-crafted preheaders can spike open rates by providing additional information and enticing recipients to open the email. It’s an opportunity for marketers to deliver a compelling message and set expectations.

Preview Text

  • Preview text, also known as snippet text or preview snippet, is a broader term that encompasses any text snippet from the email that may be displayed in the recipient’s inbox preview.
  • It can include not only the preheader text but also the beginning of the email body content or any other text visible in the inbox preview.
  • The preview text, like preheader text, gives recipients an idea of the email content before opening it.
  • Marketers need to also consider the overall content visible in the preview area. This includes the importance of having a captivating opening sentence or content that encourages recipients to open the email.

Visually, preheader text and preview text look the same in the inbox. It’s only when you don’t explicitly define a preheader that mailbox clients choose a snippet of text from your email body and display it. Different mailbox providers use different methods to do this — we cover this in the next section.

How an Email Client Chooses Preview Text

The preview text in email inboxes typically comes from the initial text or content within the body of your email. Email clients often display a snippet of this text in addition to the subject line. The exact source of the preview text can vary depending on how the email is structured.

Here are a few common sources of preview text:

Sources for preheader textExplanation
Beginning of the email bodyMany email clients pull the initial text from the body of the email to display as the preview text. This could include the first few lines of your email content.
Meta descriptionIf you include a specific preheader text or meta description in the email’s HTML code, email clients may use this preheader text as the preview snippet.
Alt text in imagesIn some cases, if the email contains images and the images have alternative text (alt text) set, email clients may use this alt text as the preview text.
Custom preheader tagCertain ESPs allow you to set a custom preheader text separate from the main email body. This custom preheader tag is specifically designed to be used as the preview text.
How Email Clients Choose Preview Text

Different email clients may handle preview text differently; some may automatically generate a preview snippet based on the content of the email, even if no specific preheader or meta description is provided.

This is why it’s critical to add preheader text; it’s about control.

To ensure your emails display exactly the way you want them to, you must craft preheader text. You should write compelling copy and use specific preheader/meta description tags when creating emails.

The benefits of writing the perfect preheader text are too great to ignore, so let’s review them.

Email Preheader: The Benefits are Immense

The email preheader isn’t just another box to tick off — it can transform your email marketing results.

Here are the benefits of adding preheader text:

  1. Increased open rates: Including a preheader text gives you an extra opportunity to capture the recipient’s attention. A compelling preheader can entice users to open the email, thereby increasing your open rates.
  2. Added clarity: Preheader text provides additional context about the email’s content, helping recipients understand what the email is about before they open it.
  3. Better branding: Crafting a consistent and engaging preheader text reinforces your brand identity. It allows recipients to quickly recognize your emails in their inbox, fostering trust and familiarity with your brand.
  4. Superior mobile experience: With the prevalence of mobile email usage, preheaders play a crucial role in optimizing the mobile experience. They provide valuable information even when the subject line gets truncated on smaller screens, ensuring your message is communicated effectively.
  5. CTA opportunity: A well-crafted preheader can include a compelling call-to-action, encouraging recipients to take the desired action without even opening the email. This can drive higher conversions.
  6. Segmentation and personalization: Preheader text can be tailored to specific audience segments or personalized based on recipient data. 
  7. Search engine optimization/SEO: Including relevant keywords in your preheader text can improve the SEO of your emails. It helps your emails appear more prominently in search results, driving organic traffic to your website or landing pages.
  8. Compliance and transparency: Including preheader text that accurately reflects the email content enhances transparency and compliance with email marketing regulations. It sets clear expectations for recipients and fosters trust in your brand’s communication practices.

Adding preheader text is a valuable feature to enhance the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns and something you should be addressing ASAP!

How Email Preheaders Boost Open Rates

Preheaders can assist your subject line in convincing recipients to open your email, but only when done right. As email marketers are always chasing higher open rates, it makes all the more sense to focus on fine-tuning your preheader to improve your metrics.

Email preheader text can contribute to boosting your open rates in these ways:

  • A well-crafted preheader text provides recipients with additional context about the email content beyond the subject line alone. It sets correct expectations plus the clarity can intrigue recipients and increase the likelihood of them opening the email.
  • Email preheaders effectively extend the impact of your subject line. It allows you to convey more information, highlight key points, or create a sense of urgency that might not fit within the character limit of the subject line alone. Result? Better open rates.
  • A compelling preheader text can make your email stand out in a crowded inbox. By providing valuable information or clever teasers, you differentiate your email from others and entice recipients to prioritize opening it over other emails.
  • This feature enables you to set clear expectations for recipients regarding the content of the email.
  • With the prevalence of mobile email usage, preheader text becomes even more critical. Mobile email clients often display both the subject line and preheader text prominently, giving you an opportunity to capture recipients’ attention.
  • A strategically crafted preheader text can include a CTA or a compelling reason to motivate recipients to take immediate action, which helps open rates.
  • With A/B testing, you can try out different preheader texts to determine which content resonates best with your audience to drive higher open rates. 

As an extension of your subject line, the preheader text can be a secret weapon when used correctly and can transform your engagement metrics.

Email Preheader Content: Ethical Considerations

The email inbox is a sacred space; you’re only allowed in if your subscriber has given you explicit permission, and you must always take care to show respect for subscribers. 

The preheader text is a great opportunity to provide added context; misusing it will affect your long-term email marketing goals. A cheap trick like using misleading text in your preheader might bump up your open rates once, but you’ll witness a crash in email list health as well as a spike in spam complaints.

Here are 6 reasons why you must be considerate and respectful when writing preheader text:

  1. Builds trust and credibility: Ethical behavior builds trust and credibility with your audience. When recipients feel that your emails are transparent and respectful of their attention, they are more likely to engage positively with your business.
  2. Better for long-term relationships: Building an email list and finding engaged subscribers is challenging. By demonstrating respect for recipients’ preferences, you encourage engagement and create loyalty that lasts.
  3. Compliance with regulations: Many regions have strict regulations governing email marketing practices, such as the CAN-SPAM Act and the GDPR. Ethical use of preheader text ensures compliance with these regulations, protecting your brand from potential legal consequences and reputational damage.
  4. Demonstrates respect for recipients’ time: Considerate use of preheader text respects recipients’ time and attention by providing clear, relevant, and valuable information about the email content.
  5. Reduced unsubscribes and complaints: Ethical use of preheader text helps minimize unsubscribes and complaints from recipients who feel misled, overwhelmed, or annoyed by deceptive or irrelevant messaging.
  6. Great for brand image: Ethical behavior aligns with your brand values and corporate social responsibility initiatives. By being consistent with preheader text, you demonstrate your commitment to integrity and customer-centricity.

Preheaders are valuable tools — but only when used responsibly!

Subject Line and Preheader Text: Symbiosis

By being tactical in crafting your subject line and preheader text and strategically combining them, you can create more compelling and engaging email campaigns that resonate with your audience and achieve superior results.

Here’s how the two elements work together to enhance the overall impact of your emails:

  • The subject line is the first thing recipients see when they receive your email. It serves as the initial hook to capture their attention and entice them to open the email. However, subject lines are often limited in character count, making it challenging to convey the full message or capture the recipient’s interest effectively — preheaders help complete the picture.
  • The email preheader gives you an opportunity to add context — it complements and extends the message conveyed by the subject line. It either provides additional information or intrigues recipients to open the email.
  • When the subject line and preheader text work together seamlessly, they create continuity and coherence in your email messaging. They form a cohesive narrative that intrigues recipients and sets clear expectations about the email content.
  • Email personalization is a powerful tool — you can add personalized elements to both the subject line and preheader text. This personalized approach increases engagement and encourages recipients to open and interact with your emails.
  • Given the limited space on a smartphone screen, every word counts. This is why it’s best to create a powerful combo of subject line and preheader text by writing clever copy.
  • The relationship between the subject line and preheader text also provides opportunities for A/B testing and optimization.

Pay as much attention to your preheader as you would your subject lines; they’re an effective duo when the chemistry is right.

Email Preheaders Performance on Small Screens

Email preheaders let you add about 80 to 100 characters on a computer screen — that number gets further reduced to between 30 to 75 if your recipient reads your email on their phone. The preheader text provides additional context and can greatly influence whether the recipient decides to open the email or not.

In this scenario, crafting a concise and compelling preheader is vital; it maximizes the chances of conveying your message effectively within the limited space available.

But that’s not all. Most email users will delete emails if they don’t look good on mobile — by most, we mean a whopping 71.6%. Mobile users tend to skim through emails quickly, making rapid decisions about whether to open or delete them; a well-crafted preheader text can shift this decision in your favor by capturing their attention and enticing them to engage further with your email content.

Another reason to focus on your preheader text for mobile users is that in the inbox, you’re up against stiff competition. With thousands of brands and businesses vying for your subscribers’s attention, a great email preheader can make a huge difference. 

As you write your preheaders, remember that different mobile email clients may display preheader text differently, and some may prioritize it more than others. Writing a good preheader text ensures your message remains impactful.

A/B Testing for Email Preheaders: Refinement Helps

The primary objective of A/B testing for email preheaders is to optimize the effectiveness of your email campaigns by identifying the preheader text that resonates best with your audience and drives higher open rates and engagement.

A/B testing allows you to test various elements of your preheader text, including:

Preheader ElementsExplanation
LengthShort versus long preheader text.
ToneFormal versus casual language.
ContentDifferent messaging, offers, or CTAs.
PersonalizationTesting personalized versus generic preheader text.
UrgencyTesting time-sensitive language or offers.
Emoji usageTesting the inclusion or exclusion of emojis in preheader text.
A/B Testing Preheader Elements

Next, we look at how to test different preheaders.

How to A/B Test Your Email Preheader

Here are the guidelines for running A/B tests for preheader text:

  1. Divide your email list into two or more segments, with each segment receiving a different version of the preheader text.
  2. Ensure the segments are randomly assigned to minimize bias and ensure accurate results.
  3. Send out the email campaigns simultaneously to ensure consistency in timing and external factors.
  4. Measure and compare key metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and overall engagement, for each variation of the preheader text.

Remember, you should determine the duration and sample size of your A/B test based on statistical significance and practical considerations. Ensure your sample size is large enough to yield meaningful results, and your test duration is sufficient to capture variations in recipient behavior over time.

A/B testing should be an ongoing process rather than a one-time activity. It’s a great way of realizing the potential of email preheaders and the impact they have on your open rates.

How to Add an Email Preheader to Your Emails

Certain email marketing platforms offer built-in features for adding preheader text to your email, but many don’t. At Campaign Refinery, we do offer this feature because it plays a critical role in your engagement numbers.

Here are the steps to writing the best email preheaders:

  1. Before adding a preheader text to your marketing emails, understand its purpose. A preheader text should provide additional context and entice recipients to open your email.
  2. Write a concise preheader text that complements your subject line.
  3. Keep the preheader text between 40-100 characters to ensure it’s fully visible on most email clients and devices
  4. Use action-oriented language, highlight benefits, or create a sense of urgency to encourage recipients to open your email.
  5. Mobile optimization is crucial since many recipients access emails on smartphones; ensure your preheader text is concise and impactful, as mobile email clients may truncate longer preheader texts. 
  6. Test how your preheader text appears on different mobile devices and email clients to ensure optimal visibility and readability.
  7. Personalize your preheader text whenever possible to make it more relevant and engaging for recipients.
  8. Most importantly, ensure your preheader text aligns with your brand voice, style, and messaging guidelines — maintain consistency across your email campaigns to reinforce brand identity.

Continue to test variations in length, tone, messaging, and personalization to identify what resonates best with your audience. Crafting email preheaders is an ongoing process — you have to refine your approach based on evolving customer preferences and changes in email client behavior.

How Long Should an Email Preheader Be?

Different clients and devices display email preheaders differently, but the popular consensus is that the range varies between 30 to 100 characters. Sticking to this range ensures the preheader text is concise and fully visible across various email clients and devices, including desktops, smartphones, and tablets.

Many marketers write preheader text exclusively with mobile screens in mind, as shorter preheaders are less likely to be truncated or cut off, ensuring the message is effectively communicated to recipients — this restricts them to between 25-75 characters for smartphone users.

Add an Email Preheader with Code

If your ESP does not offer you a field to add an email preheader, you will need to code it in.

To add a preheader to your marketing emails using HTML code, you can include a snippet of text immediately after the opening <body> tag in your HTML email template. 

Here’s what it looks like in your source code:


<!– Preheader text goes here –>

<div style=”display: none; max-height: 0; overflow: hidden; mso-hide: all;”>

Your preheader text here.


Your email content, including the main message, images, links, and CTA, follows after the preheader text.

Important points to note:

  • Insert your preheader text immediately after the opening <body> tag.
  • Use a <div> element with inline styling to hide the preheader text visually while ensuring it’s accessible to email clients.
  • Set the display, max-height, overflow, and mso-hide properties to hide the preheader text in most email clients.
  • Include the preheader text within the <div> element.
  • Use HTML tables for layout to ensure consistency across different email clients. 
  • Use inline CSS styles for formatting and styling to ensure consistent rendering across email clients.

By including preheader text in HTML code, you can customize the formatting, styling, and content to align with your brand guidelines and effectively communicate your content.

Adding a Preheader to Emails on Campaign Refinery

Adding an email preheader on Campaign Refinery is remarkably straightforward and user-friendly! 

Preheader text on Campaign Refinery
Adding a preheader to emails on Campaign Refinery

As demonstrated in the image, our email editor offers a dedicated field where you can input your preheader text directly, allowing you to customize and preview how it will appear in recipients’ inboxes. You also have a button to switch to the custom HTML editor, so you can edit code if you prefer that.

At Campaign Refinery, we’re all about best practices. We’re focused on email deliverability as our USP, plus we want our email platform to be a delight for our clients as well as their subscribers

Here’s why Campaign Refinery is a great platform for email marketers:

  • Our automated list-cleaning feature stealthily goes through your contacts list, removing any email addresses that could harm your sender reputation. It’s one of our most popular features!
  • If you think our deliverability is impressive, check our engagement stats. We’ve recorded open rates of 76.37% and click rates of 72.76% when running the Gamification feature!
  • With our template library, you won’t have to seek creative inspiration anywhere else. We’ve got you covered.
  • Besides this, the Campaign Refinery University also deep-dives into how your customers think — our video tutorials are going to alter the way you approach your email game, forever.

If you want to experience the elite email performance that Campaign Refinery users enjoy, apply to become a client today!

Best Practices for Crafting Compelling Email Preheaders

Email preheaders aren’t exactly complex, but it’s good to keep certain guidelines in mind while you craft them.

Here are the top 10 best practices you can implement while writing your preheaders:

  1. Keep it concise: Limit your preheader text to 40-100 characters to ensure it’s fully visible in most email clients and devices.
  2. Complement the subject line: Use the preheader to provide additional context and entice recipients to open the email.
  3. Add details: Clearly communicate the value or benefit of opening the email in the preheader to capture recipients’ interest and encourage engagement.
  4. Create urgency: Use action-oriented language or create a sense of urgency or curiosity to motivate recipients to open the email and learn more.
  5. Avoid repetition: Ensure the preheader text offers new information or a different angle from the subject line to provide additional incentive for recipients to open the email.
  6. Personalize when possible: Incorporate personalization elements, such as the recipient’s name or past interactions, in the preheader text to make it more relevant and engaging.
  7. Optimize for mobile: Keep in mind that preheader text may appear differently on mobile devices, so ensure it’s concise, impactful, and renders well across various screen sizes.
  8. Test variations: Conduct A/B testing to identify which preheaders resonate best with your audience.
  9. Add a CTA: That clever line you saved for the end? Don’t be shy — add it to your preheader!
  10. Maintain branding: Ensure the tone, style, and messaging of the preheader text align with your brand identity and voice to maintain consistency and reinforce brand recognition.

With these guidelines, you should be able to note a significant spike in your metrics as compared to when you weren’t using preheaders. It may take time, but practice makes perfect!

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Email Preheader Content

When writing preheaders in marketing emails, it’s important to avoid common errors that can undermine their effectiveness. 

Here are common mistakes when writing preheaders:

ChallengeWhat to do
RepetitionDon’t be repetitive. Copying your subject line is lazy!
Character countDon’t add too many characters. Keep it concise, an incomplete sentence won’t coax your reader to open the email.
Mobile responsivenessFailure to optimize preheaders for mobile devices can result in poor readability and formatting issues.
Emoji usageDon’t go overboard with the emoji. Using them has its benefits, but excessive emojis can make your email look like spam.
SpamDon’t overpromise and underdeliver. That’s a rookie mistake!
Common Errors When Writing Preheader Text

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure your preheaders effectively capture recipients’ attention, drive higher open rates, and contribute to the success of your email marketing campaigns.

Examples of Good Email Preheaders

If you’re looking for inspiration, head to the Promotions tab on Gmail or open your Outlook client to check marketing emails. You’ll see top brands using preheaders efficiently and in sync with the subject lines. 

Gmail on Computer Browser
Gmail on a Web browser on Mac

Here are some great examples of preheader use. Note the second email from Mint — it creates suspense by asking a question that is relevant to the recipient. Similarly, the email from Lenskart uses emojis to create a vacation vibe and displays an offer in the preheader, getting right down to business.

Finally, you have the email from ICICI Bank where they push the value proposition in the email preheader, by combining it perfectly with the subject line.

Gmail on iPhone
Gmail app on an iPhone

Here is the Promotions tab on Gmail on an iPhone. The list starts with an email from YONO SBI which does not use the preheader — note how it immediately makes a bad impression. Below this, we have an email from 123Greetings that immediately mentions an upcoming event, which can prompt us to click.

Gmail on Android
Gmail app on an Android

Here is what preheader text looks like in Gmail on an Android. We can see marketing emails from Nike and Adidas, brands that use preheader text well.

If you’re curious about how an image is displayed instead of preheader text, that is possible by purchasing ad space from Google. This gives you a “Top Picks” spot in the Gmail Promotions tab, letting you share an image preview.

Campaign Refinery: Primary Inbox is the Goal

Email marketers are constantly re-adjusting the course and learning new things to improve the performance of email campaigns, but we get it — it’s not easy.

The biggest challenge is knowledge. It can take years of practice to get email right, and sometimes you may have to pay a high cost in terms of poor metrics or a massive chunk of your budget. 

This is why we created The Inbox Formula. It’s a FREE guidebook that helps both new and seasoned email professionals review the basics, and create a strong foundation upon which you can build an effective email operation. 

This book has it all — best practices for email, setting up your IP and domain, industry insights, list management strategies, and more. Our goal was to share best practices that would help all email professionals be better at what they do.

If you want to time-travel to the experienced version of yourself, download The Inbox Formula today!

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