Increase Your Email Open Rate with Preheaders

It’s been said that the role of the preheader is straightforward: “give people an immediate alternative if the email isn’t showing up in their inboxes correctly.”

I disagree. While you should give recipients an alternate way to view your email in the preheader, this part of your message should also help entice the recipient to open your email.

Before we talk about how and why, let’s take a step back. If you don’t know what a preheader is, it’s the area at the very top of your email, above the header. Preheaders can give recipients an alternate way to view your email, prompt them to share the message or whitelist the sender, or, most importantly, it can serve as a way to get more opens.

Preheaders appear at the top of the email.

Have you ever noticed that, when viewing your Gmail inbox or email on your iPhone, you can see the subject line along with the first line or two of your email? That’s preheader text you’re seeing.

Sometimes you might see preheader text that says, “Can’t view images? View it in your browser,” or it might include a link to the header image. In these cases, what purpose does this text serve in the inbox? All recipients have to go by when determining whether or not to open your email is the subject line and their relationship with you. Seeing complementary text to the subject line that gives more information about the email’s contents, rather than “Can’t view images?” will help get people to open your email much more strongly than relying solely on the subject line. This MediaPost article refers to the preheader as: a continuation of the story already set in motion by the subject line. Take a look at my Gmail inbox:

This is what preheaders look like in a mobile inbox.

Why do these preheaders work? Each gives additional information about the contents of the email and made me want to read more.

Swell. Swell tends to use fun subject lines like the one you see above. “If Looks Could Kill…” might not mean much to the recipient, but when coupled with the preheader text, “Killer New Summer Shades. Shop here,” I know they’re promoting new sunglasses. They got my attention with a catchy subject line and then gave me information that I needed to know in the preheader. (Note: you can see that they include an alternate way to view the email as well.)

Warrior Dash. The Warrior Dash is letting recipients know that it’s time to “report for battle” in the subject line, aka, race day is fast approaching. The preheader then adds that the email contains all of the “need-to-know” information for the race, further prompting recipients to open the email so that they don’t miss out on important details.

J. Crew. On my iPhone (as with most mobile devices), the subject line gets cut off after 25-35 characters. I can see from the subject line that there’s a sale that ends today and that it includes 20% off, but the preheader goes a little deeper and tells me that the sale is for women’s and kids’ clothing and that I get free shipping too. The message’s content are geared towards me (as a woman), and with the free shipping mention, I can see that I’m getting more out of the sale than just the 20% off.

When creating your next email, be sure to add preheader text that’s complementary to your subject line. Give subscribers that extra piece of information that’s going to get them to open your email. Just don’t forget: in order to make it visible in the inbox, it should be at the top of your email to the left of other preheader text you may include.

Bonus tip: Link it up! Then your preheader text will serve as an additional call-to-action and way for subscribers to click through above the fold.

Amy Garland
Services Account Manager, WhatCounts


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4 Responses to "Increase Your Email Open Rate with Preheaders"
  1. DJ Waldow says:

    I was about to leave a comment about including a call-to-action link in the preheader, but then I read the bonus tip!

    Nicely done, Mrs. Garland. Sharing now…

  2. Nick Stamoulis says:

    Many people are checking their email on a mobile device. If your emails aren’t mobile friendly they won’t get clicked on. Using the preheader is a great way to get in some of the most important information.

  3. ividence says:

    These are great tips! We are big proponents of using preheaders. ividence is an email ad exchange, and we recommend that list owners include an html (and text) preheader to get a branding boost through sending email ads.

    We also posted your piece in our round up of great email news and tips from last week at

  4. Stephanie Fischbach says:

    Thanks for posting this! We have been trying out some new designs for our newsletters and have found that by adding the reasons why someone is receiving the email and reminding them to “add us to your address book” have been working out really well. Your readers are more inclined to check out your info if you confirm that they in fact requested it in the first place.

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