The Power of the Preheader

What’s the most creative and exciting part of email marketing? Writing the preheader!

Well…maybe not. It does, however, deserve your love and attention. There are good reasons why you find that line of preheader text perched at the top of any “anatomy of a marketing email” chart.

In email marketing, the early impression created by your message is critical. You want to grab attention and interest before the recipient moves on to the next message, tweet, or task. The from name and subject line contribute to this early impression, but so does (drum roll) the preheader, given its physical position.

Many email clients also feature the first text in an email next to or immediately below the subject line in the actual inbox. Gmail is a well-known example, but mobile email applications also often give prominence to this text, as this screenshot from a Samsung Galaxy shows:


The preheader is also taking up more relative screen space as screen sizes shrink with the growth of mobile email.

So how do you exploit the preheader’s (newly discovered) prominence?

A common approach is simply to point recipients at the “online version” of your email:

brownlow_preheader_SS2 brownlow_preheader_SS3

It’s an insurance policy against any situations where the email software plays havoc with your HTML. Whatever happens, the reader can at least click the link and view the email in a browser.

While a legitimate approach, it’s not the only one. In fact, you may find few people ever use that online link. So here are four other ways you might make more of the preheader:

1. Ask the recipient to add you to their contact list or address book
The benefits depend on the recipient’s email client or webmail service, but mail from “contacts” might, for example, bypass image blocking or get preferential treatment from spam filters.

2. Include an unsubscribe link (in addition to one in the usual footer position)
This sounds counterintuitive. However, some senders have reported significant drops in spam complaints with this technique, suggesting it has value if you have sender reputation problems.

3. Sell the email content
Promote the email’s actual content with this extra line of text. You can expand on the message communicated in the subject line or highlight additional topics or benefits.

4. Drive immediate action
Take the “sales” role for the preheader a step further and include a call to action and link to a landing page. If the email has a clear, single CTA that requires little explanation, then a preheader CTA can reach even the most attention-challenged readers.

Of course, you can combine different approaches in one preheader. This one from the UK’s Premier Inn includes a sales message, CTA and an online link!


If you’re unsure whether a new preheader approach makes sense, test your options first before rolling out the changes to your whole list.

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