How to use the Preheader to get more emails opened

The average user takes about 3-4 seconds to make a decision whether to open an email or not.

This is why “preview text” is so important.

Remember I said the subject line is the main character in this story? Well, it’s time to get to know one of the supporting roles.

The “Preheader Text,” that line of text that follows the subject line.

But this is no ordinary supporting role. This is like Joe Pesci on Goodfellas or Casino, I don’t know if those movies would be the same without him.

Joe Pesci on Goodfellas

To demonstrate what I mean in a visual way, I did an experiment with my inbox. I took a screenshot and colored the 3 different elements of the preview text: The from name is in orange, the subject line is in green and the preheader is highlighted in yellow. Take a look:

Preheader text experiment - step 1

let’s remove the text completely to make it more dramatic:

Preheader text experiment - step 2

Ironic, isn’t? This is the one element in the preview text we care the least about, and yet, it’s the one that gets the largest piece of real estate in the inbox.

So, you can understand why this will be a terrible mistake, right?

Pre-header Text

And now that we’re clear that “HAVING TROUBLE VIEWING THIS EMAIL?” is not a very effective way to get your emails opened, let’s look at some of the considerations you need to take when writing your preheader text.

Considerations when writing your preheader text

1) Consider the length

The length of your visible preheader text will vary depending on the email client.

  • Gmail shows 100 characters on desktop
  • On an iPhone 6 you’ll be able to see up to 150 characters
  • But other clients will only show 75

2) A/B Testing

Some service providers like GetResponse offer A/B Testing for the preheader. See if your provider has this option and test as you would test the subject line.

3) Personalize

Just as you can use personalization on subject lines or the body of the email, you can also use it on preheader text.

4) Whitelist

Consider using the preheader text to ask your subscribers to whitelist you.

5) Elaborate

The preheader text is also a good way to elaborate on the subject line. Sometimes the subject line is not enough to provide context.

6) Call-to-Action

It’s also a great place to include a call-to-action or create a sense of urgency on your offer.

7) Incentive

Use it to deliver an incentive to get that email opened. Something like “Free Ebook inside.”

8) Don’t repeat

Never use the preheader text to repeat the subject line. If you start the body of your email by using the same text you use on the subject line and don’t provide a different preheader text, chances are it will be repeated.


This homework is simple:

  1. Go back and see your previous campaigns, pay attention to your preheader text to see if there is room for improvement
  2. Pay special attention to writing a good preheader in your next campaign, using some of the considerations and ideas above
  3. If your ESP allows it, run an A/B test in your next campaign

Turn your next preheader text into a Joe Pesci!

  • Katie Miller

    Wow, this was totally new info to me – thanks for sharing!