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One of the most important yet underlooked aspects of a good email marketing campaign is the email header.
Marketers often focus on optimizing the subject line and end up ignoring email headers, but these are critical for email service providers (ESPs) and readers to determine the legitimacy of an email.
ESPs analyze email header information to decide whether an email is spam or not. Recipients, meanwhile, can look at email headers to figure out the sender and receiver details and track the email route.
Before we move any further: we’re going to be talking about the two types of email headers as understood by people:
- the technical (real) email header, which is a piece of code
- the design (common) email header, which is the top visual element in your emails
First, we’ll take a look at the meaning of an email header, why it’s important, how email headers work for different service providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Outlook, and end with some great email header examples.
What is an email header?
Think of an email header as the index for an email — it’s got all the metadata you and the ESP need to understand:
- where an email is coming from
- who it’s intended for
- what it’s been sent through
- the route it has taken
- and several authentication details.
The email header is a code snippet for an HTML email and precedes the email body.
Email headers are composed of multiple elements, such as:
- Email sender: This displays the sender’s name and address.
- Recipient: This field mentions the recipient’s name and address.
- Date: This records the timestamp at which the email was sent, and usually follows the following format: `dd month yy, hh:mm:ss.`
- Subject: This lists out the subject line of the email.
- Content type: This mentions the format of an email, whether it’s HTML, TXT, or something else.
Note: Don’t confuse email headers with email preheaders! A preheader, also known as a preview text, is a lightly-shaded text that appears next to the subject line. Preheaders give readers more context into the contents of an email.
Meanwhile, email headers appear once you’ve clicked on the email, and they might not be visible right away. In the next section, we take a look at why email headers are so important, and what purposes they serve.
The importance of email headers
Email headers are crucial for a wide variety of reasons:
- Sender and recipient info: Email headers indicate where an email has come from and whom it is intended for. This is a mandatory indicator that might help readers assess if an email is spoofy or spammy.
- Increase open and conversion rates: Email headers that are armed with all the necessary information show readers that the email is trustworthy, and this directly increases open and conversion rates.
- Improve email deliverability: Emails that are sent with complete email header information make your emails seem more legitimate to ESPs. This ensures that ESPs don’t mark your emails as spam — which increases email deliverability.
- Protects from spam and phishing issues: ESPs scan every email for potential spam indicators and signs of phishing. This is done so primarily via the email header, and this protects customers from spam and phishing issues.
- Identify the email route: Good email headers indicate the route the email has taken from the sender’s computer to the recipient’s computer. This could be a multi-step route, depending on the email service provider, geography, and other details.
Now that you’ve understood why email headers are important, let’s take a look at the quick steps you can take to access email headers across different service providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Outlook.
Email headers in different email services
Email headers in Gmail
If you’re using Gmail as your service provider, you can follow these steps to access the email header:
- Open the email of your choice, for which you want to check the headers.
- Click the “More” hamburger () next to the “Reply” () button.
- Inside the “More” menu, click on “Show original.”
- Gmail will now open a new tab that shows the entire email message, along with the email header.
Email headers in Yahoo! Mail
Here’s how you can view email headers in the Yahoo email provider:
- Log in to your Yahoo! Mail inbox.
- Open the email for which you want to check header information.
- Click on the “More” icon above the message panel.
- Inside the “More” menu, select the option “View raw message.”
- Yahoo! Mail will now open a new tab which displays the email header and email header design.
Email headers in Outlook
If you use Outlook as your service provider, you can follow these steps to access the email header:
- Double-click the email of your choice to open it outside the Reading Pane.
- Now, click on “File” and then “Properties” inside the File menu.
- The email header will now be displayed inside the ‘Internet Headers’ box.
Email header best practices
Until now, we’ve talked only about the technical email header, one which gives ESPs and audiences information about the sender, recipient, route, authentication details, source, and more.
Now, it’s time to take a look at the other type of email header: the design-based header.
Design-based email headers are visual elements that are at the top of the email and are very much visible to your readers at first sight.
Remember, both the technical and design email headers aren’t exclusive of each other, and both are crucial for a good email marketing campaign. Here’s an example of a design-based email header from Zara Home:
Design-based email headers are optional, but it’s a great idea to include them in your campaigns because they make your emails stand out and be more attractive to the readers.
With that in mind, here are some email header best practices to follow:
#1 Include your company name and logo
One of the biggest red flags of an email is missing information about the sender, the brand, or individual. Always, always include your company’s name and logo in the email header to increase legitimacy and trust in the email.
This also helps your email improve brand recall in the minds of the readers.
#2 Keep it simple
No one likes to read overly complicated sentences that can convey the same information in fewer words. In the words of the late Kelly Johnson, “Keep it simple, stupid!”
You should always strive to follow the KISS principle and apply this to make your email headers as simple as possible. Short and simple email headers are also easier for customers to read, and this increases both readability and conversions.
#3 The email header should reflect your brand
Recipients access the email header to understand critical information about the sender, the route taken, the brand behind the email, and other such details that might help them make a decision about a potential conversion.
To make this process easy and trustworthy, make sure that your email header reflects your brand wherever possible. Try to use your brand colors, logo, fonts, and other elements that are consistent with your brand identity.
#4 Use email safe fonts
While it might be tempting to experiment with some crazy fonts that might grab your reader’s attention, it is sometimes best to stray away from crazy and tend towards safe. Pick the right email font that reflects your brand’s values, is easy to read and legible, and provides a match between your topic and the tone of the content.
Best email header examples
Let’s now take a look at email header examples from leading worldwide brands:
This email header from Canva is great because it’s concise, creative, and conveys urgency through a nicely-placed timer. By saying “The countdown is on” right at the beginning, Canva instills a sense of curiosity in readers that prompts them to scroll down and read the entire email.
Notice how the design of the email projects a sense of creativity, expression, and freedom, which is something their intended audience — creators — would resonate immediately with.
This one from Wix perfectly emulates the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle. The minute you look at it, your eyes go towards the “50% off sale” text.
The choice of minimal design makes the value proposition stand out clearer than ever, and the text “Limited time only” creates a sense of urgency that urges readers to make the conversion right away.
There’s also a handy CTA to capitalize on this sense of urgency, placed strategically in the top right corner so that it doesn’t escape your eyes.
Sometimes, your readers might not be convinced with a minimal design and a single line that echoes the main value proposition. Sometimes, they might expect an explanation that answers some unsaid questions. As an email marketer, you need to figure out when to send a minimal email header and when to send an explanatory one.
In this case, Zoom realized that the audience might require more information than just “Join a live training.” What is the training about? Whom is it intended for? What’s on the programme?
While you can answer these questions in the body of the email, sometimes, you might not have that luxury. Certain cohorts of readers are impatient and don’t scroll down the length of the email.
For such cohorts, it’s a great idea to include some extra information right away in the email header and make the agenda clear, the way Zoom has done.
This one is a great example of how emails reflect the brand. Notion is widely known to have a beautiful, minimal UI that’s easy on the eye and imaginative by design. This event invite email by Notion follows the same tone: it’s minimalistic and beautiful to look at, while also conveying the point across.
Notion also makes clever use of the spacing by adding in a design that echoes the theme of the virtual conference advertised, ‘Block by block,’ along with a handy CTA in the right corner. As you may have noticed, the right corner seems to be a favorite for CTA placement among worldwide brands.
While Intermiles might just be a brand that helps you collect flight miles, they want audiences to think beyond this. They want audiences to think about fun, sun-and-laughter vacations that remind them of relaxation and happiness.
This sentiment is captured perfectly in this email header by Intermiles. The first thing you feel when you look at it (if you’re like us), is a longing for the sea, and a reminder of happy evenings on the beach.
This is a great example of how email headers can serve more than one purpose: leverage them to make your customers feel emotions. Emotions evoke memories, and memories create brand recall.
Uber does a great job of keeping messaging and design consistent for every communication sent out. The plain black font in the email and the choice of black in the window-shields of the car are a deliberate choice that remind you of the Uber logo as many times as possible.
This is one of the best email headers out there: it is simple, conveys the point across immediately, and gives readers all the information they need in one go.
By now, you must know that email headers are critical aspects of an email marketing campaign. ESPs use email headers to figure out the authenticity of an email, and readers can access email headers at any time to get information on the sender, recipient, route, date, subject, content type, and more.
A good email header helps distinguish your email from spam and increases user trust in your brand, thereby increasing engagement and conversions.
This article also talks about the other type of email header which is design-based (and not exclusive to the technical email headers). These email header designs are reflective of a brand’s identity and help brands establish the primary value proposition right at the beginning of an email. They are crucial for customers to make a decision on whether to proceed with reading the email or scrap it.
We’ve listed down beautiful email header designs from leading worldwide brands such as Canva, Wix, Zoom, Notion, Intermiles, and Uber. Take inspiration from these and try out some ideas for your next email campaign!
But remember to use a convenient, reliable platform like Omnisend for your email campaigns, otherwise all your efforts in creating an email header might go to waste.