Drive sales on autopilot with ecommerce-focused features

See Features

The email preheader: what it is and 10 best practices

Reading Time: 7 minutes

How does a brand break through a noisy email inbox—or junk folder, for that matter—and entice an open?

Brand name alone may do the job. But in a lot of cases, your subject line is the proverbial carrot.

Correction: subject line AND preheader text.

They’re a tag team. A dazzling subject line is great. That same subject line with a rock star preheader is excellent.

You may be saying to yourself, “Wait, I’m a little lost. Where, exactly, can I find this preheader text in an email?” Read on to understand its physical place in an email, along with the importance of this short text snippet, the mechanics, and our top-recommended email preheader best practices.

Drive more sales with email marketing campaigns using Omnisend’s features for free!
Start Free

What is an email preheader?

Sometimes called email preview text, a preheader is that muted text, shaded gray, that appears immediately after the subject line.

Below is how an email preheader appears on two different devices, as indicated by the boxed portion. Depending on the device and email service used by the recipient, it can appear next to the subject line or underneath it.

Here’s how it looks in Gmail, as viewed on a desktop, as well as in Apple Mail iOS:

Email preheader showing different messages on different email service

Expending effort on email preheader text is important for a few reasons.

1. Competence

Your email service provider (ESP) will take over the job if you don’t. By default, this line of text is extrapolated from the first text found in the email campaign.

Take a look at the email preheader example below. Victoria’s Secret is wasting valuable real estate by not replacing its unsubscribe language. Plus, it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing when surrounded by others that do.

example of Victoria's Secret email preheader

2. Intrigue

We imagine that you devote energy to crafting the right subject line, relying on best practices to guide you. Maybe you devise variations in pursuit of a knockout. So why would you skimp on the subject line’s partner?

The email preheader’s role is one of support. It’s an extension that provides more context, and exists to help intrigue your subscriber further. Customizing your email preheader text helps in encouraging the recipient to open your mail and read your fabulous message.

3. Amazon

Alexa Voice Service can read your emails, including preheaders. No brand needs Alexa blurting, “If you can’t read or see this email, click here.”

The basics for inserting an email preheader

Before we launch into preheader best practices, let’s establish a technical foundation. You may have dreamt up the perfect message. But you can’t do anything with it if you don’t understand the mechanics.

Preheader length

Unlike SMS messages that have a character limit, there are no rules governing the length of an email preheader.

ESPs usually recommend 50 to 100 characters because of different email configurations. However, you won’t see all 100 characters on some mobile devices. So our rule of thumb is a preheader length ranging from 30 to 80 characters.

How to add a preheader

Populating your email preheader is a straightforward process in most ESPs. In Omnisend, you can add a preheader to all emails, for both promotional campaigns and messages part of automated workflows.

Take a look at how easy it is to do with our platform. A preheader entry field is located under the very first step of campaign settings. Fill it in and see how it looks in the Inbox preview:

setting up email preheader and email campaign on Omnisend
Easily craft profitable emails with Omnisend’s ready-made templates that sell.
Start Free

10 email preheader best practices

There’s no magical formula for success when it comes to email preheaders. The same goes for subject lines.

However, by analyzing large email samples, we can identify some effective patterns. We’ll call them email preheader best practices. While some contradict each other, they all have their merits.

#1 Differentiate from your subject line

If you adhere to only one email preheader best practice, it’s this one. Repeating the same message is a waste of space, and may create the perception that your brand is lazy or sloppy. That goes for a slight variation as well. Francesca’s preheader text uses different words but provides the same information.

example of an email that has a different subject line compared to others

#2 Incorporate a CTA

Here’s another preheader best practice we highly recommend, if you aren’t already accomplishing it with the subject line. We always stress the importance of including a strong call to action (CTA) within the email. It’s equally fantastic to slip it into the “envelope” of your email. 

Aussie Gardener is very clear about what they want you to do: buy an apron for yourself and someone else.

example of email preheader with a CTA

#3 Tease an incentive

If your email campaign includes a discount, use the email preheader rather than the subject line to announce it. In the example below, we like how Team Bake reserves the first half of its message to ask a question.

A 60% off sale is a huge deal for the consumer. This brand proves that such a lucrative offer doesn’t always need to take the lead.

clear subject line that reveals the offer in email preheader

#4 Summarize the email content

Give a Cliff’s Notes version of your message. Listing sales products or new arrivals is popular. Many merchants also include brand names.

Or, use it for identifying your recurring newsletter, like Nourish Natural Pro does. Their branded newsletter title, “Nourish Together,” doesn’t mean anything on its own. But the preheader text of “Weekly Newsletter” clearly identifies this isn’t a sales promo.

email newsletter that summarizes its' email content

#5 Elaborate

Not to be confused with the summary approach in the tip above, the “elaborate” angle speaks to the preheader text’s extension role. Go all-in with your subject line and preheader by revealing the best parts of your campaign. 

The LOFT uses its preheader to explain what the Cyber Event encompasses: a sale plus free shipping.   

example of an email preheader with additional information

#6 Build curiosity

Consider the opposite of #5 by creating anticipation with some mystery. Provoking curiosity by being cryptic or scant on details, but we’re sure that Breeze Balm piqued the interest of at least some of its subscriber base.

email preheader that builds curiosity

#7 Use FOMO

Fear of missing out is a powerful motivator. It’s why brands occasionally run a flash sale. Take a “this is limited and will sell fast” approach, or play to the emotions in a more subtle way. Here’s one from Smartwatch for Less:

example of FOMO in the email subject line

#8 Sprinkle in emojis

Emojis aren’t necessarily right for every brand. If they work for you, toss them into a preheader. Emojis draw attention and can convey emotion more efficiently than words.

The brand Distorted People, as shown by each of the examples below, likes to spice up the preheader with emojis. They tactically use them to separate ideas.

examples of emojis in the subject lines

PS: Read about the pros and cons of using emojis in subject lines, along with tips.

#9 Personalize

Some brands see a significant increase in open rates when using personalization. In other cases, it doesn’t work so well. Try sliding your recipient’s name into the preheader—like Buffalo Audubon Society does—instead of putting it front and center in the subject line. It’s a less aggressive way to personalize.

email preheader with a personalization

#10 Be concise

As in the examples above, it’s OK to give details. However, the idea is to do it with minimal verbiage. Email subscribers will only give you a second of their attention, so be succinct.

The added benefit of short preheader text is that you leave some white space around your email, which can help you stand out in a crowded inbox. Does your eye gravitate to Merce & Me and Pierrebuy in the example below?

email preheader shown in inbox

The next steps

Now that you’ve got some ideas for preheader best practices and understand the mechanics, get creating. Whether you’re devising a promotional campaign or automated email, take these steps after putting finishing touches on the subject line, preheader text and email body content:

  1. Run your subject line and preheader text through Omnisend’s Email Subject Line Tester to gauge what improvements you can make.
  2. Complete a quality audit with the Ultimate Email Send Checklist before scheduling your email for deployment.

The job doesn’t end once you’ve released your email to the world. It’s always a good idea to A/B test your content, including subject line and preheader combinations.

a/b testing of email campaigns

What kind of discount—percentages or dollar amounts—drives more clicks? Do emojis make a difference? Is your audience into exclusive offers or sales for the masses? Testing affords greater insights into your audience and what resonates.

If your efforts fall a little flat, search our blog for inspiration. A number of posts concentrate on subject lines, but you can easily swap them in as preheader text. We cover everything from Christmas and back-to-school shopping, to Mother’s Day, the spring season, and even 4th of July.

Think you’ve nailed your subject line-preheader combo? Then shift focus to how you can migrate more email openers to your website:

Never lose sight of these preheader best practices, no matter how sophisticated your email marketing program becomes. They’re the first step in earning a purchase with email.

Tracy Puckett
Article by
Tracy Puckett

Content Marketing Manager for Omnisend. Tracy is a content creator who believes in the immense power of the written word. Free time is for family, exploring community gems and reading.


related features
These are the Omnisend features that can help you get the results mentioned in the article.