How to Optimize Preheader Text and Boost Your Email Open Rates

Author: Corina Leslie

July 8, 2020
How to Optimize Preheader Text and Boost Your Email Open Rates

Your email preheader text is where you start converting your subscribers. Are you making it count? Qhubekani Nyathi, our guest on the blog today, will show you how to optimize it to get higher open rates.

Qhubekani is an experienced content marketer and founder of Wholesome Commerce. You’ll love his insights!

How to get your preheader text right

Let me guess.

As a typical marketer or business owner, you are serious about getting your emails right.

You work on your subject line for hours, days even. You make sure each word does its part to lure users to open your emails. You wrap your message around a stellar design. You craft compelling offers. You write dynamic, enticing CTAs that instantly grab attention and induce recipients to click.

The preheader? Oh well.

That’s a colossal mistake. Without a good preheader text supporting your subject line, your open rates stagnate or get worse. An optimized preheader can do wonders for your campaign. It can boost your open rates and get your campaign off to a splendid start.

That’s why you mustn’t ignore it anymore.

In this article, I’ll walk you through 11 ways to optimize your preheader text for higher opens. 

Sounds good?

Let’s dive in.

What is a preheader text?

Preheader text – aka preview text – is a snippet of text that follows the email subject line when readers view an email in the inbox.

It’s displayed alongside the subject line and sender name.

preheader text mobile example

Because the preheader is the next thing in the reader’s eye line after the subject line, it’s a natural ally. It occupies a strategic, precious screen real estate you can use to improve your email open rates.

Preheader text: the outstanding optimization opportunity you can’t afford to miss

Do you want to boost your email open rates by 30%?

Of course, you do, right? 😀

Studies reveal brands that use preheaders effectively increase open rates by a margin of up to 30%. So by omitting the preheader, you blow a brilliant chance to bolster your subject line and better your open rate. Think of the knock-on impact such a hike can have on your overall ROI or ROAS.

Surprisingly, research by Get Response showed only a mere 11% of marketers include an optimized preheader in their campaigns. 

The rest?

Well, let’s just say they overlook it because they don’t have their conversion spectacles on. 

If you don’t craft a custom preheader text, your email client may:
  • Pull words from your message’s first line(s) and display them.
  • Show placeholder balderdash such as ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetuer’.
  • Give instructions like ‘Having trouble viewing this email? Click here to view it in your web browser’.
  • Display ALT text from your email’s hero image or logo.
  • Reveal bits of your email’s code instead.

Now that you know better, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to waste such prime space.

But how do you fully use it?

Glad you asked. 

That’s what we will now unpack. Here are eleven best practices for crafting powerful preheader text that gets the click.

Want to see how ZeroBounce works? Give it a try – it’s free!
email writing tips

How do you write a good preheader? 11 optimization best practices to follow

With practice, patience, and a bit of inspiration, you can write exceptional preheaders. If you don’t have the time or skill set to write your copy, outsource to a good copywriter or learn how to write for conversions. Either way, you must know what a decent preheader looks like.

Here’s how to write superb preheaders following the latest trends out there.

#1. Walk the preheader vs. subject line character tightrope with care

How long must your preheader text be? 

That’s a crucial question to ask because you could craft the best preheader in the world only to have it cut off. After all, it’s too long.

Let’s start by looking at the preheader character limits of popular email clients.

Some email clients can display more than this, but there are causal factors like wide browser windows. So you should stay on the safe side.

Taking the minimum viewable characters into consideration, the average is 80 characters. The average English word has 4.79 characters. So this gives you up to 16 words to play with. That’s enough words to communicate a meaningful message that supports your subject line and entices readers to open your email.

But that’s half the story.

Your preheader shares space with your subject line. So the longer your subject line, the shorter your preheader text and vice versa. You must tweak both to get the right balance. 

Remember also that up to 62% of people read emails on space-starved mobile devices. Therefore, brevity is the golden rule. Use a tool like Test Subject to preview and fine-tune your preheader and subject line until you get the perfect length that communicates your message fully. 

In summary, aim for 40-50 characters or 8-10 words all factors considered. It can be slightly longer if your subject line is short. In your quest to find the ideal length, dig into your analytics to see which devices and email clients are your audience’s favorites, and adjust accordingly.

#2. Reinforce the subject line without repeating yourself

Capitalize on the location of the preheader to reinforce your subject line.

Since it’s conveniently placed next to the subject line, use it to strengthen your subject line. 

But don’t rehash your headline.

email preview text

Not only is that lazy marketing, but it can also put off readers.

Say something you’d have loved to say in your subject line but didn’t because of space constraints. Treat your preheader like a second subject line. It’s another significant chance to convince users to open your email

You can:

  • add details to make your offer clearer,
  • summarize the contents of the message,
  • urge readers to act through scarcity,
  • personalize the message,
  • use emojis to arrest attention,
  • pose an intriguing question, and
  • tickle people with humor.

There are endless possibilities. In the rest of the article, we will look at some of these tried-and-tested strategies in depth.

#3.  Inflame people’s FOMO glands so they act now

Humans are funny creatures, aren’t they?

The less likely we are to get something, the more aggressively we pursue it. Research shows we feel the stinging pain of loss two times more than the pleasure of gain.

marketing tactics
Source: Wikipedia

Leverage this tendency. Show recipients what they’ll miss out on if they don’t act fast enough. Their instinct to grab it promptly will kick in.

The result?

They’ll open your email.

Digital Marketer used this tactic well.

email marketing tactics

On seeing this sinister warning that enrollment is ending, subscribers will act. 

Their first action? 

Opening the email to see how they can avoid the pain of having the door banged shut on their faces.

#4. Personalize your message to increase its relevance and appeal

Today’s consumers are fussy.

They demand seamless personalized experiences across channels whenever they interact with brands. Statistics show personalizing email communication is good for marketers. Personalized email subject lines hike open rates by 50%

SaleCycle ran a conversion test where they measured open rates grouped by subject line content. Here are the results.

increase open rates
Source: SaleCycle

As you can see, calling people by name came out on top with an impressive open rate of 46.21%. 

Lesson? Use people’s names to convince them to open your emails.

Follow the same principle in your preheader as SEOPressor did.

email personalization

By using my name in the preheader, they make me warm up to them and check out their message. After all, your name is the sweetest sound on the planet, especially if it starts with a click sound. 😎

You can also use subtle personalization. 

How?

Name the target audience in the preheader. Digital Marketer CEO Ryan Deiss nailed it.

how to write email preview text

By calling out his target audience “marketers, business owners, and entrepreneurs,” he instantly gets their attention. Brownie points if you can add a pain-point related emotion, such as “Frazzled marketers and business owners.”

However, remember: personalization goes beyond a name. Once you get the initial click, keep the personalization momentum going throughout.

Personalize:

Let the personalization thread run through from the subject line to sign-off. Not only will you get the email opened. You’ll also see a lift in click-through rates.

#5. Tease readers with a tantalizing question

Posing a fascinating question taps into human psychology.

People are wired to dig for answers to questions.

Reason?

A question demands an answer. Humans don’t like to live in suspense. Once you open the conversation loop with a question, people will open the email to close the loop. So if you can ask a good question, it guarantees you attention. 

Your email’s body must answer the question.

Here’s a marvelous example from Women’s Health.

email preview copy

If your gut is painful, how can you not open this email? 

For this strategy to work, be double sure your question scratches your audience’s itch. 

#6. Insert emojis in preheaders to jumpstart waning interest

Emoji use in email marketing has exploded. According to Emojipedia, emoji look-ups skyrocketed to a record 50 million searches per week in April 2020. 

Why this ballooning interest? 

Because they work. 

Experian saw open rates increase up to 28% when they included emojis in their subject lines. 

Here are some quick tips for using emojis in your preheader:
  • Research the kinds of emojis your audience is comfortable with. 
  • Spy on competitors for inspiration. 
  • Test first with a small segment of your audience before rolling out to everyone.
  • Introduce them to your audience gradually.
  • Don’t overdo them, otherwise they’ll lose potency.
  • Make sure they’re suited to the message.
  • Check if your email client supports emojis and displays them correctly.

Enhance your preheader’s impact through emojis. Create fun, excitement, or intrigue using timely emoji that grab interest.

A good case in point is Email On Acid.

emojis in preheader text

The colored clapping hands emoji makes their email pop out of the page in a dull stream of gray and black text. As a result, users are more likely to open the email.

#7. Tickle people through tasteful humor to arouse interest

Humor is the shortest distance between two strangers. It’s a proven shortcut to gaining interest and developing a relationship—super fast. If you can make your audience chuckle, you will get the click. 

However, be careful because humor is a double-edged sword. It can enthrall or enrage in a heartbeat. 

Follow the cardinal rule for using humor: don’t offend. Politics and religion are a big no. 

PetCareRx did an excellent job by referring to the hilarious Baha Men’s song “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

This makes the message sticky. Plus, they slipped in a big discount. That’s more than enough engagement and benefit to drive people to check out the message.

#8. Add a captivating CTA straightaway

Sometimes going for the jugular works.

Tell users what to do.

Feature a clear call to action in your preheader.

Add simple CTAs like:

  • Open to find out.
  • Read on for more details.
  • Click here for all the juicy details.

For instance, Japanese retailer Uniqlo urges users to see their designs.

boost email open rates
Source: Ometria

Be bossy. You just might influence more readers to open your email.

#9. Impress on users the urgency and scarcity of your offer

Another psychological push to exploit is the Siamese twins of scarcity and urgency.

They are connected.

When something’s about to run out (scarcity), you rush to get it (urgency).

So, how do you take advantage of this psychological bias in your preheader?

  • Limited stock: when few items remain, tell users by using expressions like “only 5 copies left-order now.”
  • Limited time: tell recipients they are running out of time. Use phrases like “hurry or you will miss it, deal ends at midnight” and others.
  • Limited seats: if you are promoting a webinar or conference, tell users the number of remaining seats. The fewer the better. This tactic works best as a last push to get last-minute conversions. 

Here’s a demonstration of this tactic from best-selling author and book marketing expert Tim Grahl.

scarcity email marketing

What?! Only two spots left?! So people scramble for the last spots before the cart closes. 

However, you better be telling the truth, buddy, when you use this ploy. If you use it as a perennial gimmick, you will lose hard-earned trust with your audience. 

#10. Include numbers to make your copy more persuasive 

Numbers are a persuasive superpower. 

They add another persuasive layer on top of your words. 

Massage them into your preheader because they add five elements that make your copy more convincing:

  1. Specificity: instead of saying “many people have already bought your product,” say “1723 people.” This is more specific than the general blanket term ‘many’. Specificity equals clarity, clarity equals persuasion. 
  2. Concreteness: numbers make your claims tangible. It’s easier for readers to see what you mean when you say “this offer ends in 72 hours” instead of “the deal expires in a few days.” 
  3. Attractiveness: numbers look sexier than words. They draw readers’ eyes into your copy faster than text. For instance: 187 versus one hundred and eighty-seven. Use numerals to draw attention to your preheader to get your email opened. 
  4. Credibility: another advantage of numbers over words is authenticity. Instead of saying “over a hundred people have downloaded the app,” make it believable and say “121 people have downloaded the app.” 
  5. User experience: numbers are shorter and easier to read than lengthy text. Users get $5k in a flash but take a nanosecond or two longer to read five thousand dollars. When you give users a pleasant reading experience, they reward you with a click. 

Marketing funnel expert Todd Brown used numbers to good effect in his preheader. 

using numbers in email marketing

Who wouldn’t want a gargantuan leap of 1450% leap in sales? Surely, you’d click the email to find out how to achieve such massive growth. 

#11. To hide or not to hide, that’s the question

There are three instances when you should hide your preheader:

When you have nothing to say

If you don’t have a custom preheader, better hide it than to slap on lame copy that douses the fire ignited by your killer subject line.

When it has done its job

Once the reader opens your email, the preheader must give way. You don’t want it to push important info down the page.

When it’s too long

Long preheaders take up a lot of top screen space. Ideally, you want your offers above the fold. Set things up so your preheader disappears after subscribers open your message.

Can you spot the difference below?

email subject line
Source: Campaign Monitor

Hiding your header requires a bit of coding.

Not comfortable with coding? No problem. You can always ask your email client support team to help. Or hire an email developer to do it for you.

Basic preheader math to simplify the optimization process

Want a simple formula for writing better preheaders?

Follow this equation and you’ll never go wrong.

Subject line + Preheader text = Email message theme

Your subject line and preheader text must combine to tell a complete story. The gist of the campaign’s message.

Like so.

write better emails

Perfect pairing from Chubbies. Kudos to them for telling a full story in only four words, preheader and subject line combined. 

Not only do they want recipients to imagine themselves sitting by the poolside. They want them to sit in style—in Chubbies towel shorts, blazers, and hoodies of course. 😃 The body of the email reveals this.

email preheader text example

That’s the goal – for your subject line and preheader to join forces and tell a full story. Master this and you are well on your way to improving your preheaders.

A/B test to maximize preheader performance

In optimization, always follow this foundational rule: test, don’t think. Ask any optimization expert and they’ll tell you: what you suppose will perform well doesn’t when test results roll in. 

Add preheader text into your A/B testing routine.

To get maximum returns, try different preheader and subject line combos.

Test. Tweak. Redeploy.

Rinse and repeat. Pick the winners. You’ll see your open rates rise.

Use preview text tips to unlock More Email Opens

In eCommerce email marketing, nothing happens until you get that crucial initial click that launches your campaign – the open. 

Preheaders are your secret weapon to getting more email opens. 

Anything you place in your preheader either lowers or lifts your open rates. So craft it with the utmost care and reap the rewards.

Get your preheader game on and gobble up lots of opens.

Author bio:

Qhubekani Nyathi – aka The Click Guy – is an offbeat certified SEO copywriter. He writes zingy long-form content that ranks and drives massive traffic and leads for B2B SaaS and marketing companies. You can read more of his articles on blogs such as Smart Blogger, Get Response, Search Engine Watch, Crazy Egg, and more.