Subject line, subject line, subject line. Pretty much every email marketing person will tell you that your email subject lines need to ROCK if you want people to open your messages. This is true (I even created a download with 52 kickass subject lines).

My question to you is: is the subject line alone enough to get people to open it?

The answer: Not anymore.

What I’m about to share with you is a powerful tool that few small businesses I know are using to its full advantage. I will admit to being guilty of skipping this step when I’m in a hurry… or not feeling very creative. That definitely makes this a case of doing what I say, not what I do 🤣

The email preview line (aka email preheader)

A preheader (otherwise known as a “Johnson Box’”) is the short summary text that follows the subject line when viewing an email from the inbox. Many mobile, desktop and web email clients provide email preheaders to tip you off on what the message contains before you open it

According to Courtenay Worcester of GetResponse, emails using preheader text have a seven percent higher open rate on average. Why? Think about it. Most people get more than 100 emails a day (I know I get more than 200). People are skimming through the subjects, deciding what to open and what to skip.

The preview line, if used well, is a great way to capture your reader’s attention. This is particularly important because most people view email on mobile devices, and the preview lines on mobile are prominent.

Here is a screenshot with email preview text examples from my own inbox (on the left is from my desktop, the right from my phone).

preheader sample text

Are you counting the lost opportunities? Even from senders I would EXPECT to be using them, I’m just getting the first line of text. Or worse: an alt tag that just says “image” (which means there is an image, probably a logo, at the top of the email and the sender did not put an alt tag in it…that is a topic for another day).

As you can see from my screenshots, your email is going to have a preview line. If you don’t custom write one, it will be the first line of text from your email, the alt-tag from your image, a repeat of the subject line, or some other boring auto-populated piece of text. Think about it: “image good morning Joe,” is not something that will pique curiosity.

That means if you aren’t writing custom preheaders, you are missing an opportunity to engage with our reader and give them a preview of the exciting content you have waiting inside.

5 email preheader best practices

Many of the best practices for subject lines carry over into the preview text. In fact, I often think of it as a continuation of my subject line.

  1. Always include one. I’m pretty sure all email service providers give you the option. I know Active Campaign and Constant Contact do (those are the two I work with). Utilize it! And make it meaningful. By meaningful, I mean let your reader know what you’re offering.
  2. Get personal. Personalization in subject lines and preheader text improves open rates. Even if your readers KNOW you’re not talking specifically to them, they still like the personal touch. Whether you can personalize the preheader will depend on your email service provider. But if you can’t, make sure you do it in the subject line.
  3. Just ask. Asking questions is a great way to get a response. If you ask a question your reader cares about, they’ll want to find out the answer. Think of this: chocolate helps you lose weight versus Can eating chocolate help you lose weight [name]?
  4. Holy emoji! The age of the emoji is upon us. Love them or hate them, emojis make your message stand out. My own emails getting more opens when I use a well-placed emoji. (I get mine here). Go beyond the smiley face and find an emoji that tells your story. When you only have 30-40 characters allowed for each line of text on mobile, they can really pack a punch.
  5. Say that again. Read your subject line and preheader out loud. Why? Because your reader may not be reading. Chances are, Alexa is checking email, which means your subject line and preheader is being spoken. Weird, huh? It’s the reality of how things are. So make sure your subject lines and preheaders sound as good as they look.

How long should the preheader be?

Not all devices and apps treat preheader text the same way, and some may not support it at all. And although there are no character limits, it may not all be visible. Things that impact how much of the preview text they’ll see include:

  • The device they’re using to view their email inbox
  • Their email application
  • The width of their browser window (if they’re accessing from a desktop computer)
  • The length of the subject line

What does that mean for length? Short wins the day: around 35-50 characters. Not sure? Send a test version of your message to yourself and look at it from a desktop and a mobile device. That won’t cover every scenario, but it will give you an idea of what your reader will see.

Where to start then? Glad you asked.  Start with some kickass subject lines that will get your creative juices flowing. Just click the button to grab the download.