Email marketing: Preheaders (or, what a difference 100 characters can make)

Posted By: Dave Kopf
Post Date: 02/14/2017

IT’S A MOBILE WORLD, and your marketing had better respond to it, down to the simplest elements. Case in point: the oft-ignored preheader, a simple tool that can mean the difference between your emails getting read or deleted.

To demonstrate how prevalent mobile email has become, consider this: 66 percent of all U.S. email traffic is opened and read on smartphones or tablets, according to the “U.S. Consumer Device Preference Report” from MovableInk. The report adds that 49.5 percent of email opens occurred on smartphones and 16.8 on tablets, with the remaining 34 percent occurring on desktops. In terms of operating system, 58 percent of email opens happened on an Apple iOS device and 7 percent happened on Android devices. And every one of those emails can benefit from a preheader.

What’s a preheader? Well, pick up your smartphone and open your email app. Regardless of your phone’s operating system and the app you’re using, you’ll see essentially the same thing for each email in your inbox: the sender’s name, the message subject, and approximately the first 100 characters of the email message.  However, look closer at those first 100 characters: Some of them look much more like summary text than the first random words of a message. That is preheader copy, and when sending HTML emails, you can modify how that copy reads.

The advantage of the preheader is simple: it improves open rates. As good as your subject line might be at grabbing a customer’s attention, the preheader essentially doubles the message’s appeal by giving some additional detail about the message. Given how ready customers are to hit the Delete key, smart powersports marketers need to use every trick in the book to ensure their messages are opened and read. The preheader makes for a powerful trick.

Before we dive into what makes an effective email preheader, let’s describe the two approaches you can use to add a preheader to your emails: simple HTML text, or a slightly more complex, but completely hidden style.

The simple HTML text is the easiest, but it’s a little less elegant from a coding perspective. Essentially, all you do is add small text that is colored the same as your email background at the very beginning of your message, right after the <BODY> tag. For example, let’s assume the background of your HTML email is white:


<font size=”-5″ color= color=”#FFFFFF”>This is the message preheader.</font>

This text would be so small and essentially invisible that nearly all readers would not see it when the email is open, but because mobile email apps ignore all the font tags, that pre-header copy would be listed in the inbox.

Now, to completely obscure the preheader, you can set up a style, which hides it entirely from the viewer when the user opens the message, but at the same time still makes it visible in the email inbox. To do that, you’d set up you code similar to this:



preheader { display: none; visibility: hidden; opacity: 0; color: transparent; height: 0; width: 0; }




<span class=”preheader” style=”display: none !important; visibility: hidden; opacity: 0; color: transparent; height: 0; width: 0;”>This is the preheader text</span>

In terms of the character length of your preheader text, it’s suggested that you keep it to 100 characters, including spaces – it is the lowest common denominator between the iOS mail app and Gmail. When trying to reach everyone in your audience, go for the universal option.

Also, make sure to test your preheaders to see how they appear on different devices. This will help you ensure you’re getting things just right in terms of how they appear in the inbox.

But outside of the technical, how-to elements of creating a message preheader, how do you create a message preheader that helps compel readers to open your messages? This is where we veer from the science to the art if marketing communications. Here are some things to keep in mind when constructing effective preheaders:

Don’t copy your subject line. Too many marketers make this mistake. Instead, you want to hint at some of the message’s contents, or provide some entirely unique text that encourages recipients to open.

Hint at the benefit of the information contained in the message. For example, your subject line could read “Northeast MotoSports Biannual Sale” and the preheader could read “Learn about hot deals on riding gear”

Vary your preheaders. Consider segmenting your email list and using different preheaders for each group. Going back to the Biannual Sale example, you could write unique preheaders for the sportbike riders, ATV riders and cruiser enthusiasts.

Consider a call to action. This really depends on the marketing message of your email, but cutting to the chase with a call to action that might be mentioned later in the body of the email promo can compel recipients to open.

Experiment. As you craft your preheaders, don’t be afraid to try changing your tone and style of language. Maybe puns will appeal to your audience. Maybe your sportbike racers will respond to a quip about the latest MotoGP results. Much will depend on your audience, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the right formula.


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