The Quickest Win for Increasing Email Open Rates: Stop Neglecting Email Preheader Text

Mike Arsenault
July 16, 2021
minute read

We all know that a first impression can have a deeply lasting effect on those we meet. But how do we give someone a good first impression? As a kid, my mom would always tell me to greet everyone with a smile. Easy enough right? Today, many first encounters take place electronically, but this doesn’t mean that a first impression is any less important. Receiving a friendly, well-crafted email is a great first impression, one that can put a smile on your customer's face.

In a world where our inboxes are constantly overflowing, it seems impossible to be able to put a smile on your customer’s face when they’ve reached your email. We want to show you how, with just a sentence or two, you can have them clicking and smiling, all at the same time. We will talk about using preview text, or pre-headers, to increase open and click-through rates – possibly, getting some conversions.

What is an email preheader?

An email preheader, also known as a "preview text," is a snippet of text that is displayed in the inbox of an email client, usually below the subject line of the email. At Rejoiner, we often refer to preheader text as the second subject line. The preheader text is designed to give the recipient a preview of the email's content and augments the subject line before a subscriber decided to open.

The copy used for the preheader is often drawn from the beginning of the email's body content, but can also be set explicitly using special code in the email's HTML.

Some common use cases for preheader text are:

  • To summarize the email's content
  • To preview a discount or offer
  • To create intrigue & entice the recipient to open the email

It's important to note that some email clients will only display the first few lines of an email as the preheader text, which limits the amount of text that can be used. Therefore it's good to keep it short.

The anatomy of preview text

There are many hints inside your email that alert a customer as to its purpose. Abandoned items, subscription details, offers, news… the possibilities are endless. However, the harsh reality is that most emails will go unopened. The enticing copy and flawless graphic design you so meticulously crafted may have been all for naught, as the vast majority of emails sadly never see the light of day. One way to increase the likelihood of your email being opened is to snatch your customer’s precious attention right off the bat.  Let them know that this particular email will definitely be worth their time.

In email clients and email apps, this first glance of the little bits and pieces of an email that pop up in your inbox is known as the preview. The preview section shows three major things:  the sender, the subject line, and the pre-header.


The sender (reply email)

Who (or what) is sending an email speaks volumes about your relationship with your customer base. This seemingly straightforward component  can spell the difference between giving your customers warm fuzzy feelings of personalization and home-cooked meals, or traumatic  visions of the impending robot apocalypse. Now which one of those do you think will be more likely to result in an opened email?  It’s one thing to receive an email from or and quite another to receive an email from, although it’s likely that both are generated from the same place.

A simple personalized name stands out from the sea of generic email senders and can be that much-needed trigger to make a customer feel special, which hopefully will result in an opened email.  Optimization is done the best when you put yourself in your customer’s shoes (in this case literally).  If I receive an email from, chances are that email will float into the abyss without anyone ever having laid eyes on it. Whereas, if I receive an email from , it’s more likely I’ll click a little deeper into this mysterious Bill fellow and see what he’s all about.  When the sender’s address has the power to propel your email to the top of the heap or fast-track it to the electronic graveyard, you want to make sure you get it right.


Many blogs and marketing connoisseurs agree that humanization and personalization go hand in hand. Adding a name to your email is like adding a friendly face — a friendly human face. Use a personalized email address to get your customers to think of you as a fellow human entity and increase your chances of being read.

The subject line

So we now know that adding a face to your email is a great tactic for optimization… but wait, there is more! Chances are you want to let your customer know why it is you are emailing them in the first place. Which brings us to the subject line.  Most subject line blog posts advise you to keep things simple. There are even tools that help you to write better and more pertinent subject lines, such as this tool from the cool guys at Mailchimp.

Even with all the fancy ways to get your customer’s attention in a subject line, believe it or not, honesty will get you a long way. You don’t want to rope your customer in with an enticing subject line only to have them promptly press “DELETE” when they find out by its contents they’ve been deceived. If your customer hasn’t ordered from your store in the last 90 days and you want them back, let them know upfront. If they are subscribed to your product updates, let them know that is what a particular email is all about. In this case, honesty is the best policy, one that can be rewarded by improving your click through rates and boosting your number of opened emails.


What you don’t want to do, however, is scream at your customer. While it’s great that you are offering FREE SHIPPING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, for better results, you might want to let your customer know in a more elegant way. Say, for example, that because of the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday, you are offering free shipping on all products. Great, but using that whole sentence is boring and takes up valuable attention-getting space.

This is where the need for simplicity and conciseness comes back into play. Check out this great example below from They are using the simple subject line of “Brighten Her Day”, while also notifying you about their free shipping offer as the first thing on their email.


For further details on writing subject lines, you can head to this great post by Unbounce on the subject… get it? Enough jokes, let’s get back to business.

The preheader

This is where the fun of optimization really starts. Did you know that email clients pull any bits of text they find at the beginning of your email and show them to your customers? Pretty rude, right?  Well, that’s what they do. If you could read an entire email in one or two preview sentences, you probably wouldn’t even bother to open it, much less click on it.  If handled incorrectly, this can ruin any chance of your email being opened. However, when used wisely, it can be a greatly powerful tool for you. Next, we’ll talk about what a preheader is and why it’s so important. We’ll even show you how to use it and give you the code to add to your templates so you can get started right away.


Think it, write it, preview it

If you are not feeling that adventurous, or can’t get a hold of your email designer because he is on a coding break, we suggest you try seeing how your preheader would look along with the other characters in your email. You can use this pretty amazing tool created by Austin Woodall from the #EmailGeeks community.

A preheader is like flirting

Much like that mysterious stranger across the bar (or friend of a friend on Tinder), you can seduce your customers with a great-looking email and further engage them with a few lines of text. The preheader is a set of hidden or visible characters inside your email’s HTML code, commonly used in relation to your subject line to create a teaser for your email.

Opting to make a header invisible comes when you do not want it to be a visual part of your email. Meaning that you are using the preheader as a textual aid more than a design aid. On the other hand, a visible preheader may come in two flavors. You may choose to make it purely functional and just add it at the top of your email while diluting its design so the main hierarchy stays on your header and email content. The second option is showing it off and glamming up its design so that it jives with the rest of your email. Both techniques are valid and the preference is based purely on your tactics.

So now you might be asking:  what are the best practices for the use of preheader text? Whether you choose to go the hidden or visible route, above all the best practice is to use it! If you did a great job when crafting your subject line in relation to the first bits of your email, it makes sense to hide your preheader so that it doesn’t clash with or interrupts the main message you wrote.

Take a look at this example by Charity:Water. Their subject line is inclusive of the email contents, while their preheader flows seamlessly with the subject lines.  There is no glaringly obvious division between the two. The result is an alluring email with copywriting even Don Draper can get behind.


If your email’s first bits are:  links, an unsubscribe option,  or the all too  common “View this in your browser” tag, you may want to rethink your tactics by adding a preheader. Even your “alt” text for your banner image can make it into the preheader, such as in the below email by Udemy. Their preheader attempts to relate to their subject line by asking you to explore the possibilities of what you can learn by using Udemy’s  $10 course offer.

However, their preheader shows the phrase “Explore New Possibilities” not one, but three times. We peeked at their source code to note that the alt text on their image had the text of “Explore New Possibilities: For a Limited Time Get Courses on Sale. ” This  on its own is a creative bit of copy, but seems to fall flat  in execution. It’s quite possible they relied on the image text instead of straight out code. While it’s obvious that their thinking was on making the text of their image available, they forgot to add a preheader, or simply use a preheader code bit that would read the entire line of text instead of having email clients repeat only small parts of that sentence.


A while back we designed a campaign for Hydroflask, a great little company offering super cool water containers. We wanted to make their customers feel special and appreciated. Using personalization techniques, we crafted emails to sound like an affectionate letter from their friends at Hydroflask.  We opted to make the preheader visible so that (in this case), Hank would feel greeted by the email upon opening it. We also used their slogan (used on the main banner) to underscore the product and provide an enticing bit of copy that will hopefully result in an opened email.


As you can see, the usage of preheaders varies greatly and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to best practices. However, we can absolutely show you how to  add the preheader in your emails.

Case Study: Preheaders vs. No preheaders

As soon as we heard that one of our clients,, was having some open-rate woes we decided it was time to show them the power of adding preheaders to their cart abandonment email campaign.

The good news is that there is always room for optimization. To prove that we could increase Autoplicity’s open-rate, we decided to test improve the preheader copy to get some concrete results. We left the control sample nude and sans preheaders, while the variation included a preheader within every email in its sequence.


See it live (No preheaders) (Using preheaders)

We’ve  been running the test for a couple of months in order to gain insight into the value of preheaders and understand how they can impact open rates. It’s important to keep in mind that every industry has a different audience and results will vary.

The data below indicates that preheaders are indeed getting Autoplicity more opens. You can also see a small increase in conversions and ROI, which is an interesting bi-product to explore.


Email 1 – Breakdown

Nowhere is this test more successful than the 1st email. The open rate for the variant creative with improved preheaders is seeing 7.96% lift at over 95% confidence when it comes to compared to the control campaign.


The first email includes a preheader that does more than completing a subject line. We use the preheader as  a way to communicate the speed of Autoplicity’s shipping with the text: “We want to prove how fast we can deliver your parts”. The preheader is not intrusive and doesn’t affect the content of the email.  It also provides an extra level of clarification by adding “Please tell us what went wrong.” We wanted to be upfront with our customer while also providing a selling point and a customer service mindset.


Email 2 – Breakdown

On Autoplicity’s second email, the preheader talks about the quality of service a customer can expect. This shows  how preview text can be put to use in more ways than one. We wanted to tell people right off the bat, before opening the 2nd email,  that they can expect great things from Autoplicity, including exceptional service and better product pricing than the competition.

The statement  “Give us a chance to prove Autoplicity’s 5-Star service and save 60% off retail” in the preheader lends support to the email as a whole. Here we wanted to show customers why they should buy from Autoplicity in a way that wouldn’t clash with the email’s message. Don’t be afraid to use your preheaders  to promote the value of your business, it can help you down the road.


Email 3 – Breakdown

The campaign consisted of only three emails in its sequence. So we decided to add the campaign’s offer in our email as part of the preheader in conjunction to their best price guarantee. This way the preheader also functions  as a call to action. Here, we are targeting  customers that did not complete their purchase on the 1st or 2nd email with a more direct tactic.  This last email is essentially a last ditch effort to win over clients that were not swayed by the first and second emails.


Preheaders are more valuable than they seem. It is okay to use these for sneak peeks into your emails, but your preheader approach should go hand-in-hand with the results you would like to achieve. In our case, with Autoplicity, we wanted to increase their open rates. So we wanted people to open the messages we were sending them because they read not only what’s inside of the email, but why.

Email preheader best practices

  1. Use the first sentence or two of your email's body copy as the preview text. This will give recipients a sense of what the email is about and encourage them to open it.
  2. Make the preview text compelling and action-oriented. Use language that entices recipients to open the email, such as "Get 20% off your first purchase!"
  3. Keep the preview text short and to the point. Most email clients will display only the first 100 characters or so of preview text, so make sure the most important information is included within that limit.
  4. Test different variations of your preview text to see which performs the best.
  5. Try to avoid using "..." or similar characters to indicate the preview text is truncated.
  6. Avoid using special characters or emojis that might not be supported by the email client.
  7. Also Keep in mind that the preheader text is not only for the preview pane in email clients, but also for assistive technologies like screen readers. So, make sure that it still make sense if someone is only listening to it.
  8. Use preheader as an opportunity to show off your brand, or create a sense of urgency and excitement.

In Short

Preheaders are your subject line’s supporting actor and give your emails a reason to be opened, read and clicked. We aren’t exaggerating when we say that, preheaders are a must have and should be given vital importance in your email marketing.

You can get the most out of your preheaders by including personalization when possible. When customers see their own name inside the preview text of an email, it can make them feel that it was crafted specifically for them.  Oftentimes this can spell the difference between your email being clicked on or passed over for the next.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Use preheaders wisely and choose your words carefully.
  • Preheaders need to be crafted along your subject lines. They will be read together.
  • Hide preheaders when the message is being repeated inside your email.
  • Show preheaders when you want the text in your preheader to visually aid your content.
  • Preheaders are functional and can greatly enhance  the overall message of your email.
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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you insert a preheader in an email?

With Rejoiner, you can add a preheader text while creating a campaign. There's a field labeled "preheader" that you can fill in with your text.

What is email preheader vs preview text?

These terms are often used interchangeably and are referring to the same thing. Email preview text, also known as preheaders, is the snippet of text that appears below the subject line in an email client's inbox or preview pane.

How long should an email preheader be?

Keep the preview text short and to the point. Most email clients will display only the first 100 characters or so of preview text, so make sure the most important information is included within that limit.


Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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