So much of our time and energy spent creating emails is focused on the content and design, or delivering personalized messages through automation. It’s easy to forget that a lot of our subscribers we’re creating content for are not seeing our amazing work.

It all starts in the inbox, which we may be ignoring. Every email client is a little different, but generally you’ll have:

  • From Name
  • Subject Line
  • Preheader

From name for your marketing emails should be your company name, not “Jake from State Farm”, unless you have had personal contact with that person. That’s where personalization comes in. Keep it simple.

Subject line is the original-flavor best practice split test. Marketers know that subject lines drive open rates. Take advantage of split testing subject lines. Try different approaches to phrasing the subject line, such as informative vs asking a question, hard sell vs soft sell, and direct vs open ended. You may need to create a sense of urgency, or spark some curiosity.

Show me what you’re working with!

Every inbox is going to differ in the number of characters you have to work with. A good baseline to start with is iPhone, which will show about 35-40 characters of your subject line. Mobile open rates are on the rise, surpassing desktop and web, so curating your subject lines for your mobile audience is a good place to start.

Here’s what I’m really trying to get at:

Preheader is a bit of a wildcard that seems to be misunderstood and misused, but can be every bit as useful as subject line. In fact, by default, iPhone shows between 70 and 80 characters for a preheader, and can be increased to add more lines in phone settings. With more room to work with, why aren’t more marketers taking advantage of this?

You know what really grinds my gears…

A preheader that reads “Can’t see images? Click here to view in browser” does not offer any helpful information about what might be found in the email. How often do you see that line in your inbox? Far too often! It’s a wasted opportunity to nudge the subscriber into opening your message.


The life span of a subject line and preheader are measurable by one statistic, open rate. Subscribers only spend about 3-4 seconds reading the description of your email in an inbox. We need to grab their attention and interest immediately. The preheader should support the subject line and summarize what content can be found in the message. Here are a few good examples.


In the case of the Jack Spade email, the preheader is just the hero copy. Well written, but very literally what you can expect to find in the email.


Repeating is repetitive.

Preheader should always support the subject line, and essentially summarize the content of the message. Avoid repeating the subject line. It won’t help a reader to feed them the same line twice.

Where does the preheader come from?

The first line of copy in an email will be pulled by the email client for use in the inbox. This is why the “view in browser” link is so often found in the inbox, because it is placed at the top of the message.


It’s not necessary that the preheader is visible in the message itself, as its purpose is to attract a subscriber to click to open. After all, you won’t find the subject line at the top of every message. It can be hidden on both the desktop or mobile view, and will still be pulled by the inbox.


2 things to watch out for:

Always remember to include a plain text version of your email. In a few inboxes, when opened on mobile devices, the first line of copy from the plain text will be used as the preheader in the inbox.

Depending on the layout of your message, sometimes the logo or other content will be displayed before the preheader, especially if it’s aligned to the right of your layout. You can create this effect by coding a table structure with an aligned right table first in your code that contains the preheader, followed by an aligned left table that contains the logo or other content. This ensures the preheader is still the first line of copy in the code.

Test, test, test!

Subject and preheader testing are very simple to do with a simple A/B split. They can easily be measured by open rate. Test the impact of a message with and without preheader, or the phrasing you decided to use to engage the reader.