Email marketing pre-headersWe are in an era of rapid development in both internet and email marketing. The tools with which we can administer campaigns are refined and improved on an almost weekly basis. We have things to hand which we would have craved for five years ago. Because of this, some of the basic concepts can get a little lost in the mix. Today, I’d like to cover one in particular – the pre-header.

A pre-header appears next to the subject line when an email is viewed in an email client’s inbox. Its presence is to tip you off on what the email contains. Gmail, for example, implements a very simple but effective pre-header feature:


The email client usually grabs this piece of text (e.g. ‘Welcome to the PlayStation newsletter’) from the first text it finds within the email itself. It can make or break your campaign – literally. Particularly on mobile, the pre-header can be the one reason your subscribers open your email… or dump it.

This means you really have to take note of how you open the content on your emails, because it is that very opening which people are likely to see even before they delve further into it.

Some email designers will add the pre-header right at the top of the email, above the logo and any imagery. This makes it very visible, but it’s not always the best tactic. A good opening sentence on your first paragraph might be all you need to capture your subscribers’ attention.

Consider the pre-header a call-to-action in itself. As you can see from Gmail’s example above, email clients are paying more attention to them than ever. That might explain why recent studies have found that open rates for emails with pre-headers are much higher than those without them. A common reason for one not being present is the use of a single image in an email, rather than any supporting text. This is a practice which is generally frowned upon, but I maintain it can work for certain situations. As always, A/B testing will help you sniff out what works for you.

So, what are the different types of pre-header we can put to use as email marketers?

Social networks

We’ll start here. Placing social networking icons (such as Twitter and Facebook) in your pre-header is a great way to encourage recipients to share the emails you send to them with their friends. Try to go light on the icons, though – don’t overwhelm the pre-header with every single network you’re on – it’ll add weight and unnecessary clutter.

Add to safe senders

You want your emails to be delivered. The pre-header is the perfect place to kindly ask your subscribers to add your email address to their safe senders list. If you’ve already established a layer of trust with them, they’re likely to interact with this straight away, if it’s the first thing they see.


I’ve said it many a time – a relationship which is going nowhere isn’t a relationship you want to continue. Someone will get upset – most likely your subscriber. Placing an unsubscribe link within your pre-header might sound like marketing suicide, but it is actually a very clever tactic. It shows people you are not afraid to lose them if they don’t want to hear from you again. It also shows that you take the ethics of email marketing seriously. Lastly, it will also flush out those subscribers who are no longer engaged.

Web version

If your subscribers have a problem viewing your email in their client (a common issue on small mobile devices), you can make their life a whole lot easier by adding a ‘web version’ link in your pre-header.


Another option is to allow subscribers to navigate your email from the pre-header. This works particularly well with promotional emails. Put yourself in the position of the recipient – if you receive an email from a retailer you trust with an offer you can’t refuse, wouldn’t it be easier to click that link within the pre-header, rather than having to scroll down?

The main message

Last, but by no means least, is the standard way of using a pre-header. Your central message. This isn’t applicable for every email campaign, but for those where you have one thing in particular you want to get across, the pre-header is gold dust. Treat it as an extension of your subject line.

Obviously, you can’t fit all of the above into one pre-header, so I suggest you conduct some testing. Changing the contents of your pre-header isn’t bad practice. Like anything, you need to find what works for you.


Image courtesy of Master isolated images /


Mark is one of mailingmanager's email experts. His contributions to this blog openly share the tricks, tips and best practices he's learned while running multiple e-marketing campaigns.

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