7 ways to punch up preheaders in marketing emails

September 17, 2019 | 5 minute read
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So you've got your subject lines down, and you know what makes your readers click and what doesn't. But have you given your preheaders much thought lately?

It might be time to give them another look.

You can give even your best subject line a little extra kick by adding a deadline, a secondary offer, or more information to your preheader. To help you get started, here are seven ways to punch up that second line of copy in your email marketing.

1. Finish your thought

Use your preheader to support or expand on the idea you introduced in the subject line. A few recent examples:

Under Armour

Subject line: You Need These Capris

Preheader: Built for Everything from Ballet to Box Jumps – Shop Now


Subject line: Restoring an American Legend

Preheader: Learn about how the U.S.S. Yorktown overcame rust and corrosion

2. Get to the point

Add a call-to-action in the preheader to get customers moving in the right direction, right away. A lot of companies seem to take this route. You can even have multiple preheaders; just use pipes or an en dash to separate each linked bit of text.

Henri Bendel

Subject line: We’ve got a surprise in-store for you

Preheader: Save the Date FIND A STORE


Subject line: Ride through summer with Quiksilver polos and shoes

Preheader: Shop PolosShop Shoes

3. Give them more details

Try adding coupon codes or additional benefits and information about your main message. It's a great way to keep a potentially long subject line at a nice, digestible length.

West Elm

Subject line: A surprise just for you (1 week only!)

Preheader: Use code T6TZ-Z7M9-G9JN for 15% off your next order or show this email in store


Subject line: Summer Clearance under $100 – 102,345 items just added

Preheader: PLUS Patagonia, North Face and Prana on Sale

4. Tell another story

If you don’t want to reiterate your main message in the preheader, try including a secondary offer. It just might bring in readers who weren't enticed by the content in the subject line.

J. Crew

Subject line: Prepped for fall

Preheader: Plus, 40% off wear-right-now styles

Banana Republic

Subject line: Our skinny ankle jeans, upgraded.

Preheader: Wear them with this bootie.

5. Add a lil’ personalization

Perhaps your customers no longer respond to seeing their first name in the subject line. Have you tried adding it in the preheader?

Century21 Dept Store

Subject line: Final Hours: 90% Off Clearance + #DesignerSunday

Preheader: Hi Lizette! Missoni, Guess, Eli Tahari…Shop Now!


Subject line: A friendly reminder…

Preheader: Lizette, your product picks are waiting at checkout.

On the same page, Urban Outfitters personalized the preheader of their abandon cart email campaign by mentioning the item that was waiting for me at checkout. This definitely grabbed my attention and would’ve been way too long in the subject line.

Urban Outfitters

Subject line: Hey…you left something at our place…

Preheader: Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan Hardcover By Ian Bell $35.00

6. Play role reversal

Some brands treat the subject line as more of a teaser, and let the preheader serve up more specific details. Give it a shot and see if it works for your audience.


Subject line: Wear them. Share them. Live in them.

Preheader: Introducing the Live in Levi’s® Project. Plus free shipping on all orders


Subject line: You’re on our extraspecial list. Here’s proof

Preheader: Early access to our fall collection, right here

7. Make your statement

Maybe there's a special offer or everyday value proposition that only your company offers. Help your customers keep that in mind as they shop by including it in your preheader in every email. Some companies doing this include:


Subject line: Summertime styles got it goin’ on…

Preheader: FREE Shipping on Orders $50+ FREE Exchanges & Easy Returns


Subject line: The 5 must-have items to instantly elevate your look

Preheader: As always, we have free shipping and free returns.

Now, let’s talk about length

On a desktop, a preheader can be as long as 100 characters, depending on which email service your reader is using, how wide their browser is set at the time and how long your subject line is.

A Yahoo inbox on desktop:

Email Marketing Yahoo Desktop Email

However, with about half of email opens now occurring on a mobile device, you have fewer characters to play with. For instance, in the iPhone native email app, you have about 65 characters before the text gets cut off:

iPhone Native Email App

And you have about the same amount of characters in the Android native email app:

Email Marketing Android Native Email App

However, in the Android Gmail app, you have about 30-40 characters, but only if the subject line doesn’t take up more than one line.

Gmail Android Email App

So, with all that in mind, it’s best to simply find out where your customers are most frequently accessing your emails to determine which length is right for you.

And one last thing...

There are some links customers expect to see at the top of a marketing email, including a "View with images" link or maybe even an "Unsubscribe" link. If these are at the top of your email, just make sure they’re placed after your most important content so that they’re not the first thing customers see in the preview pane after your subject line.

You can also give those types of links another look and see if there's any way to shorten them. For instance, if you still have something like, "This message contains graphics. If you do not see graphics, click here to view." consider shortening it to the standard "View with images" or, even better, something with a little personality that fits your brand voice.

Remember: Use that prime space to support your subject line and guide readers into the rest of your marketing email.


Main image source: Airman 1st Class Kerelin Molina [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lizette Resendez

Since 2004, she's produced creative concepts and written copy for a diverse range of clients including Pottery Barn Teen, ANN Taylor, Victoria's Secret PINK, The Ritz-Carlton, MetLife, Gerber Life and La-Z-Boy. You can follow her on Twitter @lizettegrrr.

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