Email Pre-headers: What are they and why are they so important?


The same is true about your emails, and more specifically your email pre-headers that serve as your billboards. Are they getting looks? Are they being opened, read, and clicked through?

Healthcare professionals – Millenials. GenX. Boomers. HCPs across all age categories share one thing in common: life. Regardless of age, they juggle priorities and struggle with time. The reality is that between conference calls and back-to-back meetings there are only a few minutes to grab coffee, update Twitter feed, peek at Instagram, and check emails… and about those emails… read all 100+ received in the last hour? Not hardly. You’ve heard it before, “There’s just not enough time in the day,” so you can guarantee that only emails that are important or stand-out, will be opened, clicked through, and paid any attention at all. So, how do you make sure your emails pop from the clutter and catch the eye of busy, multi-tasking healthcare professionals? Pre-headers.

As HCPs quickly scroll through emails, it is important to grab their attention, peak their interest, create intrigue and curiosity, and move them to open your email. You accomplish this with a pre-header that is like a billboard for HCPs as they move through their inbox. Pre-headers boldly state, “this is what the email is about,” “stop here,” “open now,” and, “read more.”

What are Pre-headers?
Pre-headers are snippets of text extracted from the body of the email. They also are commonly referred to as snippets or preview text because that’s exactly what they are: snippets or pieces of information found in the copy or preview text because pre-headers provide a preview or introduce the text that will be communicated in more detail in the body of the email.

The idea of pre-headers is similar to the “Johnson Box” which is commonly found at the top of direct mail, containing the key message of the piece. It has been adapted to the email format, providing the additional benefit of allowing the most important message in the email to be visible in the preview pane of an email reader.

Where are Pre-headers in the structure of an Email?
Pre-headers are located underneath the “From” name and “Subject” line, and before the company header (hence, the name pre-header) or body of email.

Why are pre-headers important?
When healthcare professionals are checking email between appointments, meetings, and paperwork, pre-headers serve as one of the most important elements in the design of an effective email to grab their attention and cut through the clutter. In addition to the subject line, pre-headers are yet another tool to catch the readers’ eyes and stop and encourage them to open and click-through your email instead of skipping or even deleting. Ultimately, by optimizing your preview text, you may increase your open rates sometimes up to 45%.

How can pre-headers improve open rates?

  1. Grab recipients’ attention encouraging them to open
  2. Influence behavior by moving HCPs to open, scroll, and click increasing overall engagement in content and call-to-action

Tips for Effective Pre-headers:

  1. Construct a teaser message that is on point
    Make sure your pre-headers are straightforward and to the point summarizing the content of the email message. Don’t waste the opportunity to grab your reader’s attention and curiosity. The pre-header is like a Super Bowl ad… it’s gotta be good. Use the pre-header as a “teaser” for the rest of the email with the purpose of making the reader opening and scrolling for more.
  1. Elaborate on the subject line
    The shorter the subject line, the better it performs. Pre-headers allow you to add a little bit more detail while keeping the subject line at the most optimal length.
  1. Include strong action words
    Pre-headers can create a sense of urgency with a strong call to action. They can move readers to open sooner instead of being skimmed over in the inbox, put off being read until later, or deleted after some time when the inbox has become inundated with other off-topic emails.
  1. Limit characters and length
    The pre-header box does not have a character limit. However, the number of characters that actually display varies among desktop, mobile, and webmail email clients and depends on whether or not they even support the feature. Try to keep characters between 35 and 40.

    For example:
    • Gmail and AOL display two lines of pre-headers right after the subject line
    • iPhone 6 renders up to three lines of pre-header text
    • Windows phones only show 40 characters before cutting off the message

  1. Test Pre-headers
    Use A/B testing to determine what works and adapt as needed to guarantee that the pre-header resonates with the audience as intended. Not only will this help increase open-rate success, but it may teach you valuable things about your readers in the process.

How do you add pre-headers to an email campaign?
Make sure your pre-header adds value to the overall open strategy, email message, and readers’ time. Be careful not to repeat information, but instead keep it fresh, building off of the subject line, and leading into the main point of the email.

The pre-header can be as simple as using the first line of copy in the body of your message or can also be hard-coded and even hidden with a code/snippet/hidden div. It is important to remember that some email clients such as Gmail either strip or ignore styles in the head of an HTML email.

If you are using a pre-header, make sure that link text or default settings such as “Having trouble viewing this email?” or “Forward to a friend” are coded elsewhere in the message. Placement of generic text in a pre-header adds no value to the campaign and excites no one.


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