5 Ways a Preheader Can Increase Response and Deliverability

A preheader is a small section that appears at the top of your email, above your message content.

For example, here’s the top portion of an email I received from Wells Fargo:

See the two lines above the logo? That’s the preheader. It’s called a “preheader” because the part just below it – the logo and navigation – are typically called the “header” of the email.

Many businesses use preheaders in their email marketing campaigns to get more subscribers to open and read their emails – and to ensure that their campaigns are as deliverable as possible.

How Can a Preheader Improve Response Rates and Deliverability?

In the uses I’ve seen, preheaders typically aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Link to an online version of the email and/or remind subscribers to turn on images.

    Why: Many people view emails with images turned off. If your email relies on images to drive clicks or get a point across, you want those subscribers to be able to see them.

    See an example from MarketingProfs.com

  • Ask subscribers to add the sender’s address to his/her address book.

    Why: As we’ve discussed before, getting in subscribers’ address books increases the likelihood that your email will (a) end up in their inbox and (b) actually get opened/read/clicked.

    See an example from REI.com

  • Deliver a compelling one-line summary of the email to get subscribers to keep reading.

    Why: People are busy. Many of them scan emails rather than read them top-to-bottom, and many use Gmail-style text snippets or their email program’s preview pane to determine which emails to bother reading.

    Giving people an overview of why they should read your email can increase the odds that they’ll actually do so.

    See an example from Backcountry.com

  • Provide an unsubscribe link.

    Why: People who want off your list will get off your list one way or another. If you make it hard to unsubscribe, they’ll click “Spam” – and they’ll keep doing so until they stop seeing emails from you in their inbox.

    See an example from Viddler.com

  • Remind subscribers why they’re getting the email.

    Why: Again, people are busy. They may forget that they ever signed up to your list. And if they forget they signed up, they’re probably going to want off your list (see above).

    Reminding them why they’re getting your emails can help you re-engage subscribers and minimize spam complaints.

    See an example from LaQuinta.com

How Do You Use Preheaders?

You’ll notice that in the examples above, not everyone uses their preheader the same way.

Doing every one of the things that you could do in a preheader could make it unnecessarily long; you have to pick out what works best for your email marketing campaigns.

Do you use preheaders in your emails? If so, what do you put in them?

Share your ideas below!

31 Comments

  1. Jayne

    7/20/2009 8:01 pm

    When designing an online version, should I also design an email version in aweber, or can aweber simply access the online version by using the html code?

  2. Yee Shun Jian

    7/21/2009 4:34 am

    I usually see companies doing this because they are sending html-based emails with images.

    Very seldom do I see individual list owners using this. Maybe worth testing out…

  3. Justin Premick

    7/21/2009 8:52 am

    Jayne,

    We can automatically create an online version of broadcast emails.

    To have us do this (and to get the link to put in your preheader), click the "Syndicate" checkbox.

    You’ll see a Direct Link that looks something like this:

    http://aweber.com/b/xxxxx

    That’s the URL to the online version of your email. Link that up in your preheader.

    Yee,

    Are you suggesting that only "big" companies send HTML email? Because I can assure you that’s simply not true.

    That said, some of the things you can do with a preheader can be perfectly appropriate for plain text emails (examples: asking subscribers to add you to their address books; reminding them why they’re getting the email).

    It’s all about determining what fits your campaigns best.

  4. Rodney

    7/21/2009 10:50 am

    To create a preheader do we just put some text before the main body of the message? Is there anything special we need to do?

  5. Boris Mahovac R.G.D.

    7/21/2009 11:06 am

    Great article, Justin!

    I’d like to submit this email as a better example than the Backcountry.com one of using a pre-header as a "one-line summary" which works especially well in Gmail.

    http://www.cpgear.com/ezine/2009-07-10/

  6. Justin Premick

    7/21/2009 11:12 am

    Rodney,

    Exactly – just add whatever text you feel to be an appropriate preheader to the very top of your email.

    Boris,

    Thanks – that is a nice one-line summary!

  7. Doreen

    7/21/2009 11:58 am

    That’s a very cool way of adding more value to your email campaigns.

  8. Kalynn

    7/22/2009 9:33 am

    That’s a great and very simple tip. I’m going to change my campaigns right now and include the preheader. It makes the email seem more legitimate and corporate.

  9. Ryan Reynolds

    7/22/2009 12:12 pm

    Since you guys (Aweber) are the experts and know the best-practices for incorporating pre-headers… why don’t you include them in your designs?

    Instead I’m trying to add them in your web editor, hoping I don’t delete some semicolon of code which will screw up the whole email.

  10. Justin Premick

    7/23/2009 8:44 am

    Ryan,

    Fair point. I’ll be suggesting we work these into future templates, and updates to our current ones.

  11. Robert Bacon

    7/23/2009 2:22 pm

    Justin, I think a preheader is a great idea, but I, like Ryan, am fearful of fouling up what is now working smoothly. So a template would be a great idea.

  12. John

    7/23/2009 4:09 pm

    From a personal point of view, I currently subscribe to lists that include html templates and headers and others that are written in simple plain text.

    In all honesty The header doesn’t make a hoots difference to the value of the email, to me as a reader. In Fact, the lists I have been subscribed to for years without unsubscribing are simple plain text – no html – no graphics, not even font formatting.

    It’s the content I’m intersted in – if the content grabs me, i’ll read the next email, and the next and so on..

    I’ve unsubscribed from lists simply because the text has been too small to read, sqeezed into an HTML template format. I truly beleive the art of email marketing is held in the content of the email and the graphics are negligable.

    Of course this is my personal opinion and it may not apply to every sistuation

  13. Jayne

    7/23/2009 8:38 pm

    Justin,
    Can you confirm that the following is correct:

    I am designing the HTML version of my newsletter on my website.

    I understand that I will have to import the source code of the newsletter into aweber html source code area.

    The preheader, however, will have to be in the actual aweber html area (not on my site).

    What about the footer : address details, unsubscribe etc? Should this also be on aweber and not on my site?

  14. Jayne

    7/23/2009 9:59 pm

    Also given that I am designing my newsletter on my own site and using the html source code into aweber, what is the best way of asking subscribers to "forward this issue" on to their friends.

  15. Shelley

    7/23/2009 11:38 pm

    Hi Justin

    Could you please write a post on how to included the "like this share it" feature in your email. I’d like to be able to do the same with my emails, but am clueless on how to do it

    Thanks

  16. Eric

    7/24/2009 3:47 pm

    Preheaders are good, like letting your list know that you respect their time and are still following the rules of good relational marketing…you have something to offer but you’re not rudely assuming everyone is just waiting for you to click send. People have lives and this is a good way to "knock" ON the door, not to knock it DOWN.

  17. Justin Premick

    7/27/2009 8:28 am

    John,

    You’re right, content is the most important thing – a preheader won’t save a lousy email.

    That said, I think there’s value for many email marketers in using a preheader. You have to evaluate the pros & cons for your own situation and decide accordingly if a preheader is beneficial.

    Jayne,

    You can use the {!contact_address} and {!remove_web} variables to insert your postal address and unsubscribe link in your emails (we’ll automatically include them at the end of your email if you don’t use the variables).

    And yes, you would insert the preheader in the HTML for your email (rather than your website).

    Shelley,

    That’s a good idea for an article. Thanks!

    Eric,

    That’s a great way to put it (knocking on the door rather than knocking it down).

    It’s important to remember that, at least for most senders (even ones with quality content), subscribers aren’t sitting around waiting with bated breath for your next email.

    For those subscribers, a preheader reminding them why they’re getting the email and/or providing a one-line summary of what it’s all about may be beneficial.

  18. Christina Sponias

    7/31/2009 8:25 pm

    I believe that the preheader looks more professional. I?m going to use it for now on.

    Besides that, it is very helpful for people that don?t know how to unsubscribe.

    We are used with many things because we work online and we tend to believe that everybody else already knows the basics like us, however there are many people on the internet that don?t know even how to download an ebook?

    I remember that once I received a message from a subscriber who was asking me how to stop receiving my messages? I explained her where the link was, guaranteed her that she never again would receive a word from me. This was only one case among so many people, but it indicates that we have to care about showing to the ignorant subscriber, who is not used with the internet, how to do the most important things. He or she is not obliged to guess where we usually put the unsubscribe link.

  19. Jayne

    8/2/2009 7:11 pm

    Agree with Christine,

    We just launched Mp3 versions of our CDs and we have major issues with people not knowing how to download an mp3.

    In a webworld where are focused on new developments, it is worth a discussion – perhaps and new thread – about how non-web savvy many users are, and ways we can cater to both audiences.

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  21. Alan

    9/29/2009 12:07 pm

    As far as I can tell, if I’m using one of your templates, I can’t include a preheader. (If I’m wrong – please tell me how to do it!)

    I would like to use one, and understand that you are adding the capability to your templates some time in the future. OK, so here is the question:

    Can you add this capability in such a way that it will be easy to reuse my existing design, but with preheader added? (At present, I just copy and paste and change the text and some links to create a new newsletter – I have quite a bit of stuff added to the template that would take a while to rebuild.)

    This is a design issue – it may be easy to implement or really difficult depending on how you do it. If it’s easy, please do it!

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  25. Rick

    10/30/2010 5:18 am

    I have seen them but never known how people were getting Preheaders to work.

  26. Mandy

    2/3/2011 3:52 am

    I have to say I feel totally bummed about my efforts with this. My emails, pretty much everyone I’ve ever sent, have a “0” spam rating.

    I’ve just spent 7+ hours re-designing my emails – customizing them with aweber templates etc, adding extra info to the header such as unsubscribe, whitelist, ip address, date etc the person subscribed to help with email deliverablity. And prevent emails from being reported as being spam.

    I am a HUGE anti-spam supporter, can’t stand it, and so I always ensure my email content is top notch and relevant. And it absolutely sux that I work so hard to ensure I do the right thing, yet still get emails being reported as spam.

    After making all the above changes and reading through lots of aweber blog posts to make sure my templates were spot on, the aweber spam analyzer in my account bought it up as a spam score of “3”. I know 3 is still supposed to be “ok”. But won’t that must make it worse?

  27. Amanda Gagnon

    2/3/2011 10:17 am

    Mandy ~ No worries. The spam analyzer just tells you when you might want to check and see if anything in your email might trip a spam filter. If your score’s under 5, that shouldn’t happen.

    And the score does not at all mean that people are more likely to consider the email spam. With the things you’ve added, you should get the opposite result!

  28. Trevor

    3/8/2011 4:22 pm

    This is such an interesting update. I think that headers will help increase response. Thank you for this great updates.

  29. strosdegoz

    4/3/2011 7:09 pm

    What variable do we use to place the “Having trouble viewing this email? Click Here”

    I know that Aweber archives the e-mail and would like to know the variable so I can make my preheader.

    Thanks in advance.

  30. Amanda Gagnon

    4/4/2011 8:18 am

    Strosdegoz ~ There is no actual variable at this point. What you can do is archive each broadcast (http://www.aweber.com/faq/questions/128/), then in each message, update the preheader with the new link to the archived message.

  31. strosdegoz

    4/4/2011 12:49 pm

    Thanks Amanda.