This Is the Key to Better Email Open Rates

May 1, 2019


Before a recipient opens your e-zine or email blast, they consider three things: the sender, the subject line and the preheader.

Preheader text is the short summary that follows your subject line in the inbox on most devices, previewing what’s inside to encourage people to open your message.

If you don’t write it yourself, though, your recipient’s email app or client will pull the preheader from the first line of your message — or even a URL for the lead image.

However, when written correctly, preheader text can function as an extension of your subject line, cluing recipients into the content of your email and possibly even inspiring them to open it up when they otherwise were just going to delete it.

Studies have shown that preheader text can have a dramatic effect on open and click-through rates for emails. A 2017 survey of Litmus and Fluent found that 24 percent of respondents looked at the preheader text first when deciding whether to open an email. And according to, an email with a written preheader received 104 percent more clicks than an email with a URL as preheader text.

Here’s a primer on how to write effective preheader copy.

Treat your preheader as a second subject line.

If the subject line presents the big picture, then the preheader is the place to get a bit more granular and specific.

Consider the plight of a company looking to spread the news of a sale via email. The subject line can announce the sale itself — “Save 50 percent on new arrivals” — and then the preheader can include key items customers should know about.

Another route for writing preheader copy is to use it to inspire urgency. If your subject line says, “Don’t miss April’s writing webinar,” then the preheader can mention a deadline — “RSVP today: Space is limited.”

Feel free to get creative, with one, key stipulation: Don’t repeat any subject line words in your preheader text. And don’t repeat the headline, deck, lead or nut graph, either. Make sure each element does new work.

Keep your preheaders short.

The number of characters displayed in the preheader varies wildly by email app and client. For instance, Microsoft Outlook displays 35 characters while Apple Mail shows 140.

Therefore, the bottom line is: Keep your preheaders short, but not too short. Forty to 50 characters is a good number, as it offers enough room to say something compelling while not getting truncated on most devices.

And remember: Don’t leave your preheader to chance. You wouldn’t let MailChimp write your email copy, right?

Take the time to create an original, well-thought-out preheader. It may be the difference between someone opening your e-blast and disposing of it in their trash folder.

Copyright © 2019 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Would you like to learn more techniques for getting people to open, read and click through your emails? If so, then please join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Reach Readers Online — a three-day Master Class on July 24-26 in Portland, Ore. Members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA19. APRs: Earn six maintenance points.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at


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