Using your real estate better: preheaders

You have your subject line science down — you do an A/B test in the morning and you roll out with the test in the afternoon.  You ask questions to entice someone to open.  You create urgency.  And you are still seeing your open rates going down.

Maybe it’s that right after your subject line, people see “To view this email in your browser, click here” instead something of interest.

Gone are the days where the subject line was all that mattered.  The first lines of your email now matter, because in many email clients, they are shown alongside the subject line.  This verbiage is called the preheader and it’s valuable real estate that many otherwise really strong marketers ignore.  For example, here are my last few emails from Home Depot as I write this:

home depot

If you thought that these were the first emails I ran to open, you would be incorrect.

Not only to preheaders show up in this way, but they also travel with the subject line to show up in the lower-right corners of Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts.  Additionally, the preheader can entice someone to read the email (gasp!), not just open it.

So what do you want to do with this to draw your readers in?  Some ideas:

Keep it relatively short.  Not subject line short, but make sure that it gets your point across in the first 75 characters or so, so mobile email clients will show what you want shown.

Tag team with your subject line.  My best email newsletter open and click performance was on the same email.  (Hey, if you thought we were getting through a post on email pre-headers without me plugging that you can sign up for my free weekly e-newsletter, which gives the story version of the week’s blog posts plus super secret extra benefits, you were sorely mistaken.)

The subject line was “Lead gifts and priming and men, oh my.”  The pre-header was “And the details on how social proof works in direct marketing and the power of hedonic good comparisons, but that made for a really long subject line…”

If you have only 75 characters, you get the gist of what the email is going to be about.  And if you have more, it’s a paired attempt at humor.  This had an 80%+ open rate and 40%+ click-through rate.

Another good tactic here is to ask a question in the subject line that you begin to answer in the pre-header.

Personalize.  A pre-header can start with “Dear Mary,”.  (This, of course, only works if the recipient’s name is Mary.  If it’s Vlad, you may be in trouble.)  Anyway, this pre-header establishes that you know the person’s name.  This, sadly, differentiates it from many other emails that don’t know your name, so it’s more likely to get opened.

Tell them what’s in the tin.  If you have a video in your email that thanks the person for being a supporter, your preheader may not have to be any fancier than something like “Watch a thank-you video from our president.”  If you don’t have content that is worthy of being in the pre-header, rewrite the email.

Make the call-to-action.  Not “Donate now!”  I haven’t tested that as the beginning of a pre-header only because I anticipate it would go down in flames.  But “Today, you can save a life with one minute and two clicks.” does a nice tease of the content as well as creating urgency and timeliness.

So make sure you are testing this valuable real estate.  And when you do get that email from someone who just has their logo’s alt text as the pre-header, forward them this email if you like the organization (and if you don’t, prepare to steal their donors).

Using your real estate better: preheaders

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