The One-Two Punch of Subject Lines and Preheaders

While the growth of mobile email has more radically affected email design, it’s also affected subject lines by displaying fewer characters. As a consequence, subject lines have been steadily trending shorter over the past few years. While we used to recommend that subject lines be no longer than around 60 characters, now the recommendation is no more than about 40 characters. So subject lines are working harder on a per character basis.

The good news is that subject lines have backup in the form of preheader text, which is HTML text that’s placed at the very top of your email. Preheaders play a more prominent on mobile devices—and that’s in addition to the extra attention that preheaders get from Gmail and Outlook, which display a portion of your preheader text as snippet text after your subject line.

Gmail displays preheader text as snippet text in the inbox
Many brands are wisely using their preheaders to elaborate on, continue or otherwise support the subject line, including hyperlinking some or all of their preheader text to enable subscribers to take action without reading further. Here are some great examples from recent emails:

West Elm, 2/18/13
Subject line: Today only: free shipping (plus a Presidents Day surprise)‏
Preheader: Use promo code FREE4PRES at checkout, some exclusions apply

LeapFrog, 2/18/13
Subject line: Be First to Love Our New, Exclusive LeapPad2 Bundles!
Preheader: Featuring Hello Kitty + Jake & the Never Land Pirates. Shop Now

The North Face, 2/22/13
Subject line: Win a $100 Gift Card – only 6 Days Left‏
Preheader: Download the app and submit a photo for your chance to win a $100 TNF eGift Card – don’t miss out on The North Face Never Stop Exploring App Photo Contest

Barneys, welcome series
Subject line: Fashion at Your Fingertips: Stay in the Know!‏
Preheader: Follow Barneys New York on The Window, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest & YouTube.

Expedia, 3/4/13
Subject line: Save up to 50%: ASAP hotels‏
Preheader: ASAP: A Sudden Amazing Price

Wayfair, 3/19/13
Subject line: ★Convertible sofas under $499, go crazy for chevron, colorful accents & decor, get an elegant master bedroom ★
Preheader: Get framed art $55 and under. Kids love outdoor playhouses. Travel with carry-ons $100 and under.

Threadless, 4/24/13
Subject Line: Aerosoiled and 9 more new goofy designs by MADE artist Aaron Jay!
Preheader: Plus, hang out while we interview Aaron Jay at 11:30AM CST.

Gap, 4/24/13
Subject Line: Last day for 30% off! The clock’s ticking…
Preheader: Offer ends today, 4/24. Online only. Can’t see images? Click here.

Sephora, 4/25/13
Subject Line: Pick your gift!
Preheader: Choose from five of our favorite fragrances.*

Preheader text can be a significant source of clicks and spur deeper interactive with an email, so if you’re not using it you should probably reconsider and do some testing. And if you’re using your preheader text for whitelisting requests, “View this email with images” links or unsubscribe links, consider placing those calls-to-actions after preheader text that supports the subject line.

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