The term 'pre-header' was first coined by our clever friends at Smith-Harmon,
who have coincidentally just released a great summary of pre-headers in the
Good email design starts with your pre-header - the plain text section above the
HTML in your message. Used effectively, this piece of content can build and
protect your reputation and your relationship with subscribers. Many brands
overlook pre-headers or add them as an afterthought, but subscribers often
read this piece of content first and use it to decide whether to read the
rest of your email.
What you choose to include in your pre-header will depend on your email content
and subscriber base. We recommend:
- A link to the hosted version - include this at the beginning of all HTML
messages to allow subscribers to view your message in all its glory without
downloading the images. Overall, it's best to use plain language - most
people don't know what 'rendering' means in terms of email.
You can even have a bit of fun with this - usually very dry - link, as
Lastminute.com do with their pre-header "Gone a bit Picasso? See it
clearly here". Make sure the tone of voice suits your audience, though.
- A link to a mobile version - if B2B subscribers are particularly
important to you, you should consider hosting a version optimised for mobile
devices. Make this link short and place it at the very top of your message
so it displays properly on a Blackberry or other mobile device.
- An unsubscribe link - having this in your pre-header can reinforce
your reputation and prove you're a responsible email marketer. Traditionally
unsubscribe links appear in the email footer, but including it in the
pre-header too puts the subscriber in control and can reinforce trust in your brand.
- Instructions on making sure subscribers receive your emails - a simple
prompt such as "Please add email@example.com to your address book" is
sufficient for most subscribers. Depending on their technical know-how,
some subscribers will benefit from a link to detailed instructions for
each email client on how to add you to their address book.
- Reinforce the relationship - this is your chance to remind your
subscribers why they're receiving emails from you. Tread carefully
depending on how and when your subscriber data was collected and the
strength of your existing relationship - you want to avoid your
content being seen as spammy.
TruPrint's "You are receiving this email as you have set up an
account at Truprint" and iWoot's "You receive this email because
you've signed up" work well as a gentle reminder to subscribers
that they registered to receive information.
- Send to a friend - this is a good prompt
to include in your pre-header, especially if you're sending a
non-subscription-based message and you're interested in list
growth. Remember that the functionality of this link may vary
depending on the technology that you use - you'll need a way
to capture this potential new subscriber data.
Make sure your emails are delivered as they were intended by hand-coding
them. Templates, code generators and content management systems add
unnecessary code which can cause rendering or spam-detection problems
in some email clients. Your reputation could be affected if you send
messages with broken code, illegible or garbled content, or nothing
visible except for your unsubscribe link.
Optimise your pre-header for snippets - if you've got lots
of Gmail or Outlook users in your database, consider optimising
your pre-header content for snippets. Most Gmail users can see
a snippet of the message next to the subject line, so this is
the first thing they'll read - before they've even opened
your email. Outlook also displays the first line of text in
its notifications and even if the email client doesn't
specifically highlight this content (Hotmail, Yahoo! etc), it's
still the first thing your subscribers will see once they open
(or preview) your message, so make it count.
- Try different combinations - as always, what works for
one group of subscribers will not necessarily work for another.
Use what you already know about your customers and try a few
different combinations of content in your pre-header to find
what works best. Try to make the best use of this valuable
space - remember that if you include too much, your message
will be shifted further down the page.
Stay tuned to find out how to optimise
your message for the preview pane in the next issue of
Right Brain on February 9.