Last updated: 
June 10, 2022

Subject Line + Preheader = The Perfect Pairing

In a meeting with a client recently, I was asked whether preheaders were REALLY that important. My answer? Uh, yea, they are REALLY that important.

For subscribers checking email on mobile phones, the preheader continues the story set up in the subject line. Ignoring this precious piece of real estate is a big miss on the part of email marketers. Case in point: kate spade. Scrolling through my inbox on my iPhone, this is what I saw… last day! 25% off sale items. online…This message has no content.

The first line tells who sent the email, the second represents the subject line. And if you haven’t guessed already, the third line is the preheader. Makes you cringe a little, right? “This message has no content” is not exactly a call to action, let alone an invitation to open the email.

The weird thing is that when I opened the email, I noticed that there was copy in the preheader space in the top left corner that said: “last day! 25% off sale items. online only – click here.” Clearly, there is a coding issue. See for yourself.

Finding the perfect balance between the subject line and the preheader is not an easy task. While writers spend a lot of time crafting the most compelling subject line possible, a lot of times the preheader is treated as somewhat of a throwaway, not necessarily by the writer, but by the powers that be. In fact, some preheaders simply repeat the subject line verbatim.

Case in point: Tommy Bahama. Here’s how one of their latest emails looked in my inbox on my iPhone, using the same forumla as above: first line equals “from”, second line equals subject line, third line equals preheader.

Tommy Bahama

Our Favorite Jacquards: See Our Favorite Jacquards | Shop Women’s | Find a Store | Can’t see images…

While it looks a little odd to have the same wording sitting together like that in the inbox, this preheader actually looks a.o.k. in the email itself. See, that’s the tricky thing about preheaders. They have to sit with the subject line in the inbox AND on their own in the body of an email. Typically, the preheader calls the top left or top center portion of an email home. Check out the Tommy Bahama email as an example.

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In the world of preheaders, Victoria’s Secret kills it every time with a stellar subject line/preheader combo. Here’s how a recent email looked in my inbox on my iPhone:

Victoria’s Secret

All About the Undies? 5/$25 Panties…Fun new colors and prints from Victoria’s Secret Pink.

Notice how the preheader builds on the subject line and tells more of the story? Now check out how the preheader looked in the email itself. See it now.

Inspired by this best practice used by Victoria’s Secret, some retailers use the preheader to convey info about shipping (Piperlime) or to convey info that might be cut off in the subject line (Gap). And still others use it to let people know there is another way to view the email (lucy). Here’s how they all showed up in my iPhone inbox and how the email looked in real life…


Giddy up! The new riding bootsEnjoy free shipping and returns

ENDS TODAY: 25% Off for You + 15…Online only. Plus get free shipping on $50.


Don’t Miss Savings: Namaste YogaView on mobile device | View in web browserSee the email

So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t underestimate the power of the preheader. There is no steadfast rule on what’s the best way to use it, but use it you should. To learn more about preheaders, read Chad White’s article and report.

By Allan Levy

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