A beginners guide to subject lines and preheaders

A beginners guide to subject lines and preheaders

A beginners guide to subject lines and preheaders

Jules Foreman Vause


13 Apr 2023

We all enjoy a beautifully crafted email. Stunning design - yes please. Fun interactivity - always! Clever copy - a must. But all that lovely content can be sorrowfully buried in the trash folder without a strong subject line and preheader pairing.

These two small sentences or phrases are what is seen in the inbox before the email is even viewed. Very often, it’s what will drive a person to select either open or delete. And we all know how we feel about the D word…

So, they may be small but they are mighty. They need to be good. And they need to work well together. Think of them as an It Couple. A Dynamic Duo. 

The subject line: a major attention seeker 

Your subject line is the first line of text a recipient sees when they scroll through their inbox. It needs to not only stand out, but to practically shout ‘Hey, look at me!’ In a cleverly written, subtle kinda way, of course. If it gets noticed and prompts the reader not to scan over your content, it’s done its job well. 

The preheader: more than just a sidekick

Although the preheader always comes after the subject line, it should be working hard to big-up its partner. Like Robin is to Batman, its support is key to the ultimate success. Ensure the two of them make sense in context as they’re read; it’s useful to think of them working together to tell a mini story.

The preheader isn’t obligatory but it offers more opportunity to add extra detail that can entice the recipient, so always use one! It also looks neater in the inbox. 

Short and punchy

Keep them both short and concise so that they’re displayed as fully as possible across different devices. The subject line should ideally be between 30 and 50 characters. According to a MailChimp study, emails with 50 characters or less have 12% higher open rates, and 75% higher click-through rates than other emails.

To ensure they’re likely to fit a wide range of devices, keep your email preheader between 30 and 80 characters. A short preheader that conveys your message well is a thing of beauty. 

Stand out from the crowd

This is always important, and even more so at times when inboxes are particularly crowded such as annual calendar dates or awareness days. It doesn’t have to be matter-of-fact and direct. Inject some fun into it; consider using puns, recognisable song titles or popular references.

Alliteration is great for catching attention and as ever, a round of 👏👏👏 for emojis please.

Keep things chatty

Even if your brand’s tone of voice is more formal, conversational writing is a great way to be relatable. Address the reader directly and use contractions as you do, i.e. ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’. Create a dialogue by asking a question; this will get their thought process going and encourage them to seek the answer by opening the email.

And use colloquial language whilst staying on brand; for example, if you’re a cosmetics company targeting a young, largely femme audience who often addresses your consumers as ‘Babe’, do this in the subject line and preheader too.

Let’s get personal

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot actually. Using elements of personalisation like name or location will also help add to that feeling of rapport. It also increases clickthrough rate; according to the Science of Email Marketing, emails that included the first name of the recipient in their subject line had higher clickthrough rates than emails that did not.

Be a drama queen!

Emphasise urgency - FOMO is real, so don’t be afraid to use it! Whenever relevant, let people know they need to act fast or they might miss out. Adding in a call-to-action in this context can also be useful.

Pick a winner

A great practice is to write multiple options for your email and then choose the best. Write them once the email has been created so they complement the content, then draft four or five pairs. Whilst reviewing, you may even find that you switch the pairings up a bit to find the perfect combo.  

Be creative! It can make the process fun and help you to have the most effective subject line and preheader partnership in all the land / inboxes.

And if you’re interested in a powerful partnership, let us help! Here at Action Rocket, we can help you with everything from strategy, design and build of dynamic email campaigns, as well as providing awesome copy including that all-important subject line / preheader double act. Send us a message here and we will get back to you.




Got a project or want to know more about what we do? Drop us a message here, and we'll get back to you.




Got a project or want to know more about what we do? Drop us a message here, and we'll get back to you.

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