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Use preheaders to grip your reader

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hi there,
Today, I’m going to talk about one of the best-kept non-secrets in the email world: preheaders. AKA preview text. AKA this bit in your inbox:
The preheader for last week’s issue of The Week in Newsletters
The preheader for last week’s issue of The Week in Newsletters
Email marketers use that line of preview text all the time to give you an extra nudge to open their emails — but it’s a tool newsletter writers should be using, too. And I’m going to tell you how to do it well.
What are preheaders, again?
Preheaders are an optional field in most email creation platforms, and they work as a sort-of second subject line. Email service providers like Gmail use them to give readers an extra glimpse into what the email contains before they open it. When a writer doesn’t set a preheader, most providers will just show the first line of text in the email — and that doesn’t always look so great.
The way your newsletter shows up in a reader’s inbox can be a big factor in whether they open it or not, and for a lot of writers it’s a missed opportunity to grab a reader’s attention.
There are three things a reader sees in their inbox before they decide whether or not to open your newsletter:
  • Your from name
  • Your subject line
  • Your preheader/A bit of the content of the email
You control the first two, but that third bullet point is all too often forgotten.
If you’re not using preheaders, you’re not alone. I won’t name names, but even some of the most popular independent newsletters out there don’t offer preview text for the reader. Start doing that regularly, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
How to set a preheader in Revue
To find the preheader field, select the gear icon in the bottom-left of the screen, then ‘Set preheader’.
How to find the preheader field in Revue
How to find the preheader field in Revue
A dialogue box will pop up where you’ll be able to enter your preview text, then save it. Be sure to send yourself a preview email to see how it will look in your inbox — you’ll get a better idea of whether the length fits on the screen, and how it looks next to your subject line.
Speaking of…
Make your preheader work with the subject line
Once you’ve thought about how you’ll grip the reader with your subject, think about how your preheader can complement it.
For example, if your subject lines follow a formula, you could use the preheader to provide a tantalizing detail, giving readers another incentive to open. Read a Girl often does this wonderfully. Each issue focuses on one book written by a woman. The formulaic subject line contains the issue number and book title, but the preheader tells you why you might want to click through to find out more:
'Read a Girl' uses preheaders to spark the interest of the reader.
'Read a Girl' uses preheaders to spark the interest of the reader.
Or, if your subject lines tend to go light on the details but heavy on the quirk, like Morning Brew, your preheader can be a great place to drop in a bit more information. This teaser promises to answer a question readers might have about current tech news:
'Morning Brew' uses preheaders to counterbalance the lighter subject lines.
'Morning Brew' uses preheaders to counterbalance the lighter subject lines.
For The Week in Newsletters, I like to write succinct but clear subject lines, then build on them by adding another snippet of information in the preheader. Here’s an example from earlier this year where the subject line introduces the issue and the preheader draws you in by adding suspense:
This preheader adds a curiosity gap, and indicates what value the reader may find inside.
This preheader adds a curiosity gap, and indicates what value the reader may find inside.
There’s no one best way to balance your preheader with your subject line, but hopefully the examples above have given you an idea of what’s possible. Need more inspiration? Oh, alright then! Here are some other Subject/Preheader combos to consider:
  • Informational subject line, curiosity gap in the preheader
  • Informational subject line, whimsical prehader
  • Main topic in subject line, three more in the preheader
  • Whimsical subject line, informational preheader
I’d love to hear if you’ve hit on a formula that works perfectly for your newsletter — let me know in a reply!
Think about length
A tricky thing about preheaders is that they display differently in different email clients, and on mobile as opposed to desktop — which makes it hard to optimize for all readers.
Taking Gmail as an example, preheaders are shown to the right of subject lines on desktop, which means the length of the subject determines how the preheader displays.
Notice how this New Yorker preheader cuts off part way through:
We only see part of the preheader
We only see part of the preheader
You’ll also notice that Gmail puts the preheader below the subject in its mobile apps, but only around 40 characters are displayed:
We only see part of the preheader
We only see part of the preheader
Because the preheader isn’t displayed in the body of the email, a Gmail user like myself won’t be able to see that full preview text in the inbox. For that reason, we tend to recommend keeping preheaders short (100 characters max), and putting the most important/gripping words first.
You may see recommendations elsewhere that encourage you not to keep the preheader too short, either — that’s because some email clients can pull in the first line of text in your email when the preheader doesn’t use all the available space.
Here’s an example in Gmail, also from Morning Brew:
Gmail sometimes pulls in text from the email body
Gmail sometimes pulls in text from the email body
Because the preheader is so short (‘Why is LinkedIn leaving China?’), Gmail pulls in the first text in the email body: the send date. That means we see ‘October’ as part of the preview text, somewhat detracting from the punchiness.
The good news is we cottoned onto this for Revue writers, and we’ll make sure the first line of your email doesn’t show up next to your preheader, even if you go for something short and punchy.
Wrapping up
There’s really one big takeaway from this issue, and that is: preheaders exist, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to use them. Experiment with them alongside your subject lines, test them by sending yourself an email preview, and level up your inbox game.
For now, let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in the newsletter world.
The week in newsletters
Axios launched paid memberships for its local newsletters
‘The Telegraph’ thinks sunsetting some of its newsletters will actually help grow subscriptions
That’s all for this week — I’d love to hear what you think about this issue. Helpful? Something missing? Hit reply and let me know.
Until next time,
Anna
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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