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What is preview text and why is it important?

What is preview text and why is it important?

What is preview text, and why and how it should be used.
If you’re like most marketers you put a lot of thought and time into crafting emails. Unfortunately, if your open rates are low that effort goes unseen. Being opened is an email’s first shot at success. You can improve the chances of your email being opened by optimizing what your customers see in their inbox. Inbox appearance is often the last thing email marketers think about. In conjunction with the more frequently discussed subject line and from name, preview text will improve the odds of your email being opened. As a bonus, because it is still underutilized in the industry, it will help you stand out from the competition.

What is preview text?

Preview text, sometimes known as the preheader, is the snippet of text that appears after the email subject line in most email programs. (The combination of from, subject line and preview text is reminiscent of the Johnson Box used in direct mail.) It is a feature that email marketers can use to improve their delivery rates, by improving how their message looks in the inbox. It's often overlooked in message creation. If you do not create it in your message, email clients will display the first part of your message in its place.

This is how the from name, subject line and preview text display in gmail on a desktop.

From name, subject line and preview text in Gmail on a desktop.

This is how the from name, subject line and preview text display in Gmail on an Iphone.

From name, subject line and preview text display in iPhone 6S mail app.

How long should it be?

Most email clients display 35-90 characters of preview text, although Apple Mail displays 140 and some email clients, like older versions of Outlook, don’t display any. Keep the email clients your customers use in mind when determining how long your preview text should be. If you only send one version of your email message you may want to write over 100 characters, with the understanding that not everyone will see the entire version.

Should preview text be seen in your message?

Email clients use the beginning of email messages as preview text. In some cases this leads to alt tags and menus being displayed. In these cases the email client is showing something in the inbox that was probably never meant to be seen!

Vanity Fair

This Vanity Fair email displays code as preview text.


A preheader can prevent email clients from pulling alt text or navigation bars as preview text. A preheader is copy that goes at the very top of your email message. It acts as both a visible header in the body of your email and preview text.
In the Banana Republic email below, they added a header that works as both, letting customers know what the message is about.

This is an example of a preheader in an email.

Note that the second line of copy will display as preview text in some email clients.

Invisible Preview Text

The alternative to a visible preheader is invisible preview text. This text is displayed properly by email clients, but it’s invisible to anyone looking at the email body. Creating it can be a bit tricky, but below is an example of the code I use. Feel free to give it a try.

<div style="display:none;font-size:0;line-height:0;max-height:0;mso-hide:all">Pre-header</div>

My quick and easy hack for creating invisible preview text is to use very small font to type it at the very top of my message and change the font color to the background color. It’s the simplest solution and it works for anyone who doesn’t want to edit their source code directly. It's important to note that this could trigger a spam filter, so proceed with caution if you have poor delivery rates. 

JangoMail preview text hack.

Example of my preview text hack, I've highlighted the copy so it's visible but it's the same color as the background.

Preview text tips and tricks:

Front load your preview text with the most important information you want to convey. Because the display length varies between email clients, this ensures that the largest number of people possible will see your most relevant info.

Use personalization for a personal touch. Just like personalized subject lines and content, this will improve interaction rates.

DogVacay successfully used personalization in the preview text of their email message.

This DogVacay email caught my attention by mentioning my pet’s name.

Sum up your message or use your CTA in the preview text. This is not the time to reserve information for the body of your message, your goal should be to stand out in the inbox. Sharing a compelling offer might be the thing that gets your message opened.

This Old Navy message included a compelling offer in the preview text.

Old Navy included a secondary offer to appeal to more customers in their preview text.

If you can, find a way to make the subject line and preview text work together. Because they usually appear in order it makes sense to have them work in conjunction.

In this email Vibram used their preview text to complete a thought they started in their email message.

Vibram used a fun subject line and then followed up with more information in their preview text.

Finally, a fun option is to use emojis or symbols in your preview text.

Nordstrom Rack caught my attention by using checkmarks in their preview text.

Nordstrom Rack caught my attention by using check marks in their preview text. I had to go back a ways in my inbox to find this example, it's not used often! (Unfortunately, email code is displayed as preview text in this example.)

Take Away

If you are not using preview text, hopefully you will start now. It is relatively simple to add and can make a big impact. By giving your customers a better idea of what they’ll find in your message they are more likely to open. Just don't forget to update it!