Email Pre-Header. Do’s and Don’ts.

The pre-header is an integral part of well-structured email marketing message. It is the collection of text/images/links that comes directly at the top of an email, normally before the logo and main navigation (also known as the header) and after the subject line.

The email pre-header is normally the first thing your email recipients see, and therefore offers you a great opportunity to grab their attention.

In the majority of web-mail email clients the first text part of the pre-header is displayed directly after the subject line and is known as the ‘extension of your subject line’. As you can see in Gmail the pre-header is visible in grey:


So let’s look at what components make up a good pre-header; what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully this will help you construct your pre-header in the best way possible.

Main Email Message

The pre-header should contain the main message of your email content, whether it is the promotion, discount or the coupon code. Therefore readers can see what the email is about before taking an action; before opening the message and / or downloading images. This is because normally the main message of the email is part of an image, and therefore unless images are downloaded by default they won’t see the content.

This main message can also be what is visible in the web-based email clients as the extension of the subject line (as in the above example).

Under Armour actually have two main messages in the following example:

Extension of the subject line: you can see “- Of Mankind – Shop” which is part of the pre-header and is displayed after the subject line before the email is opened.


In the pre-header: the main message is now at the top of the email and so is the 2nd main message highlighting FREE STANDARD SHIPPING.


Pre-header navigation

Pre-header navigation involves including top-level navigation in the pre-header so recipients can click through without downloading images, scrolling, reading – or generally take any action. This is more advanced option for a pre-header but can work very well to drive engagement.

Williams-Sonoma does this very well. See the example below: “Shop All New” and “Find a Store” are both part of the pre-header navigation.


Online/Web version

The online/web version has for a long time been a staple part of the pre-header for good reason. It is a way for recipients to view the email on a web page if the email has rendering issues. Due to the wide difference of how email clients render HTML it is important to allow recipients to view an online version in case there is an issue with the HTML.

Good use of the online/web version is important. Firstly don’t have it as the initial component in the pre-header or it will display as the extension of the subject line. For example, with Overstock it is the first component of the pre-header and it can be seen after the subject line. This is waste of a prominent position in the inbox.


Also don’t be afraid to be humorous. Uncommon goods change the online/web version for every email and keep it light hearted. Check out these examples:




Mobile version

Adding the mobile version to the pre-header was an important trend that started 3 to 4 years ago when mobile usage was growing. It was a quick and easy way to allow someone reading email on a mobile device to still see the full impact of your email marketing message. Also, the email client support and web –browsing support for many mobile devices was lacking so the mobile version tended to be plain text that was left-aligned so it loaded quickly and was easy to read.

This is now much less relevant and as a result I believe the mobile version is not necessary anymore.


  • Mobile device email support and web-browsing support is excellent and has not been a problem for a number of years
  • Email can now be made responsive to screen size and therefore your email should render well on mobile and laptop
  • Mobile opens have overtaken desktop opens. Therefore your email strategy should be mobile first

Unsubscribe link

You may have seen some email messages where the pre-header contains a link to unsubscribe. This is an interesting tactic and is normally put in place when the complaint rate is too high. It is encouraging a recipient to click the unsubscribe link rather than the spam or junk button. This is better for deliverability reputation and also not all ISPs have feedback loops. If you click the spam button in Gmail for example, the sender does not know and therefore will keep sending you mail marketing messages.

I normally see this tactic from brands that send high volume of email regularly, such as Groupon:


Add-to-address book

The add-to-address book is asking your customers to take an action that ensures future email will arrive in the inbox. With most ISPs this involves ‘adding’ the From Address to the address book. With Gmail it is also requesting the recipient to ‘star’ the email because Gmail’s priority inbox will direct starred emails to the priority inbox.

ModCloth do this very well and will have different ‘add-to-address book’ functions depending on what email client email is opened on.

ModCloth Gmail:


Debenhams use ‘add-to-address book’ with the From Address function in the following example:


Social icons

Allowing your email to be shared with your recipient’s network is great to bring together social and email and also is a solid list growth tactic. Social sharing icons should be part of email messages and the pre-header is a decent place to put them. I recommend adding the top 2 only (in terms of shares and impact to your brand) in the pre-header. As the icons are images it can be harder to squeeze them in with good rendering, but worth it if you can.

Also they are sometimes placed in the pre-header when there is not enough space in the main header of the email message.

Check out these good examples:

Under Amour:




What do you put in your pre-header?

  • ebog

    Thanks for your sharing. It’s really true standards. Before I did not comply with standards and do not know how to write headlines in a certain precision. It is not effective. Now I know how to do it

  • Lisa Trager

    Great illustrations. I am a fan of splitting headers left to right sort of like utilities.

  • David Anderson

    None of the images in this post are visible. It would have a lot more impact if you could fix them.

    • Graham

      Yeah still no images on this post. If this is wordpress site just republish the page and they will work