Preview to Win: How Preview Text Drives Open Rates

This post originally appeared in Target Marketing.

When it comes to email marketing, there are a million different things you can optimize.

You can run A/B tests of your subject lines, your email copy, your font, your images, your CTAs and more. However, there’s one aspect of emails that many B2C marketers tend to forget about testing: preview text.

This is the text that shows up to the right of your subject line when you view an email in your inbox. You may not realize it, but your audience will often read this text along with your subject line and it can strongly influence whether or not they click.

Because it’s so easy to overlook, many marketers aren’t using this text strategically — and they should be. Here’s how to think about your email preview text and find another way to engage your buyers through thoughtful email marketing.

What exactly is preview text?

Preview text — also known as preheaders — is often thought of as a continuation of the email subject line. Most email clients only display about 50 characters of a subject line and so you can use the preview text to continue selling an open to your audience. For example, here’s the preview text in an email that we recently sent out to subscribers of the Zaius newsletter.


In this case, the preview text clarifies the email, explaining that the reader is about to open the latest content newsletter. This is a very basic example, and you can get as creative as you’d like to be with your preview text. Just remember that consumers generally read the preview text in conjunction with the subject line, so use that to inform how you write this sensitive copy.

Reverse engineer your email goals

What is the goal of great preview text? One way to think about it is to actually reverse engineer it from your overall email goals. Let’s say you’re hosting a 20% off sale online and your goal for the email is to drive $X in revenue. Back into each goal individually:

  • Overall goal of the email: Drive $X in revenue from your sale
  • Landing Page: Convert the customer $
  • Email content/CTA goal: Click through to your site or landing page
  • Subject Line/Preview text goal: Open the email to read more

In other words, the goal of your preview text is to earn attention from your readers. You have limited real-estate in the inbox, so use it wisely to stand out from the noise. With nearly 100 billion marketing emails are sent each day, you have to use the preheader carefully to win the battle for attention.

Tips for great preheader text

Now that you understand the importance of preview text, how do you approach writing it effectively? The copy you use for preheader text can vary wildly depending on the subject line and content of your email. However, here are a few basic rules to follow.

1. Tie the copy almost directly to the subject line. Think of the subject line as the first sentence, and the preheader as the second.

2. Follow the same style, voice, and guidelines you usually do for email copy.

3. Include as much detail about the email as you can within the restraints of the copy.

One thing that works very well for ecommerce and retail specifically is creating a sense of urgency in the preheader. Consider putting FOMO-type language in your preview text. For example:

  • Limited quantity
  • Time is running out
  • X hours left!

This type of language can increase the likelihood that your buyers will click to open your email. However, don’t be afraid of getting creative with it. You should try out all types of different copy that will intrigue your readers and up the open rate. Some marketers have had good luck with emojis, exclamation marks, and more. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different.

Always optimize it

Though urgency-driven language in preview text often drives opens, you won’t know if it really works for your brand until you test it. As we mentioned at the start, marketers are already running A/B tests on nearly every part of emails — and preview text should be no exception. You should always A/B the types of messaging and voice you use in the preheader text to see whether you’re driving real results.

Simply send out two emails with the same subject line, but different preview text. Then, measure the open rate of the two email and see which is more successful. Ideally, you’ll find out the type of copy your audience responds to quickly. With this data, you can optimize and improve every last aspect of your emails — including the preview text.

If you’ve never considered optimizing your preview text, you’re not alone. It’s an afterthought for many B2C marketers. But once you start using preview text as part of your marketing strategy, you’ll never go back.

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