3 Things a Recipient Sees Before Opening an Email

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by Mitch Veix
Email Developer

As an email designer, “Your most important job is to get them to open the next one,” says Alex Williams, Vice President and Creative Director at Trendline Interactive. That means your email isn’t necessarily successful if it gets opened; it’s successful if the subscriber likes the email so much they want to open the next one they receive in their inbox.

An email’s chance for success begins as soon as it arrives in a recipient’s inbox. In this article, I’ve focused on three things a recipient sees before opening an email: the sender name (also known as the from name), subject line and pre-header text (also known as preview text), and how you can improve each one of them.

The sender name (also known as the from name) is the name displayed in your contact’s inbox. This is different from the sender address (also known as the from address), which includes an @ followed by a domain name.

One of the first questions a subscriber might ask when receiving a new email is, “Do I trust who this is coming from?” According to a Litmus study, 42% of people look at the sender name when deciding whether to open an email. In other words, it can take less than a second for a recipient to decide if an email is spam—and if they should delete it—which is why a trustworthy sender name is important.

An easy method of gaining that trust is to use a legitimate company or person’s name and never an email address (especially a no-reply email address). However, using a person’s name can have a negative outcome because not everyone may know who that person is, unless they are a public figure. To avoid this, you can use a person’s name, followed by a comma and the company name they are representing.

A Campaign Monitor study showed that 81% of people use a mobile device to check their emails. Mobile apps display the sender name first, followed by the subject line and pre-header text. This is important to know because if the sender name is too long it can easily be cut off. Before sending an email, be sure to check how your sender name looks on various devices to make sure your email displays properly.

Subject Line

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A Subject Line is the introduction that identifies the email’s intent. This is different from the Pre-Header Text (also known as Preview Text), which gives more information about what is in the email. The purpose of a Subject Line is to get the subscriber to say to themselves, “Tell me more!”.

According to the same Litmus study, 34% of people look at the subject line first when deciding whether to open an email or not. That being said, with so many users using their mobile devices to check emails, it’s best to keep the Subject Line short (fewer than 50 characters) to be sure it doesn’t get cut off in a subscriber’s inbox.

A best practice in a successful Subject Line is to avoid Spam trigger words. Instead, be concise and clear about what your email delivers. Additionally, communicate urgency (don’t actually use the word urgent) but don’t go overboard and make it sound too time sensitive. You can also use a question to pique the subscriber’s interest.

Pre-Header Text

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Pre-header text (also known as preview text) is a small line of text that appears after the subject line in an email inbox. To write an effective pre-header text, you need to start with a good subject line. These two should work together.

In a Litmus study, 24% of people look at the pre-header text first when deciding whether to open an email. When writing pre-header text, avoid using the “View in Browser” text that usually appears by default. This valuable space should be used for an exciting call to action to help get your email opened.

Also, avoid using text from the first sentence of your email as the pre-header text. There is a good chance the beginning of the first sentence of your email might not make sense when put right after your subject line. Another example of pre-header text that can cause confusion is repeating your subject line. Instead, try adding some details that will engage your subscriber to open your email.

When you are writing your pre-header text, keep in mind that this text doesn’t display consistently in all email clients or email apps. Be sure to pay attention to your character count so that important information doesn’t get cut off. The best way to make sure this displays properly is to test it in multiple email clients before sending.

Brief Summary

A successful email isn’t measured on whether it’s opened, it’s measured by whether it motivates subscribers to open future emails.

To create successful emails, be sure to focus on the following:

  • Sender Name: The name displayed in your contact’s inbox.
  • Subject Line: The introduction that identifies the emails intent.
  • Pre-Header Text: The small line of text that appears after the subject line in an email inbox.


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