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The Ultimate Guide to Preview Text


They say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I’m not exactly sure who “they” are, but in this case, I agree with them. In email, your first impression is made up of three parts: the sender or from name, the subject line, and the preview text. Everyone remembers the from name and subject line as your email service provider (ESP) won’t let you send an email without them. But preview text is a whole different situation. And if you forget it, you’re leaving that piece of your first impression up to the whims of your subscriber’s email client.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to take control of your preview text to ensure your email’s first impression is flawless.

What the heck is preview text?

Preview text is the bit of text below or next to an email’s subject line in the inbox and gives extra insight into what’s inside the email. Gmail refers to this as Snippets, Apple Mail refers to it as a preview, and Outlook calls it a Message Preview. No matter what it’s called, this copy is the preview text.

Here’s an example of what preview text looks like:

Gmail inbox showing preview text examples
Preview text in Gmail

Preview text is well supported in all email clients these days (at least the ones based in the United States). With most email clients supporting it and showing it by default, it’s an excellent way to connect with your subscribers and support your subject line.

But, how email clients pull this content differs and depends on the email client itself and the subscriber’s inbox settings. Most email clients will pull preview text from the first lines of copy in your email, but there are a few that will pull it from an image ALT text, or in rare cases, from code such as <a> tags. Although, code being pulled in isn’t as common as it used to be.

Examples of preview text rendering differently in different inboxes
Examples of preview text rendering differently in different inboxes

Preview text is a great opportunity to help support the subject line and connect with your subscribers. By letting the email client decide what to show in the inbox, you do your brand and your subscribers a disservice. Especially since as much as 24% of respondents look at the preview text first when deciding to open an email.

Don’t believe us? Do some preview text testing of your own. Autoplicity saw almost an 8% increase in their open rates when they started using preview text. And WeddingWire saw a 30% increase in click-through rates by testing theirs.

example of preview text from WeddingWire

Adding teasers to your email’s content in your preview text can also increase your subscriber’s engagement, like clicks, in your email.

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Preview text vs. Preheader text

What about preheader text? Some marketers use these terms interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. Preview text is the text that shows up in the inbox. Preheader text is the text that shows up in your email above your header area (hence why it’s called preheader).

Exaple of preheader text reading "Forecast: sandals all day, every day"
Example of an email with preheader text “Forecast: sandals all day, every day.”

In the past, hiding content in your email was looked down upon and considered not good practice. The preheader text had to be visible in your email so as not to land in the spam folder. But as email has evolved, hidden content has become much more common and doesn’t hurt your deliverability in the same way it used to.

Nowadays, visible preheaders are much less common as they take up valuable real estate at the top of your email and, unless properly constructed, don’t add much value to your design. If you are going to use visible preheader text, make sure it makes sense in your email as well as in conjunction with your subject line. If the preheader text only works as a support to your subject line, then don’t show it in your email.

You could also add in hidden preheader text that’s only for showing up in the inbox, and then include visible preheader text that works with the email design, such as in this abandoned cart email from Rudy’s:

Subject line: Don’t let free shipping go to waste
Preview text: Let us make it easier with free shipping

Email example showing the difference between preheader text vs. preview text
Example of email with preheader text that differs from preview text. Preheader text: “Your free shipping is about to expire.”

Adding preview text to your email is super easy

Preview text is rather easy to add to your email. You have two options depending on what you want your preview text to say.

Want to pull from your email content? If your email design has a visible preheader already, or you are planning on using the initial copy in your email, you won’t need to do anything to add the preview text in your email. Just make sure the copy you want is the first thing in your email, even above images or links. This will keep alt text from showing up in the preview text. You could put this copy as the alt text for any image that is above your copy, but then you’d end up with the copy being duplicated and the alt text wouldn’t pertain to the image which is not good for accessibility.

Want to customize your preview text? If you want a different copy to appear as your preview text, many ESPs have a field you can fill in (usually next to the one where you add your subject line) that will add it automatically to the code of your email. But if yours doesn’t, you can add it at the top of your code right after the <body> tag like this:

<div style="display:none;">Your preview text goes here</div>

It’s as easy as that.

If your preview text is shorter than the inbox space you’re given or you want to make sure there is empty space after your preview text, there’s an easy hack for that. It’ll end up looking something like this:

example of short preview text

Without the hack, the inbox will pull in more of your email content to fill the extra space after your preview text, like so:

example of preview text without the preview text hack

See the “View this email in your browser” bit after the intended preview text? Yikes.

If you’re nervous about adding code in your email, add preview text in with Visual Editor in Litmus Builder.

Visual Editor in Litmus Builder showing how to add preview text

Here’s how:

  1. Create or add your email in Litmus Builder.
  2. Hop over to the Visual view and click on the subject line and preview text module in the preview pane.
  3. Add or edit your preview text in the editor on the left side. That’s it!

How much is too much?

Now you know how to add preview text. But if you’re like me and you like a good ramble, it’s probably a good idea to know when to stop. How long should preview text be? Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule about email preview text length.

As preview text settings can be changed by your subscriber in their email client, your subscriber could see anywhere from 5 lines of preview text (that’s about 278 characters) to 0 lines of preview text. Even Gmail allows users to turn off snippets (friendly reminder, that’s what they call preview text).

With no way to track how much preview text shows up, we recommend keeping the preview text under 90 characters. Keep in mind, sometimes shorter or no preview text may be just the thing to make your email stand out in the inbox.

However long you decide to go, make sure the most important part is near or at the beginning so your message comes across—even if it gets cut off. We’ve got more tips up next.

4 tips to optimize your preview text (and draw people in)

Now that you know how to add preview text to your email, what should you even say? With these tips, you’ll craft the perfect message that’ll have your subscribers opening!

Think of it as your subject line’s best friend

Peanut butter and jelly. Chicken and waffles. Some things just go better together. The same can be said of your subject line and preview text. They should work together and flow seamlessly from one to the other. Think of the preview text as an extension of the subject line. You can use it to create urgency or inject humor into the inbox. If you’re leery of using emojis or personalization in your subject line, add them to the preview text.

Chubbies is notorious for their delightful, sometimes hilarious, subject line and preview text combos. For example:

Example of preview text from Chubbies Sport Shorts

Like Justin Timberlake completes Jessica Biel, this preview text literally completes the subject line, so it reads like one sentence altogether.

Don’t lose your message

In webmail clients like Gmail, you only have so much space for both the subject line and the preview text together. So if you’ve got a long subject line, think about keeping the preview text nice and short. Notice how in this snapshot of a Gmail inbox, some preview texts aren’t fully displayed? Yet others have a lot more space left to make an impact.

And don’t forget to test in as many places as you can to avoid any unfortunate cropping. Words like “associate”, “assume”, “assembly”, and “assorted” may be cut in compromising places if you’re not careful.

Example of inbox with emails showing preview text

Avoid repetition

It can be tempting to re-use existing subject and headline copy in your preview text, especially if you’re in a rush. But reusing the same copy in all those places is going to make for one repetitive inbox message. Plus, if your subject line doesn’t hook someone, then using that copy in your preview text, too, is missing a second chance at reeling your subscribers in.

Get creative, using this extra space to play off of the subject line and further encourage your subscribers to open the email.

  • Use personalization: If you’ve had success with using personalization in other parts of your campaigns, try personalizing preview text, too.
  • Sum up the email: If your subject line includes a call-to-action (CTA), use preview text to include more details. For example, if your subject line is “50% off new arrivals,” use preview text to explain what type of merchandise has arrived.
  • Include a CTA or secondary CTA: Does your email have a few CTAs? If they pair well with the subject line, consider showcasing them in your preview text.
  • Be honest: As always, you should never trick your subscribers into opening your emails. The sender name, subject line, and preview text should work together so subscribers know what to expect when they open.
  • Encourage scrolling: If you’re sending a newsletter, highlight a featured article (or two).

A/B test to increase performance

Learn what works—and what doesn’t—with continuous email A/B testing. Add preview text to your A/B testing rotation. Test different preview text and subject line combinations. You might find that some strategies produce higher open rates while others generate more clicks.

Speaking of open rates, you may not be able to rely on that as a success metric anymore after Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection launches (as early as September 2021). So take advantage of the time you have now to optimize your preview text (and the rest of your email) for maximum opens.

Originally published on February 8, 2017, by Lauren Smith. Last updated July 28, 2021.