How To Make Your Email Stand Out in The Inbox

August 23, 2022 | Rebecca Greenspan
dm blog

The internet is home to a lot of information – which is awesome – but can also be overwhelming. Don’t fret! I’ve organized some best practices to follow for subject lines, preheaders, and preview text to help answer some questions you may have before creating your email!

Over half of the world (that’s a lot of people) uses email today, making it one of the most important channels of digital communication. Email marketing can be a tricky beast to tackle, though. There are many aspects that contribute to a successful email campaign, but what’s truly key in getting recipients to initially engage with an email are the subject line, preheader, and preview text.

So let’s get into it – what you need to know about all things subject lines, preheaders, and preview text.

What You Should Know About Subject Lines, Preview Text and Preheaders

The subject line (shown below) of an email is the first single-line text subscribers see after the sender’s name when they receive an email from you. This is an email’s way of setting a positive first impression! Many times they include a call-to-action (CTA) or something enticing to get the recipient to open the email. You can compare it to when someone unexpectedly knocks on your door. Naturally, you’re going to want to know who’s on the other side! 

dm blog

So, what do you do next? You’ll likely look through the peephole to see who’s there, right? Once the subject line has caught the recipient’s attention, they’ll look to the preview text (shown above) for further insight into what is included in the rest of the email.

Once you’ve confirmed who’s at the door, you’re now confident to open it and greet your guest. The preheader (shown below) of an email is part of the email body, generally found above the header. Preheaders are similar to preview text but can be seen in both the inbox and the email body as opposed to preview text that’s only visible in the inbox, according to Litmus.


Best Practices for Subject Lines

How Long Should The Subject Line Be?

When determining how long a subject line, preview text, or preheader should be, it’s important to understand what parameters you are working with and what recipients are actually able to see when looking at your email. It’s recommended to stay within 30-50 characters for subject lines to ensure important information isn’t being cut off or is not visible to recipients.

dm blog

What Should Be in The Subject Line of an Email? 

The goal of your subject line is to grab the recipients’ attention, usually with a CTA. You want to give them just enough information to grab their attention, leaving them wanting to know more (open that email)!

Subject lines can give recipients a look into the brand, so feel free to add a personal touch to your writing if you feel that gives good insight into who you are as a brand, according to Mailmodo. If your goal is to come across as relatable, include something relatable to your audience. If you want your recipients to feel excited, give them something to be excited about! The fun about emails is that you can elicit just about any emotion you want with the right imagery.

Show your recipients they are each individually important to you and your brand by adding personalization. Personalizing your subject line will make recipients feel like the email is directed towards them specifically, while also establishing trust between your brand and your audience. It shows that you care about their business and that you want to maintain that relationship long term.

Since characters are limited, you should focus on being concise with your words, while creating a sense of urgency towards the offer. Punctuation counts as characters too, so be mindful and if possible, use less than three punctuation marks in a given subject line.

If you have the resources available, subject line testing, or a/b testing, can be extremely helpful when determining the most effective subject line or preheader. Choosing a few subject lines and testing to see which resulted in the most opens or clicks will give you insight into what your recipients are responsive to or not responsive to, which will be helpful long term.

Best Practices for Preview Text and Preheaders

How Long Should The Preview Text and Preheader Be?

Preview text isn’t always present in emails. If you choose to use preview text, a good rule of thumb would be to keep your preview text below 90 characters. On the flip side, if the preview text is too short, it may begin pulling text from the email body itself, which isn’t very useful if the CTA isn’t the immediate beginning of the email.

If you choose not to use a preview text, your preheader will take the place of the preview text and also show below the subject line in the inbox. It can show in the email preview, as well as at the top of the email content, directly above the header. Preheaders should be between 50-100 characters. An important note to add for preheaders is that the amount of characters displayed can vary depending on which email client the email is being viewed in. 

What Should Be in The Preview Text and Preheader of an Email?

Your preview text and/or preheader should work cohesively with the subject line, providing additional insight to the CTA. Having two completely different CTAs in the subject line and preview text or preheader, though, could become confusing or overwhelming for the recipient and in turn could negatively impact their decision to interact with the email. 

Although two different CTAs may be overwhelming, having two CTAs related to each other can help further emphasize the offer at hand. Including words like “act now” or “limited time” will let recipients know there is a time frame for them and to act more urgently on this email than they maybe would have without these CTAs. Engagement is at the forefront of a successful email campaign, and CTAs ensure your emails are as engaging - and, in turn, as enticing - as possible.

Don’t repeat what you have written in the subject line. Repetition in other instances can be helpful for reiterating the importance or timeliness of an offer once you’re in the email itself, but not when character count is limited. Using the preview text and/or preheader to provide new information on the CTA mentioned in the subject line would ensure you are making the best use of all characters in each line of text.

Add curiosity with your preview text. While you’re providing recipients with enough information to create interest, you want to make sure you’re still giving them a reason to open the email. 

EMBRACE THE FOMO [fear of missing out]! People are likely to take action on an email if they feel like it’s now or never or they’ll miss the opportunity. Mentioning that others have already acted on the offer can give a sense of community to those that have engaged and can create exclusivity for those considering engaging with the email. You want recipients to feel special that they received your email. They will be more likely to engage when they feel they are valued and important customers to your brand. Email engagements generally rely on snap decisions, so grab the chance when you have it and as they say…carpe diem!

Emojis. One of the newest additions to email marketing but one of the most impactful too – depending on your audience.

Acceptable Uses for Emojis

Although they are still fairly new in emails, emojis can be helpful when trying to showcase brand personality, increase open rate and readability, or when trying to express your own voice better. 


When to use: Emojis can be useful when they fit the brand identity, or when sending to Millennials or Gen Z – groups that would properly respond to emojis and how they are socially interpreted outside of email use.


When not to use: If the content has a neutral tone, if it doesn’t fit the product/brand, or when sending to an older demographic.

What to Avoid with Subject Lines, Preview Text and Preheaders

First things first…be legitimate! Make sure your emails are promoting real offers, events, items, etc. You want to establish trust so that recipients know they can safely open and interact with your emails. Remember, honesty is the best policy.

Spam-triggering words. Words that are over-sensualizing or over-promising can be perceived as spam and can cause your email to go straight to junk according to HubSpot, and we never want that. Litter in the inbox makes for bitter receivers!

Indirectly addressing your recipients. People want to feel noticed – it’s only natural! Including your recipients’ names will make your email more personalized and leave recipients feeling more compelled to engage. 

USING ALL CAPS OR EXAGGERATED PUNCTUATION!!! Is this attention grabbing? Sure. Does it look professional or legitimate? Probably not. If your CTA involves a purchase or invites to visit a webpage, you want your recipients to trust your email content and not treat it as a spam email and discard without even knowing what’s inside.

Unusual fonts. I don’t know about you but when I see an email’s subject line look like this “open this email now” 10 times out of 10 that email is going directly to trash and I don’t think twice about it. Again, you want to establish trust with your recipients and make sure you come across as legitimate as possible.

Final Recommendations to Create a Winning Email  

You’re almost ready to put together your email! Here are some of the key takeaways from this post that you should consider before creating your email subject lines, preheaders, and preview text:

Always make sure you include a strong CTA

  1. Use personalization whenever possible, as much as possible 
  2. Be conscious of your character use – not too long but not too short
  3. Avoid using words that would trigger the inbox to move the email to spam
  4. Lastly, be genuine. Show your audience who you are as a brand and create that strong B2C relationship; it will pay off in the long run!

Remember, an email that gets noticed is an email that is engaging, and engagement means successful communication in today's digital world.