Today’s inbox is highly interactive and every email is viewed in stages. Subscribers decide whether they want to continue the viewing experience or exit at each stage, so it’s important to know what those stages are and plan for each one.
The Opening Act
So you’ve crafted the perfect email—your design is on point, your headlines are catchy, you’re ready to own the inbox.
But before an email is even opened, subscribers quickly scan what we marketers like to call the envelope content, which includes the sender’s name, the subject line and the pre-header text.
First things first—the sender’s name. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many brands miss the chance for their email to be opened just because they chose the wrong “from” name. In fact, 68 percent of people decide whether to open an email based on the name, according to Campaign Monitor—so choose wisely (and be consistent).
Next is the email’s subject line. While it may seem like a small piece of your overall message, the subject line is one of the email’s very first impressions. And often, it’s your ticket to standing out in a crowded inbox.
Then comes the pre-header text. Pre-header text is the line or two of copy that appears in the preview pane before an email is opened. It allows you to add context to your email. Typically, the pre-header supports the subject line and gives a glimpse at the email’s content. It can be especially helpful if you’ve chosen a more playful subject line.
To Scroll or Not to Scroll
Yay! They opened your email. Now what? During the pre-scroll stage, subscribers are taking inventory of the email’s content to decide if they want to take immediate action or if they want to scroll.
The pre-scroll stage happens fairly quickly. So how do you make sure you’re making the most of this stage?
Start with brand recognition. Include your logo and/or brand name—this element should remain consistent, which is why most brands will incorporate this as a template element so it’s always found in the same location.
Be strategic with your content hierarchy. Think of your primary message—if readers only take one action or absorb one idea from your email, what do you want that to be?
Use compelling headlines and a quick call-to-action in this stage.
Optimize for your audience. There are three types of email openers: the readers, the skimmers, and the glance-then-deleters. Until you’ve determined your audience breakdown, assume your list is full of those glance-then-deleters—these are openers who won’t make it past the first scroll.
Pro-tip: Enlist the help of services like Litmus or Email on Acid to provide a snippet of code within your email HTML that allows you to observe how long subscribers are engaging with your email.
We scroll through Instagram and we scroll through Facebook, so it makes sense that we scroll through email, too.
It’s important to understand what’s happening when a reader is scrolling. They’re looking for:
- Keywords & Images — What appeals to me?
- Value Proposition — What’s in it for me?
- Next Steps — What do you want me to do next?
Here’s how to be successful in this stage:
Create an easy viewing environment. Starting with a mobile-first approach. Think single column, stacked image, and content blocks—and clean content containers.
Design for scannability. Use bold headlines, supporting images, bulleted lists, and actionable CTAs.
Be relevant and personal. Look for opportunities to tailor your content and target your message based on the recipient’s expressed interest. If you’re a sporting goods brand and you’re having a sale on yoga pants, narrow your audience to only include those type of shoppers so the reader’s experience feels more customized.
Email Is a Gateway, Not a Destination
You know the saying: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Well, that doesn’t apply in email. We’re all about the destination. Which means that every email should have a goal in mind and a designated place to help achieve that goal. There should be a strong connection between the email’s content and the linked landing page to help reassure subscribers they’ve arrived at the right place.
How to be successful in this stage:
Deliver on your promise. Nobody likes clickbait. It might earn you some initial clicks, but users will inevitably drop off—and then be unlikely to return.
Remove barriers. Look for ways to make the next step easy on your audience. If you’re asking users to download a whitepaper, take the extra step to program your form to auto-populate with their name and email address. Chances are you already have that information—so why not use it it for good?
Finding Email Excellence
The perfect email is achieved when creative teams consider all four of these stages and understand how each layer works together to enhance the viewing experience and drive action. The good news? If you nail the inbox experience once, chances are that your consumer will continue to engage.