Understand the value of subject lines, preview text, and headlines and how the three work together


We are all creatures of habit even when it comes to checking our email. Individual habits may vary slightly, but most of us including HCPs can relate when it comes to the steps we take to tackle email and clear our inboxes.

Scroll through inbox to check what’s there
Delete emails that are not relevant, useful, or of interest
Repeat, and respond to emails most important and time-sensitive
Repeat, and respond to emails that can be responded to quickly
Repeat, and scan email content to delete, file, or save for further reading later

Make it easy for HCPs when they open their inbox to an overwhelming sea of messages screaming to be read, opened, and clicked through inciting action of some kind. Make your emails stand out and help HCPs overcome their inbox blues starting with the subject line, preview text, and headline. Each of these elements build on one another providing more and more information leading readers in and through your message to the call-to-action. Take a closer look at each below and use the best practices to increase the ROI of your campaigns.

Subject Line
The subject line is the information that briefly describes the email. In a recent survey, over 50% of AMA physicians said that the subject line is the email element that prompts them to open an email besides the From Name/Sender. What is most important in the subject line is the “who, what, when, and where” facts. For recruiters, specialty, location, and compensation are most important; for CME, course name, location, and date; and for pharma, product name and specific offer.


  1. Keep it short – recommended 45 – 50 characters or less
    Note: mobile devices render the first 25 characters of a subject line and smartwatches 12 – 20 characters

  2. Succinctly state the email’s offer: product, service, value proposition, and/or a call-to-action

  3. Make it specific and consistent with the message content, not deceptive or misleading

  4. Front-load with words that will have the biggest impact by placing them within the first few words of the subject line

  5. Make it action-oriented and speak directly to the recipient in an active tone – start with an action verb such as learn, download, register, or sign-up, or ask a question to trigger a thought process or some kind of engagement in the recipient

  6. Create a sense of urgency using deadlines, dates, or timeframes

  7. Choose words carefully – avoid excessive punctuation marks, all caps, and promotional words such as “free,” “act now,” “offer,” “% off,” “reminder,” or “limited time” to avoid spam filters or recipients simply ignoring your message because it seems overly promotional

  8. Personalize or localize based on data elements including name, specialty, or state

  9. Use numbers – numbers keep it clean and simple, i.e. 10 Email Best Practices

  10. Test for optimal subject line

Preview Text
Preview text, also known as a pre-header, is a snippet of text extracted from the body of the email, generally the first line in the email. The preview text appears below the subject line in the preview pane. The preview pane can be turned on or off, so it is important to realize that text will not be seen if turned off. Treat the preview pane as bonus real estate to use in addition to the subject line.


  1. Construct a teaser message that is on-point

  2. Elaborate on the subject line – support the subject line with additional information without duplicating it

  3. Include strong action words or call-to-action

  4. Limit characters to between 35 and 40

  5. Test pre-headers


A headline serves as the title of the email like a title of a book, article, or blog.  Headlines are informative and used to describe the content that follows. They are written to entice an emotion and move readers to continue reading the message. The headline generally appears above or below the image included in the header above the body of the email. 


  1. Write a creative, yet clear headline

  2. Elaborate on the subject line and preview text – support both with additional information OR mix parts of the subject line and preview text creatively to further set the tone for the content

  3. Use a keyword or keyword phrase in the headline

  4. Include the headline or part of the headline in the image for a creative punch. Note: do not use the headline in the image alone in case the image is not downloaded or is not visible.

If you draft the subject line, preview text, and headline to build on each other using the best practices above, you will help capture HCPs attention and lead them in and through your message. Making the topic of your email known, clear and enticing upfront will help make the next steps – call-to-action and conversion – easier to achieve.

For more information about email marketing, call 800-MED-LIST(633-5478).