The Johnson box lives on – setting preview or preheader text in emails

Posted on February 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm Written by

Your emails are being read before they’ve even been opened.
Ok, I’m stating the obvious here, as we’ve long known the importance of choosing a solid and reliable ‘from name’ and a tailored subject line that not only sets the tone of your email campaign but makes it one that’s irresistible to open, but are you also making the most of your Preview Text?

The popularity of mobile media shows no sign of slowing down (as if we thought it would!) so the usefulness of the humble Johnson box, and  its ability to create preview text, has probably never been greater than it is right now.

Preview Text is literally a preview in the Inbox of the first line of real text that appears in an email.
If you’re checking your emails on desktop then the preview text is seen after the subject line in web accounts such as Gmail and Yahoo! (as per my first screen shots) and on iOS mobiles you’ll see it under the subject line in your inbox.


Preview text in my Google and Yahoo! web mail inboxes

Along with other email marketers, we’ve long been advocates of the Johnson box and its benefits.
You’ll no doubt have read past articles on our blog, but in summary the Johnson box is a term used to describe the area at the very top of an email where an instruction/summary/introduction type of real text message is added.

Thought to be named after the direct marketer Frank Johnson, this area has traditionally most often been used in an advisory role, highlighting the fact that the HTML email below will look at its best if you allow images to display, and how to enable them. On many an email you will have no doubt seen messages such as “This email is best viewed with images enabled” or “Email not displaying correctly?” both of which set an almost negative and apologetic slant on your email.

Time to move on
Personally I’m of the opinion that this instruction has been out of date for some time. Our audiences have by now grasped the fact that email marketing is html. It’s about a mix of text and images and without images a lot of emails would be fairly dry in content (and not so tempting to click!). Besides which, images are loading automatically for a lot of us when we’re accessing emails (see Gmail’s recent update) or when we’ve already followed the instruction on our menu to “always allow images”. The great thing about this advancement is that we can now deploy the Johnson box for a more positive purpose, to add Preview Text.

Preview text on my iPhone – add a complete statement or a teaser

A quick guide on how to work Preview Text to your advantage:

  • In the same way you ideally want a “one size fits all subject line” consider how much space is available to you, in the email readers/applications that will show your Preview Text.
  • You have about 80 characters (including spaces) to play with on an iPhone, less on a web application if someone’s not using wide screens – we’d suggest going for a happy medium.
  • Space available on a desktop web application will depend not only on the length of your subject line but also on someone’s desktop screen resolution.
  • Preview Text can be either a complete statement or a teaser (the mystery of the ellipsis!…). It should still make sense when the email is open in full.

Although your preview text is not going to be seen by every subscriber until they open your email in full, adapting and evolving your marketing techniques in ways like this are crucial if you’re to get the most out of your resources and grow your mobile ‘opens’.

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