Get Your Email Opened: First Impressions Make an Impact

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Designing an effective email involves more than just beautiful graphics. The subscriber’s experience with your message starts long before the subscriber ever opens the email, as they evaluate the trustworthiness of your from name and their level of interest in your subject line. We answer the question: Why is my email opened? (Or not)

The “from name”

The from name is the field that appears first in most email clients. It tells recipients who sent the message. You’ll often find the names of companies, brands or salespeople here. Occasionally there is no from name, and simply a from address, or the email address used to send the email.

In almost all cases, the from name and address is the first thing that subscribers see. Is your from name recognizable and trustworthy to external audiences? Does the subscriber have a relationship with a person at your company, or will they recognize a brand name first?

In the example below, the email is from “BR Store Event.” Presumably, the sender thought recipients would know that “BR” is short for “Banana Republic.” I didn’t!

Even after opening the email, it’s not entirely clear who the email is from:

The lesson here is to brand your from name as carefully as you do the rest of your email creative. If your subscriber doesn’t know who an email is from (or is left to decipher uncommon abbreviations), the likelihood they’ll open plummets.

Subscribers often click “Report Spam” or “Report Junk” based on the from name, or may choose to ignore/delete the message and move on. Think carefully about the the from name you choose, whether it’s your company name, a business unit, or a sales representative. In an insightful blog post, DJ Waldow walks readers through his first impressions on receiving an email from a company he trusts, but with a from name he didn’t recognize. Loren McDonald also covers more do’s and don’ts of from name usage in this comprehensive article.

No-Reply? No support!

Also keep in mind that using from names such as “” can appear unfriendly, uncaring and may even negatively affect your delivery rates. Customers may reply with questions, ideas, and other valuable feedback you could be missing out on!

Gmail tells all

If you know that Gmail subscribers make up a significant portion of your audience and you are using a third-party ESP or mailing platform, Gmail may detect that the email was sent via a mail service and display this information to the user:

You can manage this by ensuring your emails are authenticated with an SPF record or DKIM signature. More information can be found from Gmail or Laura Atkin’s deliverability blog.

Your subject line

The subject line of your email will be the second thing your subscriber experiences as they decide whether or not they will open your email. After you’ve carefully considered the relationship your audience has with your company or brand, don’t forget how that relationship might extend to the content of your subject line. Avoid using internal jargon, acronyms or other language that might confuse recipients.

In the example below, Old Navy takes a somewhat questionable approach to announcing a department-specific sale. One might assume they made a decision to use internal language that is standard to employees, but might look suspect to a consumer.

Don’t leave writing your subject line to the last minute. Take into account previous content, images, copy and other factors when crafting a relevant, interesting and engaging subject line. Find repeatable ways to conduct subject line testing, and test often since great subject lines can frequently double open and click rates! Some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Character count: Each email client has a limit for how many characters it will display for the subject line. Sometimes longer subject lines produce higher click rates, while shorter ones might result in higher open rates.
  • Consistency: Establish and follow guidelines for capitalization, grammar, and other brand-specific stylist elements.
  • Quality counts: Triple check punctuation, spelling, and grammar (including any personalization or special characters), unless you’re eager to be featured in Chad White’s Oopsy Hall of Fame!


The preheader is the couple lines of text that you’ll see at the top of many emails. Typical preheaders may have default or standard language depending on the ESP or messaging platform you use. The most frequent language seen in preheaders is a “view as a webpage” link to provide recipients with an alternative way to view the email. This can be useful in cases where images are blocked or the recipient is using an email client that doesn’t have full support for HTML.

There are many functional or utilitarian uses for this area. Additional common preheader elements include:

  • Permission reminder (often phrased as “you’re receiving this email because…”)
  • Whitelist or add to address book request (i.e. “please add to your address book or safe sender list”)
  • Link to unsubscribe or edit subscription preferences
  • Forward to a friend, Facebook, Twitter or other links that enable sharing
  • Links to a mobile or text version
  • Link to mobile-optimized site (especially if you see a lot of mobile web traffic coming from email)

Some email clients (Gmail, Outlook, iPhone, Windows Mobile 7) will display a portion of your preheader text as “preview” or “snippet” text.

Consider going beyond the basics and getting creative with it! You might use this important and valuable portion of screen real estate to include a call-to-action, a special offer, or an extension of your subject line. Don’t forget to include a link so that your message is actionable and results are measurable.

Although the preheader may be the third thing your subscribers see, it’s at the very top of your email creative in prime viewing territory… should that foremost message ask your reader if they are “having trouble” with your email?

Take a first impressions inventory

When planning your next campaign, take a ‘first impressions inventory’ and assess your from name, from address, subject line, and any preview text.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • From Name: Is the sender a personal contact, household name or associated with a brand? Will subscribers know the sender?
  • From Address: Is the email address recognizable? Trustworthy?
  • Subject Line: Can the audience identify with the subject content? Will they need to Google, grab a dictionary, or blush after reading it?
  • Preview Text: Has past preheader text been effective? Is it time to adjust placement or test something new?

The bottom line

Creating well-branded, recognizable and relevant emails starts the moment your subscriber sees a message hit their inbox and scans the sender name, subject line and preview text. Will they open, skim, read or delete? It all comes down to shaping the best possible experience for your audience while balancing your needs and goals as a business.


Optimize your from name, preview text, and subject line with Subject Line Checker, available in Litmus Builder.

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