Email Header Design That Matters

On December 24, 2019
7min read
Piotr Malek Technical Content Writer @ Mailtrap

Putting a bit of extra effort into properly designing your emails can yield a lot of benefits. Ultimately, it can make the difference between converting to a sale and getting lost deep in a spam folder. Want to be on the winning end? Check out our guide to email header designs.

Email header – What is it? Why is it important?

Technically speaking, an email header is an HTML code that states the sender’s and recipient’s email addresses, respective authentications and other details. It’s not visible to a recipient by default, but can be easily inspected with any client.

In email marketing, however, an email header is often referred to as the upper part of an email body. It’s the first thing a reader sees when they open an email. After a header, the main content follows, and the whole thing is wrapped up with a footer (aka a signature).

In the visualization above, you can see each of these parts together in an email. In reality though, on a mobile device, a header can easily be the only thing a reader sees when they open a message. With 55% of email opens already coming from mobile, designing an effective email header has a tremendous effect on your conversion.

The role of an email header

With such a dignified position on a reader’s device, a header should answer a number of questions that pop up right away:

  • What is the email about?
  • Who’s sending it and what’s the occasion (a regular newsletter, a product update, a casual request?)
  • Why is this relevant to the reader?
  • What is being offered? What kind of interaction is expected from the reader?

A header can also contain a number of details, potentially relevant to the recipient. This can be a link to log in to their account, a balance of loyalty points, a navigation menu, or a link to open an email in a browser (in case it doesn’t display as expected).


A part of a header, known as a pre-header, plays also a major role in getting emails opened in the first place.

A pre-header is a text that’s often displayed together with a subject line in the inbox. Its role is to enhance a subject line and convince more people to click or tap on a message to see its content. 

To be truly effective, it should offer a glimpse of what’s inside and work well with the subject line.

By default, many ESPs will place a link to a web version of an email in the pre-header. While it’s useful to have it in a visible place, Moz could have used this space in a more effective way:

A good pre-header can also help avoid spam folders. Many users mark emails as spam solely based on subject lines, assuming they’re not even worth opening. A good pre-header can change their mind.

Higher open rates also decrease the chance that future messages will end up in spam. A good pre-header can help here too. Check out our article on preventing emails from going to spam to learn about some other tactics.

Email header – Where to use it and what to include

For marketing purposes, a good header is a must-have. Newsletter headers are the most obvious candidates, as they’re all about building brand awareness.

Product updates and onboarding emails can also benefit a lot from properly designed headers. They can grab recipients’ attention and make them curious about a feature. They can also provide relevant links and information right at the top of an email.

Sales emails may be the only ones that can’t benefit much from having a header. While a pre-header plays its usual part, most recipients will appreciate getting straight to the point. Here, a signature has a more significant role.

Here’s an example of a good header from AliExpress. The pre-header copy will probably entice more readers to open an email. And here they’ll find Ali’s branding, good-looking design and clear categories for each gender. If the reader’s client doesn’t display images by default, a link to a web version will come in very handy.

A good, effective email header should contain the following elements:

  • Company’s logo and its name, slogan (if applicable).
  • “View in browser” link in a visible place. Try not to place it as the first thing in an email as it will land in a pre-header.
  • A pre-header, of course.
  • An image or banner. The visual side of an email is important, so try to incorporate your branding into a visual that’s pleasant to look at.
  • Navigation. A header can be a useful place to provide various relevant, links but a footer will do just fine too. Navigation is particularly useful for eCommerce stores.
  • A copy that converts (or, at least, intrigues). There’s nothing wrong with placing a CTA right in the header too.
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Cool header designs for email templates

Finally, let’s share some tips for designing good email headers. We’ll combine them with some email header design inspirations because there’s a lot of companies that do it really well.

Start with something users care about

King Arthur Floor starts their transactional email with the thing readers care about the most – their order getting shipped. This copy will also likely end up as a pre-header copy, resulting in good open rates.

Only after that do they continue with other relevant links.

Make it clear what an email is about

Immediately after opening an email, readers know that it’s a welcome email with everything they can expect from it.

If your logo is already recognizable, you can cut the header to the bare minimum. Here, Rent the Runway doesn’t bother with the company name or a custom banner. Its readers will definitely know what this is about.

Another example can be one of the many great emails from Nike:

Limit an email to just a header

Sometimes, keeping an email very concise can pay dividends. In this example, Hertz focused the header on a simple (and entertaining) copy and a lone call-to-action. 

Include a direct login link in a header

Logging in to the platform may be a commonly sought option for readers of such emails. Grammarly makes it easy for them by adding a link to its platform right in the header.

Cut the text short – visualize 

In this visually appealing example, Rifle Paper Co. managed to limit the text to the bare minimum. Instead, they opted to display their branding along with a CTA on a very visual header.

Use a header to add credibility to emails

Readers feel way more confident about the content they’re reading if they can see who wrote it. CNN does it very well by starting an email with that. They also provide a ton of useful links to go along with it.

Common mistakes made when designing email headers

Your email templates will not always look as expected. Or maybe they will on your screen, but the results at the receiver’s end will be far from perfect. Keep the following things in mind and you should be fine.

Using images that are too wide

There are no specific requirements for an email header image size. It pays off, however, to keep in mind the huge diversity of devices and clients that will receive a message.

Since most of the opens come from mobile, a header can’t be very wide. Otherwise, it will be unnaturally resized, making all text or buttons unreadable.

At the same time, a header too small will be, well, too small and not visually appealing.

600-700px is often quoted as a suggested width of a header. The height should probably be between 100 and 200px, but, as you can see above, much taller headers can also do the job.

Making a logo too large

Adding a branding is important, but don’t make the header all about it. After all, most readers already know who they’re dealing with the moment they see an email in their inbox. And, if they don’t, you probably shouldn’t have bought this mailing list (just kidding ;-)).

There are many important assets you want to have in the header along with a logo. Make space for them by limiting the size of your visual representation.

Adding too many options to choose from

Having some form of navigation is often a good idea. Don’t overdo it though, by adding too many links – it’s not a website.

4 to 6 options seem to work for almost everyone. More will overwhelm a reader and messages filled with links will look more suspicious to spam filters.

Duplicating a subject line in a pre-header

As we mentioned earlier, a pre-header should strengthen the message broadcasted via a subject line. So there’s little point in it repeating the same message, right?

While it may sound obvious, companies make this mistake over and over again. Pay more attention to your copy.

How to build an email header online

If you don’t have a designer on your team, don’t worry. Crafting an email header design online is very easy.

There are a number of free resources online that will let you build a header without any design skills. Some of these tools are CrelloDesygner, and Design Cap.

Canva also comes with hundreds of header templates you can work on to create the perfect one. If you need inspiration for email templates, Pinterest will be an invaluable source.

Testing your email headers

Before any header is added to your templates, don’t forget to test it first. Otherwise, you risk sending thousands of emails that won’t render as expected. And there’s no “go back” button for such events.

Of course, you could just email yourself and a few of your colleagues with a new design and improve it based on that. But end-users will use hundreds of different devices and a multitude of clients to open your messages. Can you afford to test them all?

Mailtrap is a tool for testing emails before they’re sent to real users. It captures your messages and lets you view and analyze them in a dedicated inbox.

For each one, you’ll see detailed information on what works in your email and what needs your attention. Each email will also be analyzed to assess if they may land in spam folders, giving you tons of feedback to improve it on the go.

Create a free Mailtrap account and check out these and many other features today!

Article by Piotr Malek Technical Content Writer @ Mailtrap