Pretty HTML or accessible plain text? It’s one of the first dilemmas email marketers face.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) gives you designed templates, bolded, italicized or colored text, embedded links and images. Plain text is exactly how it sounds: a text-only format.
We asked Vocus senior product manager and email expert Eddie Howard to break down the pros and cons of each.
1. Performance metrics – Need to know the success rates of your email marketing? HTML allows you to track performance metrics, such as open and clickthrough rates
2. Company branding – Earning subscriber trust is essential in email marketing. HTML lets you include your logo or brand colors to provide a professional look and make your emails quickly recognizable.
3. Social sharing buttons – Emails with HTML social sharing buttons produce a clickthrough rate of 6.2 percent, compared to just 2.4 percent for emails without them.
1. Spam filters – Use designed elements in moderation. Spam filters monitor the ratio of text to HTML. Too much of one or the other hurts deliverability.
2. Triggered warnings – Some email clients warn recipients about HTML email, potentially scaring them off. Occasionally, email clients disable images.
3. Variable appearance – The variety of email clients and devices mean your email may not look consistent from subscriber to subscriber.
Plain Text Pros:
1. Accessibility – Any device and email service provider displays plain text. Plus, your plain text emails will reach the inboxes of people who elect to block HTML emails.
2. Consistency – No matter the device or platform, your email will look the same.
3. Time savings – Sending a plain text email can feel more personal to subscribers, encouraging engagement with the company.
Plain Text Cons:
1. Lack of images limits engagement – Without images, you rely on your words alone to entice your subscribers. Images often help prospects envision themselves with your product.
2. Inability to track – Without open rates, you can’t track subscriber engagement.
3. No embedded links – Links in a plain text email require writing out the URL instead of creating clickable text. Links, especially tracked ones, can look long, confusing and suspicious.
So how do you choose?
One variable that dictates whether it’s better to send plain text or HTML emails is the type of message you send.
Weekly newsletters, for example, may work best in a branded HTML format. Transactional emails often perform better in plain text.
The right choice often depends on your audience’s needs. HARO, for example, sends its publicity alerts using mostly text and necessary links. HARO emails are in the HTML format, but do not rely on heavy graphics because it would interfere with the intent.
In “The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing,” DJ Waldow and Jason Falls praise this simple layout because the ability to quickly scan the emails is critical to HARO users.
Ultimately, the answer is to test. Use A/B split testing to see how plain text and HTML emails perform in terms of subscriber response for each format.
The Vocus solution
Our own Marketing Suite has both email options covered. For HTML, it includes over 650 professionally-designed HTML templates, with a drag-and-drop editor to easily customize email text or images.
Vocus automatically creates a plain text version of each email you design. If one of your subscribers has an email client that doesn’t accept HTML emails, it automatically displays the plain-text version.
You can also create a plain text email without an HTML version.
If you want to see if one works better than the other, you can then use the Suite’s A/B split testing to discover which works best.
Image: opportplanet (Creative Commons)