In This Article…
If you’re beginning an email campaign and aren’t sure whether to use a graphically-based HTML email template to improve the visual appearance of your email or a plain text email template to improve the deliverability of your email (and conserve resources), this article lays out the pros and cons of each type. I will then give you advice on how to optimize your email marketing metrics through template formats and displays.
What is Plain Text Email and HTML Email?
The first thing that you need to understand is “What is plain text email?” and “What is HTML email?” HTML email is an email that is formatted like a web page, using colors, graphics, table columns and links. Imagine any newsletter that you receive from a service. That’s most likely what an HTML email looks like. A plain text email is an email that only includes text. Imagine your typical inter-office email communication. That’s what a plain text email looks like.
Email marketers generally don’t debate which format is better. HTML email converts better in marketing tests almost every time. However, there are some factors you should consider before deciding which mail format to use. Ultimately, there’s a solution to getting the best part of both worlds.
HTML email does, in fact, come with some problems attached to it. It’s an imperfect science, and you should be aware of ways in which HTML email can fail.
– Spam: HTML email can put you in the spam folder if your code is sloppy. Email providers’ spam filters look for code that looks like it’s been copied from a Word document, and they increase your spam score based on that.
– Coding Time: HTML emails are also harder to code than HTML pages. They need to be coded to appeal to spam filters, and to use CSS in very specific ways. In some cases, you’ll even need to use different HTML email templates to send to different providers in order to make your email look consistent in all email clients.
– End User Display: Some email providers (Gmail, particularly) will strip out many elements of your HTML email code regardless of how well it’s built. So no matter how many hours your developer and designer spent making your email look amazing, it may still end up as black text on a white background with blue links.
– Image Blocking: Almost without fail, the majority of your end users will be reading their email with their images turned off. Therefore, every image that you used in your HTML email will be invisible to them. That means that there will be lots of dead white space in their email instead of colorful, inviting sales or informational text.
– Mobile Phone Users: Up to 20% of your end users are reading their email on their mobile phone. your HTML email won’t display at all on many phones.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the benefits of HTML email.
– Better Visual Engagement: you only have a fraction of a second when a user opens an email for them to decide whether to read it or immediately delete it. The use of color and interesting visuals can keep them interested long enough to read and become interested in your message.
– Better Information Organization: Most messages are not best delivered in a chunky text paragraph but instead in bulleted lists, columns, table layouts and a variety of text justifications. Also, differentiating words and concepts with color makes it easier on the reader to identify the important parts of the email. This can’t be done with plain text.
Pros and Cons
If you wanted to break it down into an easy theory to remember, it would sound like this:
Plain text email is better if:
– you are incredibly worried about deliverability into the inbox
– you are expecting replies to be sent to your email
– you are concerned about making sure your email visuals do not break or appear incorrectly in email clients
– you don’t have the development and design resources to create a well tested, tightly coded HTML email template
HTML email is better if:
– your main objective is to convert a sale
– The information you are presenting needs to be visually organized
– you have the in-house resources to create a workable and successful email template
– And, most importantly, you can send a plain text version as well (see below)!
The best solution if you want to send an HTML email is to send a plain text version attached. The plain text version will then display in instances where the HTML version can’t load. For example, the plain text version would appear in many mobile phone scenarios and often certain Outlook clients. Many third party email providers offer this option as a default option. In fact, some of them even reԛuire that you enter a plain text version along with your HTML version before they will allow you to send. In this way, you will get the benefit of displaying color, graphics and format to those who can see it without prohibiting your other users from reading the message.
If, however, you’ve only got the capability to send one option or the other, I suggests you review the pros and cons above and then decide which is best for you. It won’t be the same answer for everybody! Whether you’re sending a bells-and-whistles HTML email or a stripped-down plain text email, whom you use for your email provider is the first step in creating a successful campaign.