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Plain text Vs HTML emails

A client asked me this question recently. They are currently using plain text emails to promote their publications and have great deliverability – but the question is, are they making the most of the channel?

When it comes to email marketing the debate still rages over what’s best – HTML or plain text email formats.

The lowdown

HTML contains images and colours. Plain text emails on the other hand look exactly how they are named, emails that contain only text – no colours, graphics or formatting.

There are advantages and disadvantages of both types of email formats:

Advantages of using plain text emails

  • All email clients will display the plain text emails correctly so you know that the recipients will see what you see.
  • Looks more like a personal message.
  • Blackberries handle plain text much better than HTML

Disadvantages of using plain text emails

  • You cannot track open rates in Plain text emails.
  • Colours and graphics can’t be used, which means that the email will lack visual impact.
  • People scan emails, which is harder to do with text-only emails – will your call to action stand out?

Advantages of using HTML emails

  • One of the golden rules of marketing is tracking the results – open rates can only be tracked with HTML email.
  • Colours and graphics can be used and are important for creating a visual impact and especially important when you’re attempting to portray a brand image.
  • It’s easier for the recipient to scan HTML emails.
  • Text links can be made clickable.

Disadvantages of using HTML emails

  • Some email clients are text-only (but these tend to be the really old ones), therefore your HTML email will be displayed as code, making it illegible for the recipient. That is why you MUST send multi part email messages (HTML and Text – this way the email client will accept the version it can render).
  • Images are often blocked, thereby removing some of the visual advantage of HTML emails and will also affect the open rate (we only know an email has been opened when the images are downloaded from the server).

So overall, the choice is yours! But the advantages of using HTML far outweigh the disadvantages.


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  • EnvisionIT Solutions

    It seems like all larger companies with big marketing budgets: Barnes & Noble, Nike etc. all do stylized HTML emails. In fact, it is very rare I get plain text email from any company. If the plain text emails were more effective, wouldn’t more companies be doing this?

  • ancanicolaescu

    I think a lot of companies do have plain text emails, at least to make sure that their campaigns don’t get blocked by spam filters (spammers never bother to create text versions of their HTML, so it’s a key indicator). Most people just choose to let the email client display HTML by default.

    Another key point is that the Apple Watch, and perhaps other smartwatches don’t read HTML and display only text. So you might miss your audience completely if your email doesn’t display. Litmus just wrote a great article on that.