What’s the difference between an HTML email and a plain-text email, and why would you want to send a dowdy plain-text when the programmes you use and designers you have on board can create all sorts of swanky visually appealing sends?
Let’s start by explaining exactly what a plain-text email is in comparison to its glamorous counterpart, the HTML.
Plain-text emails are essentially emails that are annulled of any formatting and are readable as just text. When you compose a plain-text email you can’t bold text, you can’t underline certain words and you can’t even change colours or font sizes. A plain-text is the plain Jane of email marketing, I guess the clue’s in the name really.
So, why would a marketer choose to send a plain-text alongside or instead of an all singing all dancing HTML version?
HTML (which stands for Hyper Text Markup Language) is the way webpages (like the one you’re reading now) are encoded to be able to display bold, italics and colour. While they can indeed be used to create lovely looking branded sends, they’re not much use if the email client you’re sending to and/or device that is receiving your email can’t read or display it properly.
Here’s a recent dotMailer HTML email:
…and here’s the plain text version:
Visually (as you can see) there’s no contest, the HTML wins every time! So is there a place for plain texts?
Yes! Here’s why:
- Whereas HTMLs can display differently from client to client, with plain-texts you know that your recipients will see exactly what you see.
- HTML’s also look more like personal messages, like one that you’d send to a colleague or a friend – it’s certainly worth trying a plain-text send to see if it affects your engagement statistics in any way. Remembering that with no images to download it may not increase your opens, as suggested by the DMA in the ‘Open Reach’ discussion paper – look at overall engagement instead.
- With plain-texts, the focus is on the content not the design. Yes HTML provides the eye candy, but is that what your subscribers really want? Again, it’s worth testing.
- Plain-text emails always work on mobile devices. Even in our day and age some mobiles remove the fancy HTML images. As a result your emails might not appear quite as you designed them and your text (without the images) might appear a little skew-whiff (BlackBerrys are prone to this). Marketers who want to play it safe should create a plain-text back up message for every campaign they send.
- Despite the fact that most platforms now support HTML, plain text email still has its place in terms of deliverability. Make sure that your plain text email matches your HTML version as closely as possible because spam filters compare your plain-text to your HTML email. If only a small proportion of your HTML message is included in your plain-text message, your email is going be treated like spam.
So, hopefully you won’t go rushing to immediately ditch your mobile responsive, brand aligned template, but will always make sure you have generated (and formatted) your plain text version as well so that your recipients without HTML-capable devices have some good content to view, and although it won’t be for everyone, have a think about ways to test sending plain text emails only.
So, there you have it, the case for the plain text email. What do you think? We’d love to hear what your experience has been with plain texts in comparison to HTMLs – leave a comment below, we’ll always reply!