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Plain Text Vs HTML Emails

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 22 Sep, 2015
Essential Essential topic

Plain text has proven impressively durable despite marketers preference for HTML

When it comes to email marketing, there’s only a few Email metrics that all marketers focus on: open rates and clickthroughs (although they should consider more, like the value generated). Without positive levels of KPIs, marketers often feel like they have wasted time and effort creating an email that no one has seen or interacted with, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

This is why marketers are constantly trying to find ways to improve on their email marketing campaigns in the hope that something – be it a subject line, content piece, image choice or header wording – will make a difference.

plain text vs html
But something that marketers generally don’t seem to change is the format of their email. Comfortable in the flashy world of HTML email design, marketers may be missing one very important point – the plain-text email usually performs better.

Which has better deliverability?

The plain-text vs. HTML debate is one that has been underway for a while – and is mostly focused on email deliverability. Generally, there are two things that a HTML email needs to include to ensure that it has good deliverability; proper coding and a working plain text version of the email.

By ensuring that your email has been properly coded, and contains no broken tags in the HTML, you will also ensure that email providers won’t mark it as spam. Additionally, adding a plain-text version to your email is considered best practice and is something that email providers now look out for – penalising those who don’t have these versions and segmenting them to a spam or trash folder immediately.

If your HTML email follows those two important steps, both the HTML email and plain-text version should have the same deliverability metrics – however, you also have to consider the increasing ability of email providers to filter out emails to provide a better user experience. Gmail, for example, will automatically filter what it deems to be commercial content away from the main inbox stream. Adding high levels of image tags and using HTML-rich templates appears to be a sure-fire way to get your email filtered out of a recipient’s main inbox.

With the complex email filtering ability of the majority of email providers in mind, it may not seem all that shocking that plain-text emails are performing better on open rates than their HTML-rich counterparts.

Which one receives better clickthrough rates?

However, it’s not only open rates that matter in email marketing, clickthrough’s are another essential part of the process. So which one performs better in the clickthrough stakes?

Even if open rates decrease with HTML emails, those who do open it will be more likely to click through to landing pages than they would be on a plain text email because of how beautifully it has been designed?

Not quite.

Plain-text reigns champion in this arena too. Most marketers are being lost in the haze of sleek design and beautiful imagery, and are forgetting one key principle: Email is designed to be a one on one interaction. Your readers’ email inbox is likely to be a space where they email colleagues and friends and communicate in a personal way. Following this principle, it appears that HTML emails that are too design heavy suffer with clickthrough’s because they aren’t resonating with the audience in the same way as the rest of their inbox does.

What does this mean for email marketing?

Email marketers should be looking to simplify the whole email marketing process, taking it back to a simpler time. The statistics suggest that they should be diverting their attention away from the design and reverting back to the basic idea that content is the key to a good marketing message – not the colour the content comes in.

That doesn’t mean that marketers shouldn’t be creative, and that they shouldn’t be trying versions of HTML designs and working with already established successful templates, but it does mean that the focus should once again revert to copy. Outstanding copy will work whatever the format of the email.

Ultimately, in the HTML vs plain-text war, it appears that less is actually more when it comes to a great email marketing campaign.

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