Email formatting might not sound like a fascinating topic at first, but it can make a huge difference in your results. Unfortunately, whether you should use plain text or HTML is not a straightforward yes or no answer. It has to be decided on a case by case basis. Both formats have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s when you know how to leverage their strengths that you’ll start to see results.
If you’ve been sending emails without much thought about whether a plain text or HTML email is right for each message, this post will show you when and how to use each format. Don’t tune this out as a boring topic – making the right decision between plain text and HTML can result in 300% more sales. Email formatting might be a bit dry, but 300% more sales is riveting.
The difference between plain text and HTML emails
Before we go a step further, let’s bring everyone up to speed. This is a plain text email:
This is an HTML email:
The most noticeable difference is the HTML email has images. It also has text formatting and the ability to show information in columns. The text email is just text. It has no HTML code.
“Do I still have to send text emails?”
You don’t absolutely have to send both a text and an HTML version of your emails. That was a common practice up to even five years ago, but now almost every email client can read HTML emails. However, while the majority of email clients can read HTML emails, there are still some holdouts. So while you don’t have to send a text email, we do recommend it.
If you’re only sending text emails because you’re concerned people can’t read HTML emails, there’s a more elegant solution available. It’s possible to embed a text version of your email into the HTML version. These are called “multi-part emails” or a “multi-part MIME”. They basically have a simple text email bundled up inside of an HTML email. If the HTML can’t be read, the text is shown instead.
So, how does this work in GetResponse? Glad you asked.
All your emails created using the GetResponse Email Creator include the plain text version automatically.
No need to add it into your emails, it’s already there!
Here’s a quick video overview of what the email creator looks like.
“Do HTML emails affect deliverability?”
Not if they’re correctly formatted. But many marketers and bloggers have heard plain text emails beat html emails simply because of email deliverability. The idea is that all that fancy code in HTML emails makes ISP filters suspicious, and so they are more likely to block emails with HTML. But actually, that’s only true if there’s something wrong with the HTML code in the email.
So as long as you use accepted HTML code and everything else about your email is correct deliverability-wise, there’s no need to worry about HTML emails suppressing your deliverability rates. If you’re a GetResponse customer, worry even less. Our drag and drop email creator creates correct HTML every time. Your emails are responsive, too, which means they’ll be just as attractive on a mobile phone as on a desktop.
Conversion rates for plain text versus HTML
There’s no conclusive evidence that HTML or plain text emails convert better. GetResponse data from their Email Marketing Benchmarks report suggests that emails containing images tend to have bigger open- and click-through-rates. In another marketing survey customers said they prefer HTML emails, but that doesn’t mean they are more likely to buy from a text email versus an HTML email. A different survey, run during the same year, came to the opposite conclusion. That survey showed people preferred text emails, or at least emails with a minimalistic design.
Whether text or HTML emails convert better almost entirely depends on what you’re selling or promoting. For example, if you’re an online retailer, you want to use HTML emails in order to show photographs of what you’re selling. But if you’re an affiliate marketer offering a product that shows people how to write better emails, a text-based message might do just fine. In that case, you may not want images distracting from your copy.
There is one dramatic example of a plain text email crushing an HTML email. The test is from WhichTestWon (http://whichtestwon.com/). The two emails below were sent out for the test. The only difference between them is their format. Otherwise their subject lines, landing pages and copy are identical.
The text email on the right “increased revenue by 303.8% and visits to the website by 194.51%.” Wow.
Tracking and analytics
HTML emails do have an advantage over text emails when it comes to analytics. Text emails can’t track open rates. Why? Because open rates are almost always tracked by embedding a single pixel image in the email, called a tracking pixel. An email open is counted only when that tracking pixel gets downloaded. Text emails don’t have that pixel, or any other images, so there’s nothing to download, and thus no way to track the open.
A dash of plain text
Some email marketers send mostly HTML emails, but every once in a while they will send a simple text email for a special message. These kinds of emails are almost always written like personal notes, and that’s what they’re supposed to remind you of. If the person sending those emails actually wrote you a personal note, they wouldn’t send it in an HTML template. They’d write you a text email just like all the rest of us do in our daily communications.
Try using this technique in your marketing. Is there any point in your marketing where a personal note could work? Perhaps one of your welcome emails should be a plain text note from you.
Many emails that look like text are actually HTML
This approach maximizes the strengths of both formats. You get the clean design and easy readability of a text email, but the controlled formatting of an HTML email. Here’s a nice example of an HTML email that looks like a text email. See the lines in bold? That’s the giveaway that this is actually an HTML email. True plain text emails can’t have bold or italics.
This type of hybrid text/HTML email is more common than you’d think. Now that you know how to identify them, you’ll start seeing them every day.
Transactional emails are almost always plain text
This may be because of the old rumor that plain text emails are more likely to get delivered. Or it may be that many order confirmation emails are generated on the fly by an order-processing program. Whatever the reason, most of the confirmation emails you’ll get are text-based. Not all, though. Some companies, especially online retailers, make their order confirmations emails quite lovely.
Tips for plain text formatting
If you are going to send a text email, use some best practices for formatting it.
- Use all caps for headlines
- Keep the email as short as possible
- Use bullet points wherever possible
- Use dashes to separate sections of the email
- Use a link shortener, like Bit.ly
Text emails are faster to create
If you’re super-short on time, a text email, or a minimalist HTML email is the way to go. So if you’re struggling to get an email out every week, maybe simplifying your email down to the basics would work.
Here’s an HTML email looking pretending to be a plain text message from Neil Patel announcing one of his blog posts:
Here’s a streamlined HTML email from Unbounce. All this email adds is a header, social media sharing icons, some text formatting and a pale blue background. Note how short the copy is. This email probably took about half an hour to create.
How to create a text-only email in your GetResponse account
Editor’s note: Please keep in mind this process shows you how you can create a plain text email using the old GetResponse Email Creator. We’ll update this section as soon as the new Email Creator lets you create this type of messages, too.
1) In the “Messages” link in the upper navigation bar, click “Create Newsletter”.
2) Choose the New Email Creator.
3) Give your message a name and subject.
4) Choose “Plain Text” from the Templates.
5) Create your text email.
6) Click save when you’re done, then choose which list you want to mail to and schedule your email as usual.
Test for yourself
Now you know the basics of how to use plain text and HTML emails. It’s up to you to find out what works best for your business. That means doing some testing, and you may have to test more than once. I recommend you test at least three different emails to see whether your list prefers plain text or HTML. Who knows – maybe you’ll see a 300% increase in results too.