Email formats – plain text or HTML?

How carefully have you considered the format of your marketing emails? Questions such as whether to use plain text or html, or how many images to include will inevitably arise when you do.

You probably have an HTML template set up in your email marketing program if you send a regular email newsletter or update.

You simply open it once a week or once a month and update the content. You haven't given the format much thought in months. Years, even. Perhaps it's time to take a closer look.

Recognizing the three basic email formats



Recognizing the three basic email formats

1. Emails in plain text

These emails are exactly what they claim to be. Simple text. There are no images. There are no links. If you want to include a link, include the full URL, including the https:// – but the recipient will not be able to click on it.

They must copy and paste the URL into a browser.

Plain text emails take a bit of formatting to look right. You’ll need to pay close attention to layout and use special characters to help comprehension.

For example,

  • Use a continuous underline as a separator
  • Use capital letters to denote headings
  • Using spacing and paragraphs intelligently

2. Emails with Rich Text

These are emails that appear to have been sent from an email client.

It is worth noting that these are sometimes referred to as plain text emails, but they aren't exactly plain text.

You can change the font, size, and colour of the text. You have the option of using bold or italics. You can also include images and hyperlinks. It's just that the email is primarily textual.

Because there is so little formatting, the email does not appear to be 'designed.' It appears to have been sent to you individually from their own email client.

3. HTML Template Formats

When most of us think of marketing emails, these are the first things that come to mind: There are a lot of pictures.

Headings that stand out in various fonts and colours.

Call-to-action buttons and other hyperlinks in a variety of formats.

This type of email is almost always created with the help of a template in an email marketing software programme.

We all know of emails that use HTML templates effectively, we’re sure your inbox gets a regular supply of them!

When should each email format be used

When should each email format be used?

Now that we've defined the terms, let's look at some scenarios in which you might or might not use each of these types of email.

1. Email in plain text

Plain text email is rarely used because it's not very appealing. People find it more difficult to follow links because they must copy and paste rather than simply clicking. As a result, you can't track clicks either.

So, why do people use it? There are several reasons for this:

Perhaps your clients have a variety of accessibility issues. HTML can occasionally cause problems with the software that these people use to access their emails.

Perhaps your clients are very security conscious. You're a bank or an e-security company, and you don't want any random links in your email.

Occasionally, if an email has to go through. Some email filters will block HTML emails.

Ignore plain text emails if you aren't one of those people. Unless your email service provider provides an automatic plain text version, in which case you should include it every time.

It can assist in getting past spam filters.

Emails with rich text

2. Emails with rich text

This is most likely the most underutilized format of all.

Email is intended for one-on-one communication. Or, at the very least, small group communication. There are times when you want to be absolutely certain that your recipients believe you are speaking to them and only them.

As an example:

When conducting cold email outreach

Your recipients have no idea who you are. They don't expect you to send them a glossy newsletter-style email. So, make your communications appear to be one-on-one.

In fact, if you only have a small list, you should avoid your email service provider entirely. Send these emails one at a time from your own email program.

For downloads and inquiries

Someone contacted you and your company about something. That was a personal action, and it deserves a personal response.

It's also an excellent opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone who is genuinely interested. Send a download/welcome/thank you for your inquiry response from a personal email address, with a personal signature.

The same is true for follow-up emails if you're running a nurture series following a download.

When sending out reminder or follow-up emails

When you invite people to an event and some of them do not respond, why not send a personal reminder?

Regular Newsletters and Updates

That's right, the regular emails we send to stay in touch. The ones where we create a template and then use it without thinking. Have you ever wondered if they should be HTML templates or something much simpler?

According to Marketo and HubSpot, rich text formats may be more effective than the templates that many of us use. This is especially true if you are a brand.

It depends on your industry – we list some deserving exceptions below – but it may be worthwhile to experiment with the rich text format for your emails. (Bonus testing tip: you may notice an increase in clicks in the first test, but this is not due to your recipients liking the new format more; it is simply because it is different. By testing at least three times, you can avoid this type of variable.)

Emails in plain text

3. HTML Email Templates

These are primarily used for newsletters and regular updates – and only occasionally!

If you work in, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll want to use HTML templates with a lot of images and formatting.

Consumer-to-consumer ecommerce

People expect an ecommerce company to send them the email equivalent of a catalogue. Give them what they asked for.

This is the one case where a large number of images and possibly multiple columns will work. (However, make sure your columns are responsive so they stack correctly on mobile!)

Industries based on visuals

If you work in photography, food, travel, or entertainment, an image-rich template may be ideal for you.

Just make sure your email works without images for people who block images by default in their email.

For product launches, special events, and promotional offers

Everyone may require a full HTML template on occasion.

Consider wedding invitations. Yes, you may inform your friends that they are cordially invited. However, you always send a stylish official invitation. Why? Because it's a big deal!

So, if you're doing something big in your business, follow the same process.

Change it up.

A full template will draw attention if your regular emails are rich text. It gives the impression that you went above and beyond in terms of design for this one-of-a-kind occasion.

If they don't respond, you can always send a rich text email as a follow-up.

About the Author
Author: Daniel Luke
Daniel is a WordPress web designer with vast experience working with various WordPress themes that allows him to compare and contrast different themes, understand the strengths and weaknesses to develop factual, real-world reviews.

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