Are plain text emails primarily used by B2B brands? Do B2C brands rely only on HTML emails? Which type has better email deliverability? When it comes down to choosing between plain text vs HTML emails, which one would you go with?

“Email is the way of the past, present and future.” – Trevor Carss

As email marketers metrics like open rate (OR), click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CR) mean everything to us. So much so that we are constantly testing email campaigns in order to improve them. We’ll alter – and refine – whatever necessary from subject lines, headers and call-to-action through images, link positions and general layout to copy, content and length. All in the name of achieving better deliverability, user experience, brand consistency and, of course, customer satisfaction. However, when it gets down to choosing plain text vs HTML emails, some marketers feel like they are at a crossroad.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics on plain text vs HTML emails:

  1. Pros & cons of plain text emails
  2. Pros & cons of HTML emails
  3. Which email format is best?

Let’s dig in.

Despite what some email marketers might think and the fact that the debate of plain text vs HTML emails has been ongoing for almost 20 years (give or take), we honestly think that it’s far from settled. Some marketers would choose plain text emails, whilst others will swear by HTML emails for both B2B and B2C correspondence. 

Both types have their advantages and disadvantages; and, no matter how meagre the differences in performance between them might be, when magnified across thousands of emails, the outcome may not be as satisfactory as businesses would expect.

You might be an experienced email marketer and a fully versed email guru in all the technical parts of an email; or, you might not be. Either way, we’d like to impart all our knowledge on the topic of plain text vs HTML emails.

Plain Text Emails: Definition and Benefits

A plain text email is exactly what its name implies – plain, simple text that can’t be formatted (for example – font, font size, bold, italic,etc.), no links can be embedded, no images or media either, no CTAs (well, you can have CTAs but they won’t stand out) and no tracking. The latter probably being the biggest disadvantage.

Some even call plain text emails “the stripped-down HTML email” type. Since plain text emails are formatting – free, they also don’t require vast knowledge in coding. This can be quite an advantage for some email marketers. 

Once upon a time, all emails were plain text ones. Maybe that’s why some businesses consider them as the preferred type of emails to use; and since they pose no rendering issues that makes them work well across absolutely all email clients. Just know that, if you choose plain text emails for your email marketing, they will be sent with ASCII text giving little to pretty much no control over the email’s formatting.

Possibly one of the ‘sweetest’ advantages of plain text emails is the fact that you won’t have the same level of technical issues you might experience with HTML emails. Since there’s pretty much no code, there’s nothing for you to worry about. There is also zero chance of having broken images or the email not being supported by email clients. Also, with the rise of wearable technology and IoT devices, plain text emails are way more accessible.

Pros & Cons Of Using Plain Text Emails 

Pros: plain text emails are supported by all email clients which ensures consistency in delivery and better accessibility, messages are more personal, they load quickly and they’re favoured by B2B marketers.

Cons: lack of control over formatting, no option to include links, images or other visuals, no tracking of important email metrics, harder to stand out CTAs, difficulty to differentiate brands and they are not absolutely safe from the spam folder.

A best practice is to offer your subscribers the option to choose the type of email messages they would like to receive – plain text or HTML. ESPs like EmailOut handle both HTML and plain text emails for you – with the plain text version automatically created.

HTML Emails: Definition and Benefits

As most of you probably already know, HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It’s basically the way webpages (such as ours) are encoded to handle things such as bold, italic and even colour text.

HTML emails have everything plain text ones are missing – layout styles, images, embedded links, diverse colours, beautiful stand out CTAs, footers with legal information, formatting and better tracking ability.

Initially, HTML emails appeared in the early 2000s and they caused a bit of trouble. Especially, since not all email clients rendered such an email format properly; not to mention the lack of proper rendering on mobile devices. 

Overall, when HTML emails first entered the email marketing world, marketers were in a state of mayhem. However, as things progressed and ESPs as well as email clients evolved, HTML emails gained popularity. Things also became a lot easier by the mid-2010s, when responsive design began its rise. Yet, it wasn’t until 2016 that Google finally rolled out support for responsive design and CSS in Gmail.

A big disadvantage of HTML email is the possibility of phishing scams and viruses. This email format is way more likely to be caught in spam filters than plain text emails. Furthermore, every now and then, all CSS styles in the HTML email will get automatically removed by antivirus software, leaving it completely unrecognisable.

To sum it up, HTML emails are rich in visual, interactive and media elements. They have everything from beautifully formatted content through images, animated GIFs and tables to attention-drawing CTAs. We don’t feel like we should give you an image example because pretty much most of the emails in your inbox are HTML ones. Simply open any of them.

A professional ESP (like EmailOut) will handle all the nuts and bolts when it comes to your HTML emails. It’ll also automatically send a plain text version of your email to make sure your subscribers will read your message no matter what.

Pros & Cons Of Using HTML Emails 

Pros: better and more sophisticated design control, ability to embed images, multimedia, links and tables, higher conversion rates, more dynamic and personalised messages, better email analytics, better interactivity and engagement, more professional and modern look, easy to differentiate in the inbox and they are the favoured email format by B2C marketers.

Cons: higher potential for viruses and phishing scam, CSS styles can be stripped away, more likely to end up in the spam folder and some email clients and devices don’t render HTML well which can result in a mishmash of code.

A best practice is to ensure your HTML emails are responsive. So, in order to be on the safe side try to keep the email design simple and test, test, TEST once you’ve designed your template.

Now that you know the differences between plain text & HTML email as well as the advantages and disadvantages, we’d like to draw your attention to one very important thing – mistaking HTML emails for plain text ones. Yes, it can happen more often than you might think.

Depending on the purpose of your marketing email, you might decide to limit the formatting of your HTML email; which (in design terms) will make it look a lot like a plain text one. However, it is not. It’s still trackable though simpler in design HTML email. This type of emails is known as a hybrid email and marketers use them quite often.

Plain Text vs HTML Emails: Which Email Format Is The Best?

Remember in the beginning we mentioned that the debate of plain text vs HTML emails is far from settled? Well, we firmly stand behind that statement. 

Plain text emails don’t allow marketers the freedom of bringing to life everything they might want to because it has restrictions on formatting, imagery and multimedia. On the other hand, HTML emails allow email marketers all the freedom they want in order to bring their message to life.

Plain text emails are favoured mainly in B2B industries, of which most lean toward a hybrid construction of HTML formatted emails that mimic plain text to utilise the benefit of tracking and analytics as well as guaranteed formatting once delivered.

Let’s face it, customers nowadays are being bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing emails on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Some of them might, and probably are, from your competitors. So, how can you make sure that your brand stands out and is not fading into the background? Will a plain text email achieve that? How about an HTML one? 

The answer is quite simple – try both email formats. You will certainly achieve higher deliverability, open, conversion and engagement rates. After all, analytics point out that 62% of marketers rely on hybrid emails in their email marketing campaigns.

Of course, you can always leave the choice to your customers. But, wouldn’t that be a bit of a lazy approach? Go the extra mile. Show them why you are the best. Yes, it might cost you a bit more time to design an amazing email campaign, but with the help of a professional ESP (like EmailOut), it will be as easy as riding a bike.

Final Thoughts

Plain text emails are less time-consuming, easy to read and free of distractions. They also feel more personal and create a sense of exclusivity. On the other hand, HTML emails are very eye-catching, dynamic and way more interactive. They can also be highly personalised and present a more professional look. 

So, next time you’re creating a campaign and wasting time on deciding plain text vs HTML emails, remember that both formats have their advantages and a mixture of them would get you where you want to be. Most importantly, don’t forget to test, test, test. The answers lie in your data and analytics. After all, what works for some might not necessarily work for all.

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