Email marketing is a powerful tool to reach more people, increase engagement, and generate more leads. There are two ways to send an email to your marketing list, one is to spruce it up using HTML and the other is to keep is simple with plain text. Which one works better for generating more engagement? Which one is actually read? First, let’s define what each means. 

HTML 

Hyper Text Mark Up, HTML, is a coding language. It is used in making websites and designing emails. Your internet browser and email client interpret the code to display images, headings and sections the content out.  

Plain text

For an email that gets the information across, you can use plain text. It is simply text; no formatting or no images. Plain text emails are smaller and are also great if the recipient has readability issues, or a slow connection, as it works on all devices.  

Our research 

Recently, we performed an experiment to see which of these email formats works best for marketing correspondence. We used the exact same content substance; one was spruced up with HTML formatting, the other was simply the plain text. The results were surprising, finding that the plain text version was read by more people, but the HTML version had a much better click through rate (CTR). This was due to the call to action being more visible. The content was exactly the same, but they did have different outcomes.  

What should you consider when using HTML email marketing?

Pros

Formatting is important. The use of white space is just as important as the images you use. You can use HTML to frame important parts of the email’s content. A call to action (CTA) needs to be obvious and clear to the reader, which is much easier to achieve with HTML.  

The click through rate is higher. The CTR is how many of the recipients click on a link in the email. You can make the link an image which is easier to see. Getting people to click on your links is usually the ultimate goal of any marketing material. 

Cons 

Some email clients will only display a plain text version of your email. In some cases, it will also include any HTML you added into the text. Which will make it harder for the reader to understand.  

You cannot guarantee the recipient will view the HTML email properly, this is becoming less frequent, but if the email doesn’t display correctly, then people are less likely to read it.

What should you consider when using plain text email marketing?

Pros 

The main benefit of using plain text is that it is more likely to be read. This is down to it working on every device, and that some people just prefer it. Increase your readership by offering a plain text version.  

There is less information sent to the email recipient, it gets to the substance of the content quicker than a HTML email. Some email clients will display the plain text version by default. This can be due to security reasons in a company, requiring expressed permission to load an image. 

Cons 

You have very limited control over the layout and design of the text. Plain text will display as a block of text and cannot be different colours, fonts, styles, or weights. Therefore, it is less eye catching. If someone wants to read it then they will, but it will not grab attention.  

Although the likelihood of reading the content goes up, the engagement does not. As there is no visual trigger to get someone to click, the CTA is lost in the text itself. 

Which is better for your marketing efforts?

The conclusion to the article could be ‘use both of them’ – they both fulfil a different requirement. If you mix the two styles, people tend to like the variance of this. 

People like variety and you cannot satisfy everyone all the time. Using a mixture of both types of email will work to increase your success rate. If you need more people to read the content, plain text works great. If you want more people to engage and click the links, then HTML is better.  

From our research, we can also suggest you use different email types for different types of clients. Business to business, B2B, clients are more likely to engage with plain text. Whereas emails to consumers should be more HTML focused.