Plain Text vs. HTML Email – Which is Better for Email Marketing?

Plain Text vs. HTML Email – Which is Better for Email Marketing?
Posted October 11, 2019 by Nathalie Godoy

Email is an important component of today’s digital marketing strategy. We believe it’s one of the most effective ways to contact past, current and prospective customers. Marketers often ask which email format is best: HTML or plain text. There isn’t one right answer, but we can help you discover which email format is best for your needs.

There are several things to consider when deciding which format to use, including open rates, spam rates, and analytics, etc. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each format and discover which one is the best to use in your marketing campaigns.

What’s the Difference?

Before we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each format, we’ll explain the differences between each one. The easiest way to understand the differences is that HTML can contain images, colors, and links. As the name implies, plain text only contains text. There are no images, graphics, formatting or coding.

Pros of HTML Formatting

  • Tracking: HTML email allows you to use advanced analytics, including tracking the number of people who opened the email, as well as the number of people who clicked through the links. HTML email can also include code that allows the recipients to see your ads while they’re using their browsers.
  • Branding: HTML email helps to retain a company’s corporate branding, including logos, as well as maintaining the company’s design standards.
  • Images: Photos and graphics can increase the email’s visual appeal. It allows you to design the email in any number of ways and to display a product. HTML formatting can also be used to highlight the email’s call to action.

Cons of HTML Formatting

  • Open Rates: Perhaps the biggest drawback to using HTML is that evidence indicates HTML emails reduce open rates. According to Hubspot [1], A/B testing ( the process of comparing two or more variants to determine which variation performs better ) demonstrated the following:
  1. Adding GIFs to HTML email led to 37% lower open rates
  2. Using an HTML template decreased email open rates by 25%
  3. In summary, increasing the amount of HTML in email templates lowered the open rate by 23%.
  • Clickthrough Rates: Not only does HTML formatting lead to lower open rates, but it also results in lower clickthrough rates. While it may seem that an attractively formatted email should increase clickthrough, the reverse is actually the case. The reason is that email is considered to be a personal interaction. Friends and business associates send email messages in plain text, so messages without HTML formatting seem more personal.
  • Images Blocked / Spam: Some email clients block graphics by default. The recipient may not be aware of how to turn the graphics on, resulting in an email that’s missing important components. Another thing to consider is that an overabundance of HTML elements ( such as images ) may result in the email being placed in the recipient’s spam folder.

Pros of Plain Text Formatting

  • Readability: All email clients don’t display HTML email the same way. This can cause unanticipated formatting problems. Plain text is standardized across all email clients, which ensures that recipients won’t have trouble reading it.
  • Personal: Plain text emails are perceived as being more personal than HTML, which can seem too “corporate.”
  • Accessibility: People with disabilities can access plain text emails more easily than those formatted with HTML. Devices such as screen readers for the visually impaired and Apple Watches can run into problems trying to read HTML formatting.

Cons of Plain Text Formatting

  • No Design Elements: As we mentioned earlier, plain text is just text. You can’t use images, tables, links or any design elements. There’s no getting around the fact that HTML-formatted emails have more visual appeal than plain text. HTML formatting can highlight the call to action.
  • Readability: This issue is a con as well as a pro. While HTML formatting can specify fonts and font sizes, this isn’t the case with plain-text formatted emails. Older recipients and those with vision problems may have difficulty reading plain text, particularly on some mobile devices.
  • No Tracking: Marketers need the ability to track email campaigns. Plain text doesn’t allow tracking of open rates or clickthrough rate

Which One to Use?

Deciding on which method to use depends on what’s most important to you. If you need to maintain a corporate image or tracking the open rate is important, then HTML is the way to go. If you want to project a personal touch, you’ll want to consider using plain text.

Ultimately, less is more when it comes to email and although that might be a difficult pill for creative marketers to swallow ( us included ), there is another way, one that combines the best features of both formats. Use HTML, but format it to look like plain text. You can format the email as bare-bones text or add as much styling as you require. This format will allow you to track the open rate and clickthrough rate, while still receiving the benefits of using plain text.

[1] Plain Text vs. HTML Emails: Which is Better? https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/plain-text-vs-html-emails-data