Each time you send an email campaign to your subscribers, readers or customers, you have to make an important decision: plain text or HTML?
If you choose plain text, you’ll send your email in a text-only format (like this one), but if you choose HTML, you can enhance the message with colors, graphics, and layout elements like tables. Plus, you can include your company logo and even (gasp!) your picture, if you dare.
Faced with this choice, most email marketers are presently choosing HTML as the preferred content type. Why? Because they believe they can make the email look more compelling and, therefore, more people will read it and respond to it.
BUT THEY’RE WRONG
This assumption, it turns out, may be incorrect. HTML emails get *deleted* more frequently and more quickly than plain text emails. Across the Internet, more readers actually prefer plain text emails.
Why? The reason is simple: HTML emails are perceived as being too commercial. Most email recipients are fed up with commercial email, especially the unsolicited variety (spam), and they tend to associate *any* HTML email with a pushy sales-like pitch.
Plain text emails, on the other hand, are seen as being *content rich*. If there’s something really important to be said, the important parts are likely to be found in the text, not in some logo or ad banner. People intuitively know that, and as strange as it may seem, plain text emails actually carry more credibility these days than HTML emails (that’s a complete flip from three years ago, by the way).
THE RESEARCH PROVES IT
A marketing firm called Lucid Marketing conducted tests with AOL users to determine what worked best: HTML or plain text. The results were staggering: plain text emails consistently generated higher click rates, sometimes 100% higher!
Consider this: plain text emails simply load faster. And since so many AOL users are still on dialup lines, it makes sense that fast-loading emails will be more successful.
THERE’S A LOT OF BAD HTML OUT THERE
When you’re deciding between HTML and plain text, keep in mind that the vast majority of HTML email is very poorly constructed. Or, to put it bluntly, most HTML email designs stink! Gaudy colors, flashing animated graphics, gigantic fonts… you get the picture.
On the bright side, a well-constructed HTML email can do quite well, but only if the design is top notch and stands well above the crowd.
HTML IS LIKELY TO GET FLAGGED AS SPAM
The big news on email marketing these days isn’t the subject line, the landing pages, or the offer: it’s the ability to actually get your email *delivered* to the big ISPs like AOL, Yahoo and MSN. If your mail gets flagged as possible spam by these providers, you’ll flush your campaign results right down the toilet.
And one of the quickest ways to get your email flagged as spam is to make it *look* like spam: use HTML and fill it up with graphics and large fonts!
But plain text emails, especially when they don’t contain spam-like words and phrases, tend to sail through the filters far more easily.
What’s the point of having a great looking HTML email message if half your subscribers never see it? Stick to plain text email and your results will likely improve.
HALF THE USERS ARE STILL ON DIALUP
I know that broadband is popular, and I personally couldn’t imagine getting anything done over a dialup account, but about half the users on the Internet are *still* using dialup (56K, usually)! That means your HTML emails are going to be a royal pain for those users to read. Plain text emails, on the other hand, load in an instant.
MICROSOFT OUTLOOK 2003 DOESN’T LOAD IMAGES AUTOMATICALLY
To make matters worse for HTML emails, the new version of Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, the most popular email clients on the PC, don’t automatically load HTML graphics. This means your carefully-constructed HTML email will look *downright ugly* on your recipient’s preview screen. They won’t get the full graphics unless they double-click the email and open it. That’s a totally different operation from email client software of the past which automatically loaded graphics as part of the email preview.
EVERYBODY CAN READ PLAIN TEXT
The fact is, every email client on the planet, no matter what the operating system, can read plain text emails. Whether your subscribers are using Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, Outlook, or even Linux or Netscape Email, they can read your plain text messages just fine.
Notice what I’m using? This series is sent to you using plain text email. Not because it’s fancy and eye-catching, but because it works.
WILL PLAIN TEXT WORK FOR YOU?
The fact that *most* Internet users prefer plain text doesn’t necessarily mean that *your* subscribers prefer it. I suggest you survey them first. Ask what they prefer. And then test it yourself and see what results you get. Or, you could resort to a split list format by asking subscribers to indicate which format they prefer.
Let me know what you find. Send me your comments or results and I’ll add them to this series for others to read.
NEXT: HOW TO PREVENT YOUR IN-HOUSE EMAIL LIST FROM VANISHING
In the next part, I reveal the rarely-recognized truth about how most in-house email lists are rapidly disappearing and what you can do to prevent it. If your email list isn’t as large as you’d like it to be, or you’re getting more bounces than you want, you’ll definitely want to stay tuned for the next issue!