Debunking the benefits of plain text emails

There are many perceived benefits of plain text email, which simply aren’t true. Many gravitate around their preference by people working in ‘secondary sector’ jobs such as engineers.

I’ve never been much of a plain text email fan, but I remain open to being proven wrong. Benefits of plain text emails are, in my opinion, few and far between, commonly misunderstood and can be replicated more effectively using clever HTML design and development coupled with a smart email strategy.

Many of the perceived benefits of plain text email gravitate around their preference by people working in the ‘secondary sector’ – an economic category covering engineering, construction and manufacturing jobs.

Below are my thoughts on three of the commonly believed benefits associated with plain text email.

HTML emails look like marketing content – those in the secondary economic sector are more likely to engage with plain text email

There is a couple of points to make here. Firstly, almost every HTML email that is sent out is accompanied by a plain text version. The one that is received depends on the recipient’s mail client settings.

If the HTML email being sent is seen as ‘marketing spam’ then it’s time to consider a new email design. I’m a huge fan of really simple email design, and if recipients are in favour of ‘plain text’ then creating letter-style emails (just a logo in the top left and significant white space around the body text) may be enough to begin increasing readership.

You can always make HTML emails look as if they’re plain text, whilst retaining the ability to add font styles, images and links if needed. Making your templates look and read like letters is a natural next step in the design process.

Open and click-through rates are higher with secondary sector job recipients for plain text emails

Open rates being higher for plain text emails than HTML emails is entirely speculation. Excluding the delivery rate of each email type, there is simply no way to compare the two emails metrics. The reason for this is due to the way that email open rates are calculated. In a HTML email, the number of opens is calculated by recording the number of times a small image within the email is downloaded from the server. As this isn’t possible with plain text emails it’s not possible to track plain text open rates. Of cause open rates are dictated by subject lines and from names rather than email content anyway!

Click-throughs can be measured in plain text, but (unless you measure the unique visits to a landing page promoted only via plain text) you usually have to append tracking information to the end of the URL which is will deter the total number of clicks.

Again, creating a HTML email which looks and reads like a plain text email or a digital letter will allow you to overcome these issues and measure much more accurate and valuable metrics.

Delivery is higher for plain text emails as many HTML emails get caught in spam filters

This requires a fundamental understanding of what an email delivery is. Deliverability is the ability for an email to be passed from email marketing software to the ISP, and then to the inbox of the recipient. At one time spammy and badly-coded HTML may have had a marginal impact on the delivery success, but this shouldn’t be an issue in modern email marketing.

By developing letter-style emails you’ll have a good text to image rate, and the code behind it should be simple and unlikely to set any spam alarm bells ringing.

The real benefits of plain text emails

Despite all of the above, there are some genuine benefits of plain text emails, including;

  • Speed of production
  • Ease of production
  • Consistent appearance by default

That being said, if the resources are available, in my opinion HTML is always the way to go.

Still believe in plain text emails?

If there’s still a desire to use plain text emails then perhaps designing a much simpler, text heavy email that mirrors existing headed paper is worth testing against normal HTML emails.

If the results are in favour of the ‘plain text’ (which is actually simple HTML), the next step may be to use some clever digital marketing to gather metrics – namely producing a landing page specificity for receiving visits from a plain text email.

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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