Settling The HTML vs. Plain Text Email Debate

You don’t have to pick a side in the HTML vs Plain text email fight. It turns out there’s a time and a place for both email types.

html vs plain text email

There is certainly some discussion over which email type is the best to use. Should you use HTML emails, or should you use plain text emails? There are arguments for and against both types, and in this article we seek to help you make an informed decision. Let's explore:

  • HTML vs. Plain Text Email: A General Overview
  • HTML Email Pros & Cons
  • Plain Text Email Pros & Cons
  • HTML vs. Plain Text Email: Which One Should You Choose?

HTML vs. Plain Text Email: A General Overview

There’s a chance that you haven’t even realized that there’s a difference between HTML and Plain emails. Actually, there’s a chance that you didn’t even realize there were multiple types of emails. The two key types, as just mentioned, are HTML and Plain. The two types serve slightly different purposes and, importantly, do have an effect on the deliverability of the email.

Before we explore the pros and cons of each, we first need to understand what each type delivers and why you’re likely to use it.

What is an HTML Email?

An HTML email is the most popular form of email. The vast majority of emails that are sent worldwide are HTML based. Why? It’s because HTML allows you to use images, links, fonts, and style options. These options are displayed through code, specifically HyperText Markup Language or HTML. HTML readers (web browsers such as Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox) read the code and display the desired output.

What is a Plain Text Email?

Plain text emails are named so for a reason. These emails are completely plain. They are devoid of any styling whatsoever, including bold, italics, color, and anything that adds style to the email. There will be no images in plain emails, and links aren’t coded as links and so will appear as plain text links.

These emails look like standard text documents, with a base font and just black-on-white text.

HTML Email Pros & Cons

HTML email might seem like the clear favorite at this point, but there are still a series of pros and cons to using it when compared to its plain email counterpart.

HTML Email Pros

Some of the core benefits of working with HTML emails include:

  • The use of color, type format, multimedia, and formatted links is certainly more appealing to the reader than using plain text.
  • HTML emails allow you to use sophisticated analytical tracking.
  • You’re able to use features like buttons to make your CTAs stand apart and draw the recipient’s eye.

HTML Email Cons

There are, however, some cons to using HTML:

  • There are still many recipients that use email clients incapable of receiving HTML emails properly. This can lead to a mashed-up email that looks like a pile of confusing code.
  • Many email clients block images on receipt, meaning the recipient has to manually ask to receive the images.
  • Spam filters often have limits on the number of HTML elements they’ll allow to pass before sending an email to junk.

Plain Text Email Pros & Cons

As with HTML, there are both pros and cons to using plain text format emails.

Plain Text Email Pros

The main pros you’ll benefit from when using plain text email are:

  • Messages tend to appear more direct and personal, as if written by a real person rather than a mass-produced email for everyone on the sender’s list.
  • Emails are consistently displayed the same way on all email clients.
  • Smaller devices typically handle plain text emails better than HTML.

Plain Text Email Cons

Of course, there are also cons when using plain text email:

  • If you’re running a larger campaign, analytical tracking is far more difficult.
  • Your call to actions are often lost within the other text.
  • Without styling, it’s difficult to stand apart from the competition, and your emails don’t catch the eye as well.

HTML vs. Plain Text Email: Which One Should You Choose?

After reading that, you might be wondering why you would consider using plain text emails in our modern age. Surely you’d want to always use the HTML option to give yourself the freedom to create engaging, well-styled content? There are, however, certain times when plain text email is still king.

For Accessibility: Use Plain Text Email

If you’d like your email to be easily understood and accessed by people of all abilities, plain email is by far the best option. When considering accessibility, the biggest question is about screen readers. Screen readers take text and turn it into speech for the benefit of blind people. These screen readers rely on plain text to accurately deliver the audio, and HTML can cause some issues.

Some users will also find HTML emails overstimulating when they are full of different colors, images, and formatting styles. Furthermore, some styling options will be harder to read for those with conditions such as dyslexia than others.

For Analytics: Use HTML Email

If you’re serious about tracking the progress of your campaign, and the usual group of email marketing metrics, then you’ll have to use HTML-based emails. The code injections required to track the likes to open rate, link clicks, CTR, and deliverability all require some HTML format.

For B2B Email Marketing: Use Plain Text Email

Plain text email tends to have a more personal feel to it, and this works wonders in the B2B field. If you’re looking to run an email outreach campaign and therefore engage with a decision maker on an individual basis, a plain email will likely have a better reaction versus a more styled HTML email.

Key Takeaways

There are certainly benefits to both HTML and plain text email. The choice of which you should use depends on the context of the email that you’re sending. Consider your objectives for the email, whether you need analytical data about it, and who your recipient is. These factors should help you determine the best option.

  • If you need to track typical email metrics, HTML is your best option.
  • Plain text emails have the appearance of being more personal.
  • Many smaller devices will render plain text better than HTML.

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