Anna Grekova

CRM Marketing Specialist

Plain text email VS HTML: what to use?

Plain text email vs HTML. A new trend or well-established practice: what is more effective?

Today we often meet an opinion that plain text emails (i.e. simple text messages without animation or other designer features) is a new fashioned trend, so every email marketer feels an urgent need to apply it to his emailing immediately. Should we follow this mainstream euphoria? We analyzed the facts, so now we can share with you the real data received from researches of western experts as well as some our own findings.

Does HTML reduce Open Rate?

We usually spend a lot of time building good-looking high-informative emails to attract subscriber's attention and motivate him to effective actions, but we face a problem: researches published by Hubspot portal confirmed that HTML emailing have 25% lower Open Rate than text messages; moreover, Open Rate is reduced in 37% when GIF animations are added. Increasing number of HTML blocks reduces another 23 percents of Open Rate.

Does it mean that all efforts are futile?

Plain Text in numbers: impressive index of efficiency

Paying more attention to data analysis and taking a look at CTR we can see that plain text messages have 21% higher rate than for HTML-rich emails. Alongside with higher Open Rate it witnesses quite clear that we can increase clicks to website rate up to 51% using plain text messages; this index seems impressive. The data above is based on the results of Mike Lieberman's researches. We could not leave such an interesting topic beyond our attention, so we made our own test.

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Plain Text email in action

Since all the best concepts should be practically applied, we decided to introduce the use of plain text immediately.

The results of the first text emailing were impressive. It could be even considered as confirmation of the hypothesis that plain text emails are really high efficient.

Traditional emails based on HTML samples were sent to two different groups of recipients; then, mailing was followed by next message built as plain text. Plain text mailing was more effective for both teams.

First plain text campaigns results

Nevertheless, the current data can not be considered as undoubted confirmation of text email higher efficiency, and that's why:

  • as we can see in screenshot below, plain text email newsletters displayed the higher Open Rate percentage. But in fact, when client makes a decision will he open the message or not he doesn't know anything about its format. Opening may be affected by other factors (sender's name, subject line, etc); in our test, these lines were different for text and HTML emails we sent to compare.
  • as for click-through rate: offers in text messages and traditional promo newsletter differed too, so it caused the unequal feedback.
  • day of the week, sending time and offer in the body of email were also different.
  • Regarding the mentioned remarks, it would be incorrect to consider two completely different mailings as an experiment even despite the high efficiency indicators for plain text type of messages. We decided to apply the scientific approach and verify the efficiency of Plain Text emails in experimental way. In order of actual research, a split test was provided; a mailing built in usual HTML format was sent to A team of subscribers, while team B received the plain text message. Subjects and sender names were identical.

Here you can see the results of our test:

plain text experiment

Plain text vs HTML: experiment results

Text messages rate is still higher but the difference is not so noticeable as we could see in the data of Hubspot portal researches.

The most frequent mistakes in Plain text emailing

The main advantage of text messages is client’s trust; it`s easier to preserve it than to regain back.

Concerning text messaging, here are the most common types of mistakes made by email marketers:

  1. Too familiar tone of the message. The know-how of success is effect of personal communication caused by such emails. But on the other hand, a danger is hidden here - it is important not to cross the line and not to spoil your reputation in the eyes of client.
  2. Mailing frequency is too intense. When subscriber receive messages of the same type every day he will finally stop reacting them.
  3. Focusing on sales instead of customer's actual needs. Think twice when informing your subscriber about advantages of product once again - does he really need it? Then, try to offer him something really useful (like content, advice or discount).
  4. Sending emails with the same offers without segmentation and personalization. Make your actual offers depending on client’s needs and customer behavior. This is not a “well-personalized email” when you just use subscriber’s nickname. You have to analyze client’s interests, check what pages of your website he visits, how long ago he ordered something. Sending of proper offers may significantly increase the conversion rate.
  5. Requirements to the recipient. If you want subscriber to visit website, choose the product there, then use the promo code from email to order something - this way is too long and complex. Simplify it to one-click action.
  6. Using uncommon fonts for emails. How different fonts will be displayed depends on capabilities of devices. So, it is better to choose common fonts.

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Should we change our email marketing strategy?

Since marketers are ready to do anything to increase Open Rate and CTR index, many of them can accept higher rates of plain text emails as a direct call to action and radically change their strategy. In fact, we don’t need to hurry: there are two sides to every coin, so any technique (even the most effective) have to be used moderately and wisely.

Plain text emails are best not for mass mailings but for special cases when personal communication effect is needed and message is aimed to receive customer's response. Text emails may be effective in reactivation mailings as well as when collecting feedback about company's products or service level.

By the way, despite the high CTR rates text messages provide lesser number of sales than HTML email format. It`s simple: a special emotion is needed to inspire purchase, so HTML email gives more options to design your offer bright and create a motivating emotional response. To make really good newsletters you can use our new html email editor Stripo.

Apart from that, special researches were made (back in 2014 and 2011); respondents were asked what type of newsletters they prefer to receive from companies. Both times the results were identical. The majority (64%) voted for HTML emails.Therefore, it is recommended to use both types of emails to achieve the efficient communication; and in any case, think about your subscriber’s trust.

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Anna Grekova

CRM Marketing Specialist

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