What Is a Plain Text Email and When Should I Use One?
When email marketers sit down to create an email, they’re often crafting a designed, HTML message that includes punchy graphics, bold fonts, bright colors, and hyperlinks.
And let’s face it – we talk a lot about HTML emails on this blog and how you can code them to look beautiful.
But there’s another world of email out there. A black-and-white world of simplified style, basic fonts and URLs that are typed out. That’s right – we’re talking about plain text emails.
What Is a Plain Text Email?
A plain text email is as it sounds: It’s a simple email message that only includes text. There are no images or graphics and no formatting. You’ll also notice all the links are written out.
Here’s an example of a plain text version of our March 2019 newsletter:
Not pretty, right? However, there are nicer ways to use plain text emails, such as in simple, one-to-one correspondence. Does it look boring? Yes. But, sometimes boring can be useful.
Do I Have to Send a Plain Text Email?
In most cases, you should be sending a plain text email along with your HTML email. Sending both an HTML and a plain text email together is known as multi-part Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME).
Most email service providers (ESPs) have the ability to convert HTML to text for you, so you can include a plain text email alongside your HTML version.
You don’t have to worry about both versions showing up at the same time – the user’s email client will select the HTML or plain text version based on the subscriber’s preferences and the email client’s settings.
Some subscribers may specify that they want to receive text only email. Other times, the email client may not be able to render the HTML email. If you only send an HTML version, these subscribers won’t be able to view your message.
Including plain text version may help improve your chances of making it to the inbox and not the spam folder. Some email clients (ahem, Gmail) may flag your HTML email if it doesn’t have a plain text version along with it.
If you want to double-check your deliverability, don’t forget to run a spam test before sending the email.
Sending only a plain text email may also help get your email in Gmail’s main inbox, as opposed to the “Promotions” tab (although, to be honest, landing in the Promotion tab isn’t all bad). As noted in this Chamaileon blog post, image-filled HTML emails are more likely to wind up in the Promotions tab, because it resembles messages typically sent by retailers. The lack of formatting in a plain text email appears more like a personal message, giving it a better chance of landing in a subscriber’s main inbox.
What Other Ways Can I Use Plain Text Emails?
You probably hear a lot about how email is a one-to-one marketing channel; it is one of the few ways we can communicate directly with an individual subscriber or customer (as opposed to a widely-broadcasted Tweet or display ad).
A text only email can play into this personalized feel because it looks like an email coming from an individual, rather than a company or brand. This one-to-one impression may improve your subscriber engagement. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to track open rates or use click tracking with plain text emails.
Plain text emails are also great for transactional emails – a quick message confirming a purchase or action by the subscriber.
An Alternative to the Traditional Plain Text Email
What if you want to have the personal feel of a plain text email without the limitations? The solution is a simplified HTML email.
A simplified HTML email can be made to look like a plain text email but can still include some minor HTML elements like links. It will also allow you to track opens and clicks.
Here’s an example of a simple HTML email that looks like a plain text message:
In some cases, your ESP may already have a few simplified templates ready for you to use. These text only emails work great for a quick check-in or if you’re looking for feedback from your subscribers.
Depending on your ESP, HTML-based emails will also give you the ability to add dynamic content to your emails, which arguably adds even more personalization than a plain text email.
Are Plain Text Emails Right for Me?
We’ve said it many times before, and we’ll continue saying it as long as we can: It’s important to test your emails and track engagement to see what works best for your subscribers. When you’re considering HTML vs. plain text emails, remember that what works for one email may not work for another; as you probably know, much of email marketing is about trial-and-error.
In fact, HubSpot did an experiment where they compared rich text vs. plain text emails and they found more subscribers engaging with the plain text version of the email.
If you want to avoid some of the trial-and-error, start by talking to your subscribers. Ask them what type of email they prefer or solicit feedback on messages or campaigns – getting these opinions and preferences can give you a leg-up on your next email series.
It May Be a Simple Text Email, but it Doesn’t Mean You Should Skip Testing
Whether you have a plain text email or an HTML-rich masterpiece, it is crucial to test your email every time. Small HTML code and design changes can look completely different from one client to another. Email on Acid will save you time and help you send better email campaigns by letting you preview your email on more than 70 email clients and devices.
Want to see for yourself? Take advantage of our free, seven-day trial.
Author: Melanie Graham
Born and raised in New England, Melanie has a background as a writer, editor and journalist. After roaming the U.S. as an expert vagabond, she’s landed in Denver as Email on Acid’s content manager. She’s a music nerd at heart who loves spending time at the piano.