How to Use Your Words: The Pros and Cons of Plain Text Email

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The debate around HTML vs. plain text email still continues especially with the rise in mobile device use. Plain text email however, is probably the most prevalent in transactional email where companies send very personalized, 1:1 messages in response to key actions that their customers take, such as order confirmations, account notifications and friend requests. Nowadays, many companies are expanded their transactional email to include more marketing based content since transactional email tends to have the highest open rates. But at the end of the day, the battle between HTML and plain text is really one (or won) between imagery and words.

To help in your evaluation, it would help to first explore the pros and the cons of plain text email. Here are the pros.

  • It’s compatible across any device. Any email reader can display plain text emails.
  • They look personalized. Whether it’s business or personal communication, plain text emails have the look and feel of a 1:1 communication.
  • It’s required. Regardless of any HTML emails you create, a plain text one will be generated by default to ensure a recipient is able to read the message no matter where and how they view it.

But there are a few drawbacks.

  • They are harder to track. Unlike HTML, plain text emails don’t allow you to embed code or hide ugly URLs. Instead, you must include full links to drive conversion.
  • They are void of imagery. Plain text emails are just that – plain. You can’t entice the reader with pretty pictures or colorful designs to elicit emotion or convey your message. You only have your words.
  • They are difficult to layout for the reader. Plain text emails usually tend to be short and sweet since you can’t design the message to prompt the reader to key areas of interest.

When deciding whether or not to use plain text emails, think about your goals. Overall, you should typically use plain text when dealing with b2b mail. Corporate email delivery can be tricky due to custom spam filters and firewalls. Additionally, mobile devices favor plain text email, especially smartphones and blackberry devices. In the end, you should test them both to see which one gains you maximum response. You just might be surprised at the results.

Carly Brantz is a veteran in the email deliverability space working to make email simple and easy for developers by regularly writing whitepapers, research briefs and blog posts about email, technology and industry trends.

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