Marketing / Email Marketing

Plain text email vs. HTML email—which one is better?

Kevin Balcker

Updated: Nov 18, 2021 · 12 min read

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html vs plain text email

Email marketing is a method of marketing that undergoes frequent improvement on an ongoing basis. The more emails you send using Keap the more data you gather, and the more data you gather the more you can improve your emails.

However, an old debate with email marketing is HTML vs plain text email. New business owners and marketers often wonder which option is better so they can choose the one that benefits them the most. Today, you will learn about both types, their pros, and cons and also get some help on which option is better.

HTML email

This is a type of email that is designed just like a web page. There are a lot of visual elements associated with it. You can work on available templates, throw in various colors, design a layout based on tables, etc.

Most of the businesses now use HTML emails as they receive great responses and clickthrough rates using this format.  

Pros of HTML emails

  • Better visual appeal: Since there is coding involved and you can include various picture and video formats in HTML emails, they have a better visual appeal. This visual appeal can play a major role in making the email more clickable for many users.
  • Better storytelling: When you want to connect with your customers and send a strong brand impression, HTML email is the perfect choice since including pictures, logos, videos, gifs, and the like allows you to tell a stronger and better story.
  • Better click-ability: HTML emails have the content organized due to the layout options. Furthermore, call-to-action buttons can be designed to look clickable. Adding images matching with users’ interests make emails more enticing, which will lead to more clicks. When customers are interested in the email’s promoted product/service, they can simply click on the link (not available with plain text).
  • Open rate tracking: With HTML emails you can track how many emails were opened by the recipients. This is a crucial metric that helps you know how successful or unsuccessful your email marketing campaign is.

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Tips to increase your open rate

  • Improved branding: With coloring options and templates, you can make emails conform to your brand colors. On the other hand, plain text emails all look the same i.e. black and white.
  • More richness options: Based on your requirements, you can always keep your HTML only as rich as you believe would be useful. You can keep it basic or make it complex HTML.

Cons of HTML emails

  • Takes time to create: Since HTML emails have to be coded just like a website/web page, they require more time. While there are platforms that provide templates and build the emails for you, it is likely you would need to look at the code to make sure everything is formatted properly.
  • Gets treated as spam: It is extremely important for you to code your HTML emails properly and test them before sending because any broken links can get them flagged as spam. This means your emails will never land in your recipients’ inboxes and you may see an increase in unsubscribes.
  • Deliverability issues: Deliverability has become an issue for HTML emails even if they are not treated as spam. The option for “tabs” on Gmail treats most HTML emails as commercial and sends them directly to “promotion” tab. This means your email does not land in the primary inbox of the user and while not in the spam folder, it may not be seen in a timely manner.

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  • Dependencies: The effectiveness of your HTML email revolves around many dependencies. For example, your email might not open properly on all mobile devices. The users might have “image” options disabled on their browsers. All such dependencies can make HTML emails less effective. This is another reason to send yourself a test email before you schedule it. Be sure to look at it on all devices.

When is HTML email better?

Since the effectiveness of emails depends on many factors, it is impossible to give a verdict on which is better. However, as a general rule, you are better off sending an HTML email when the email is going from your brand/company to your recipient. When an individual is sending an email to the customers, it is always plain text email that’s preferred. You should send HTML also when you are sending promotional emails promoting a particular product on your website. It is best to provide visuals of what you are promoting, which is only possible with HTML emails. Furthermore, when you want to track open rates (which is almost always an important metric), you need send HTML emails.

Plain text email marketing

As the name suggests, it is just plain text sent to the recipient without any coding, template design, links, images, etc. While plain text email might seem boring in comparison with HTML email, it has held its ground for years for many of its exclusive benefits.

Pros of plain text emails

  • Personal and direct: The best thing about plain text emails is that they are personal and direct. There is no distraction involved, relevancy is key here.
  • Easy to compose: All you have to worry about is writing the email. There is no formatting required and this is a huge advantage. Marketers can oftentimes waste too much time figuring out which template, design, or layout to use.  
  • Universal readability: You don’t have to worry about any dependencies when sending out plain text emails. Whether someone is on their mobile device, a computer or tablet, a plain text email will be the same everywhere.
  • Improved deliverability: Because there are no clickable links, images, or videos, included in these emails, they are not treated as commercial emails by emailing services. This makes plain text emails more deliverable.

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  • Easy to load: Not everyone on your mailing list will have a fast internet connection. Slow internet connections are slow to load HTML-heavy emails. Plain text emails open fast regardless of the speed of internet connection.

Cons of plain text emails

  • No visual appeal: Plain text email is the exact opposite of HTML email. It looks boring because all it contains is text and whitespace.
  • No image/video integration: Image and video content has been proven to outperform plain text content in the modern digital world. This makes the lack of image and video integration in plain text emails a huge disadvantage.
  • No tracking: An email marketing campaign that you can’t track doesn’t give you any insight as to how customers are responding. Since you can’t track plain text emails, you will never know whether or not recipients opened your emails. You could be wasting your time on emails that no one is interested in.
  • Reduced click-ability: When recipients are interested in your promoted product/service, they want to access it instantly. An HTML email allows for them to click on a link and land on the desired page straight away. This is not the case with a plain text email. Furthermore, it is also missing the enticing CTA buttons.
  • No set layout: HTML emails can have layouts that make them easy to scan for recipients. On the other hand, plain text emails don’t have any layouts and if the content is lengthy, they can look very unsightly.

When is plain text email better?

Plain text emails are best for personalized conversations. For example, if your sales rep is already having conversations with the customer on a regular basis, a plain text email is the best way for them to keep the experience personalized. Templates, layouts, pictures, videos, etc. can make the email appear fabricated, non-personalized, and too promotional. A promotional email is best when it is HTML but once correspondence has started with a customer, plain text is the best route to go.

Which one should you use?

There is no verdict as to which one you should use. As mentioned earlier, different situations require different types of emails to be sent. Therefore, you should use both of them accordingly. Furthermore, even when you send HTML emails, you should also have a plain text version of the email accompanying it. This is the most recommended approach by most marketing experts.

Kevin Balcker is head of marketing at Residual Income Secrets. He loves writing about starting, growing and managing a blog, SEO, social media, and ways of generating passive income. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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