HTML vs. Plain-Text Emails: Which One Is Better?

|by Amba Wilkes

HTML versus plain-text emails is an ongoing debate among email marketers. To some, the answer seems obvious – HTML, of course. But it’s not always that simple.

Both have their advantages, and both come with disadvantages. To get the best results from your email marketing, it’s important to choose the format that will suit your objectives and audience.

In this blog, we're reviewing both types of email. Let's take a look at the differences and benefits of each to find out which could be better suited to your campaigns. 

What is a plain-text email?

As the name suggests, a plain-text email is a simple text-based email message. The text cannot be formatted, there is no coding, template design, colours, links or images.

What is an HTML email?

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. HTML emails are designed like a web page and include everything a plain-text email doesn’t such as colour, branded templates, styling, images, CTA buttons and links.

The pros and cons of plain-text email

Plain-text emails may seem boring in comparison to HTML email but there’s a reason this format has held its own for many years.

The pros

  • More personal: The messaging in plain-text emails can often appear more personal to the reader. It reflects the email format you would usually receive when having direct interaction with someone over email and there are no distractions.
  • Better deliverability: Due to the simplicity of plain-text emails, they’re less likely to hit spam filters. This means better deliverability and a reduced chance of your email ending up in the junk folder.
  • Increased readability: Some businesses prefer plain-text email as there are no rendering mishaps. The email will display the same for all readers which means no nasty post-send surprises or frustrating Outlook rendering issues.
  • Fast to compose: Marketers can sometimes spend too much time figuring out which template and design will work best. With a plain-text email, all you have to worry about is writing high-quality, engaging copy.
  • Consistent experience: In the last year, ownership of wearable devices such as smartwatches has doubled to 12 percent in the UK. These types of devices handle plain-text emails better than HTML ensuring a positive experience however your readers are engaging.

The cons

  • Less visually appealing: There’s no denying plain-text emails are less visually appealing than HTML emails. No engaging template designs, lack of colour, inspiring images or CTA buttons. All you’re left with is plain text and white space. As a result, it’s harder to feature your branding elements, making it trickier to stand out and less recognisable to your audience.
  • No tracking abilities: Possibly the biggest con of plain-email texts is the fact you can’t track them. If you can’t track your emails, how will you know how your customers are responding? You won’t be able to see if recipients are opening your emails which means you could be wasting time creating emails no one is interested in.
  • Unable to insert links: Any URLs that are included in your messaging must be fully typed out with plain-text emails. This makes it trickier to continue the customer journey and make your CTAs stand out.

The pros and cons of HTML emails

The majority of businesses now use HTML emails to convey their brand and messaging in a much more engaging way to get readers clicking. But there are two sides of the coin to consider…

The pros

  • Get creative: HTML emails give you the opportunity to be as creative as you want and tell your story. Through colours, imagery and styling, you can make your emails more visually appealing and connect with your readers better.
  • Easier to scan: A lot of people don’t have time to read through full emails. HTML emails can be organised into sections making it easier for readers to scan the areas they’re most interested in.
  • Clickable links: Links are a key part of encouraging the reader to take action or guiding them onto the next stage in the buying journey. With HTML emails, links can be embedded within the copy making it easy for a user to click a link and be taken direct to the page.
  • Better tracking: HTML emails offer better tracking functionality allowing you to understand exactly how your email campaign is performing. Metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, number of unsubscribes and conversions can all be tracked. With this insight, you can continue honing your understanding of your audience and improving your emails.

The cons

  • Design inconsistencies: Devices and systems handle HTML emails differently which can cause rendering issues and design inconsistencies. When this occurs, it can reflect poorly on your brand even though it’s usually an issue with the software.
  • Spam emails: HTML elements are more likely to land your email in the spam folder and you may see an increase in unsubscribes. It’s important to code your HTML emails properly and test them before sending.
  • Time consuming: As HTML emails have to be coded like a web page, they require more time. However, there are platforms that provide and build the emails for you to reduce the amount of time you spend on this.

Plain-text vs HTML: Which one wins?

Comparing each format against important considerations, you can understand which one is the right format for your current campaign.

Getting to the inbox

HTML email may be more likely to end up in a spam box. However, plain-text emails could too, particularly if you’re sending them too frequently or using a lot of spammy language.

Winner: It’s a tie! Various elements can impact whether an email ends up in spam. As long as your HTML emails are correctly coded, you’ll have less chance of this occurring.

Tracking

No question about it, HTML emails prosper when it comes to tracking and analytics. You can’t track open rates and other metrics of a plain-text email because you need an embedded HTML snippet to do so.

Winner: HTML emails

Accessibility

Accessibility refers to how accessible technology is to people of different abilities. For example, could your email be accessed by someone with vision impairments using a screen reader? For this reason, plain-text usually works better.

Winner: Plain-text emails

Engagement

HTML emails are rich in visual, interactive and multimedia elements. You have the freedom to make your email look how you want and add engaging elements such as video and clickable CTA buttons. Plain-text on the other hand is limited to just text.

Winner: HTML emails

Personal

Plain-text emails are best for personalised conversations. Not only do they feel more authentic and personal, but they also encourage a two-way conversation which can help to get your engagement up.

Winner: Plain-text emails

Which one is right for you?

As with many areas of marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Different campaigns, audiences and objectives require different types of emails so don’t be afraid to use a mixture of both HTML emails and plain-text emails where relevant.

It’s worthwhile testing to find out which email type your audience prefers – often, the answers lie in your data and analytics.

Even if you choose to only use HTML emails, we recommend always offering a plain-text version. Some ESPs, such as Wired Plus, will automatically send a plain-text version of your HTML to cover this for you. It’s easy to build and send HTML and plain-text emails using Wired Plus. If you want to find out more, book a demo.

Back to Blog & Resources

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Cookie Policy