I’ll bet that since you’ve woken up today you’ve checked your email at least once. I’ll also bet that in that time you’ve checked your inbox, you’ve gotten at least one email along these lines:

  1. “Now available at 75% off…”
  2. “Get 15% off art prints, today only!”
  3. “70% off ends tomorrow!”

In the ceaseless race for consumer attention, marketers have embraced sending image-loaded HTML emails, filling hundreds of thousands of inboxes with bright, flashy emails flaunting flash sales, subscription renewal discounts, and newly-added inventory.

I wanted to answer the age-old question: plain text or HTML?

How an HTML-Based Email is Delivered:

Sending out the perfect HTML email isn’t easy, as email marketing group litmus illustrates, and coding mistakes reflect in sales numbers. It’s no surprise more marketers are turning back to plain text emails.

Your Email's Journey to subscriber's inbox - Should you do plain text or HTML emails?

 The Case for HTML-Based Emails:

Chris, CEO and principal deliverability consultant at Georgia-based agency Inbox Pros, holds fast to the efficacy of HTML emails.

“I still believe that HTML works better if done correctly. Often I find that marketers are in a hurry to either send out old HTML content or rush to throw something together without proper testing.”

He pointed out what HTML emails look like when done right, highlighting this email advertising a 3-month trial for Apple Music.


If the HTML is rendered properly and the correct message is sent at the correct time to the correct recipient, sending a graphic-heavy email has big potential for success.

As a whole, most recipients enjoy viewing the graphics and HTML content, he said. HTML emails offer a variety of creative opportunity, including animated gifs, ads, and layers of formatting.

This is Why You Should Think Twice Before Going HTML:

Yet Jim, senior vice president of marketing at global sales agency Richardson and a proponent of plain text-based emails, isn’t entirely convinced.

“There is an influx of high graphic HTML emails, and we find when we do the high graphic emails our open and click-through rates are significantly lower, nearly 50 percent. Graphic emails typically indicate that it is an advertisement, and people shy away from that.”

The other issue with HTML emails is that images can be knocked out due to spam controls, Jim said. In some cases, they don’t even show up.

“In this case, the email turns out looking like a mess,” he said.

Next to proper HTML email formatting, web vs. mobile viewing has its own impact on how much customers are willing to check out the entire message.

“In 2014, we saw that 19 percent of our emails were opened by a mobile device. In 2015, this has drastically changed to well over 80 percent. We have also seen that less graphics in the email leads to an increase in open and click-through rates in mobile.”

With those numbers in mind, The MEK Group moved the call-to-actions to the top of the email, because they saw people weren’t scrolling down and getting to the email offer. Now, emails feature shortened text and a CTA featured at the top.

It’s Your Decision between Plain Text Or HTML Emails:

Not all marketers are ready to take the plunge for sending plain-text emails. But if (or when) they’re ready, know how to manage the message, Jim said.

“Too often, emails are very long-winded as people are trying to provide insight and position their solution. It’s critical to keep the message short, provide value, and try to personalize it if you can, which is often difficult because of the marketing automation tools.”

Marketers, it’s your choice to go plain or fancy with emails. The decision might be clear-cut for some, and a little foggier for others.

Test the waters with A/B testing. Identify what your audience wants and how they react to different offers. Play to your strengths, and watch business grow.

Follow Chris Arrendale on Twitter and connect with Jim A. Brodo on LinkedIn.

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