HTML vs. Plain Text has long been among the most hotly debated email-oriented topics. HTML format offers a visually pleasing design that 1) affects readers’ ability to process and benefit from the information and 2) provides marketers with the ability to track the effectiveness of emails.
Two of the most recent MEC email tests provide significant insight into this debate. Test One was Lite HTML email format Vs. Plain Text email format. Lite HTML outperformed Plain Text by 55% in click-through rate. Test 2 was Heavy HTML (Ad style) email vs. Plain Text email. Plain Text outperformed Heavy HTML by 34%.
I believe HTML format will continue to reach more readers because of its pleasing appearance and functionalities. No one likes to read boring messages, especially today’s readers who are getting more and more sophisticated with new ways to interact. The ability to tinker with fonts and font color and to do other things such as italicize appeals to many people. With that said, we also need to constantly remind ourselves to respect our readers with every marketing effort we make. With the same respectful content in both emails, a Lite HTML email looks like a nicely layed out letter and Heavy HTML email looks like advertising material. I suspect most people would prefer a nicely layed out letter.
With HTML format, it might be possible to track the effectiveness of emails and provide readers with “what really works” insights of how such email campaigns perform from the beginning to end. However, if it is done wrong, HTML format can face the danger of being blocked by email services and irritate readers with such things as improperly embedded images or aggressive advertising.
The important thing to remember is to test until you become convinced about what really works best for you—and then continue to test periodically.