Who Cares About Plain Text?

With all the bells and whistles that you can add to HTML email messages, it’s easy to ask “Why bother with your plain text message at all?”

It’s true that not everyone does. Some just stick a link in it to an online version of the message. Others don’t even put a plain text version at all.

So have plain text emails bought the farm?

Hardly. Plain text still matters. And it probably always will.

Don’t Skimp on Plain Text

You may like reading HTML messages. You may like creating and sending them, especially when you can take advantage of HTML email templates.

That doesn’t mean you can scrap your text message. Neither ISPs nor subscribers will be happy with you if you do.

Content Filtering

Sending a message that only has an HTML version is a good way to make yourself look like a spammer.

Sending a message with a plain text version that’s a lot shorter than your HTML version – like one that only includes a link to your website – isn’t a whole lot better.

That second fact may surprise you a bit, but it comes from the same idea as the first one. Let me explain.

If It Looks Like a Duck, and It Quacks Like a Duck…

Spammers send a lot of HTML-only messages. ISPs know this, and so messages that have only an HTML version are more heavily filtered.

Now, spammers aren’t stupid. Annoying, yes. The scourge of the Internet, yes. Stupid, no. The savvier ones realize they need to include a plain text version.

But, on the other hand, most people display HTML, so that plain text version isn’t going to be seen by a whole lot of people, proportionally.

So the spammer doesn’t spend a lot of time on the plain text message. He just puts something in there to try to avoid getting filtered. And most of the time, it’s not anything like the HTML version (after all, you can’t put an image in a plain text message).

So ISPs start seeing a lot of spam that contains plain text and HTML versions that aren’t alike at all.

Guess what they start doing to your messages if you have dissimilar plain text and HTML versions?

Plain Text Subscribers

Some people, however few they may be, still use email client programs that don’t support HTML. Then you have people who intentionally disable HTML in their client.

It may seem strange that someone would intentionally turn away from getting your well-designed, colorful HTML message.

But consider this: not every HTML message they get is well-designed (think about the messages you get). A lot of them are image-heavy, and may or may not make use of ALT text. So, they turn off HTML in their email client.

HTML Isn’t Going Away, Either

I’m not saying ditch your HTML messages. Sending an HTML version still holds advantages over not doing so (like tracking message open rates).

But don’t ignore plain text. While it’s not as flashy as HTML, it’s necessary, and omitting it can only hurt you.

Hopefully I’ve got you thinking about your plain text messages. I’ll follow up on this post with some advice on how to create and format your plain text messages.

In the meantime, share your thoughts on plain text below.