Are you sending HTML without plain text alternatives?

Often times when working with customers on their message campaigns, I notice they are including only HTML versions of their messages to their subscribers, with no plain text version.

I politely bite my lip while I work with them on whatever issue they’ve called in for, then in an attempt to be as helpful as I can, I point a few things out to them about this:

  • Some subscribers will not be able to view a readable copy of HTML-only messages

    Although most people use e-mail applications that support HTML messages, some don’t, and many applications provide their users with an option to disable HTML.

    Some subscribers may see something like this in the body of the e-mail instead:

    Code from HTML-only message

  • HTML-only messages are more likely to be content filtered.

    We offer our customers a content analyzer that helps them to get an impression of whether their message is likely to be put in their subscribers’ bulk folder or to go missing altogether.

    You’ll notice below, that this analyzer assigned some points for having only HTML in a message:

    Spam analyzer score for HTML-only message

So What Is The Solution?

You could just send your messages with plain-text only, but then you lose all of the benefits of formatting your messages with your own branding on a nicely designed layout. You could also lose other features, like the ability to track how many times your messages are opened.

Some email service providers offer an option so that messages can include both an HTML as well as a plain-text version, using a process called multi-part MIME. When both versions are included, they are sent together as your messages go out.

If a subscriber has the option to display HTML turned on, they’ll see that version by default; if they choose not to display HTML or can’t, they’ll see the plain-text version automatically, all while minimizing the possibility of your message being filtered. Email deliverability experts agree that this is the preferred way to send formatted e-mail messages, so I make this suggestion to customers whenever it’s appropriate.

Useful tip: Sometimes I see customers include a link to an on-line version (e.g. http://www.example.com/newsletters/july.html) of their messages within the plain-text version. This gives subscribers who don’t view HTML messages an opportunity to still view a formatted version.

16 Comments

  1. Tom Kulzer

    7/26/2006 3:03 pm

    Marc is a valued member of AWeber’s support team whom you may have spoken with. He’ll be actively contributing his insights and easy to implement tips to the blog. He works with dozens of different clients each day and has his finger on the pulse of properly building opt-in email subscriber lists.

  2. Anne Duncan

    7/26/2006 4:43 pm

    Hi

    I’d like to subscribe to your RSS feed but the raw feed info.. well, I don’t know what to do. Might I suggest hooking up with Feedburner or similar. That’s what I use for my blog and even a technophobe can link to my RSS feed… even if they don’t understand what it’s all about.

    Look forward to reading yoiur posts.

    Anne

  3. Tom Kulzer

    7/27/2006 9:08 am

    The new entries RSS feed has now been linked up with Feedburner. Thanks for the feedback Anne!

  4. Terry Stockdale

    7/27/2006 10:08 am

    Great article, Marc. I never really thought about this until I started my own newsletter using some software that would automatically restate my HTML newsletter into the plain text version to create a multi-part MIME newsletter. That “neat feature” let everyone read it.

    Fortunately, I finally woke up that all my links were just being dropped for those people who got the text-only version. I was writing links in my HTML newsletter the same way I did in my web pages — using key words and not displaying the URL.

    Although it’s an extra step, I very much like the ability to input my own re-formatted text version into my muti-part MIME newsletter. This lets me format my HTML message the way I want and lets me make sure that text-only readers get my message and my links.

    Terry

  5. Carrie

    8/1/2006 10:15 am

    So how do you create the two emails using your templates? Is there a way to ask it to do both or does the info have to be reformatted for each way?

    Carrie

  6. Tom Kulzer

    8/1/2006 10:30 am

    Carrie,

    Simply inserting both an HTML and a plain text version of your message is all that’s required. Some services try to automatically take your HTML message and convert it to plain text. Unfortunately that often makes the plain text version look awful, so we don’t do that conversion for you. The 60-90 seconds that it takes to copy and paste your HTML version into the plain text area and reformat it slightly is well worth the few extra seconds to have control over how it ends up.

  7. » What Do Subscribers Expect from You? - AWeber Blog

    8/3/2006 9:48 am

    […] You’ll notice that I put a URL in the headline. As Marc noted in an earlier post, you can put online versions of your newsletter issues on your site, and give links to those online versions in your messages. This is a great tip because it can drive subscribers back to your site, where they may sign up for another one of your newsletters, purchase one of your products, or click on an AdSense ad on your site – and there’s certainly nothing bad about them doing any of that! […]

  8. Brian Walsh

    8/5/2006 11:50 am

    Thanks for that explanation.

    I used to use CC and switched to AW for its added functionally. My one and only concern was why I had to go through the extra work of creating the plain text version myself.

    Now I understand how this works, and will gladly take that extra step.

  9. Perry Lawrence

    8/13/2006 7:46 pm

    Thanks for this blog. Great insights and tips.

    I noticed that some templates do not work well with Gmail. Any suggestions there? Also, I wish there was a way to save a template that I have fiddled with and recall it.

    Great stuff.
    Thanks

  10. Tom Kulzer

    8/14/2006 9:36 am

    Perry,

    Please contact our support team if your having problems using the templates.

  11. Alex

    8/30/2006 2:27 pm

    Well, I have finaly gotten around to reading this blog and I have to say I wish I did sooner. I’ll have to revisit all my mails …

    Based on previous expirience I thought that if creating both versions of email it will send 2 emails, and didn’t want to annoy my subscribers.

    Well I was wrong as clearly shown.

    Thanks guys.

  12. Kathy

    2/20/2007 5:41 pm

    Hello:

    I’ve lately been receiving Aweber newsletters more often and some of them in text format. But I have to say, the formatting is less than beautiful. (I’m currently not a member of Aweber, but am considering moving my list from Shoppingcart to here – if I only wouldn’t have to have me clients re-opt in – but that’s another story.)

    At any rate, I use a simple tool to make sure my text broadcasts and newsletters are formatted nicely with consistent right margins at 55-65 characters long – you might want to recommend it to your users who are doing this by hand – it’s at http://www.wordwrapmagic.com

    It also takes out the Word double quotes that get changed to symbols when added to a text newsletter. I use it to format backwards also – taking an article from the formatted version, removing the hard returns automatically, and then being able to add it to a html page. Saves tons of time.

    Enjoy!

    Kathy

  13. Jackie

    2/25/2007 1:23 pm

    I am very new to this. Could you please tell me how I should create a link back to my site in both the text and the html versions? Should I use this for text :

    http://www.mysite.com/flower-seeds.html

    and for html version:

    <a href="http://www.mysite.com/flower-seeds.html">Flower Seeds</a>

    Is that correct?

    Also, if someone receives text only, do they have a clickable link?

    Thanks

  14. Justin Premick

    2/26/2007 8:53 am

    Jackie,

    Yes, you would simply enter the full URL in your plain text message, and then use HTML as you’ve indicated above.

    For links in plain text messages, as long as you include the full URLs (starting with the http:// part), most email programs will automatically make those clickable.

  15. Jackie

    2/26/2007 11:11 pm

    Thanks Justin! Another mystery solved.

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    5/20/2010 8:49 am

    […] include a plain text version. Your email service provider should provide the option or, if you are coding your own emails, […]