Should I Use Text or HTML?

HTML says 'Plain Text Can't Do This!'We field a lot of questions from customers about the pros and cons of using HTML in your messages.

Like them, you may not know the major pros and cons of sending a multipart message (Text/HTML) versus sending text-only emails.

There are a lot advocates on both sides of the fence when it comes to Text and HTML.

In my experience everybody tends to focus only on the pros of what they do, and the cons of what they don’t. You rarely get a balanced view.

So… right here, today, let’s size ‘em up:

Text. HTML. Toe to Toe in the Ring.

Somebody get Don King on the line.

First Up: Plain Text

People live in an HTML world. We experience pictures, colors, boxes, sizes in a way that plain text just doesn’t replicate.

But… we talk in plain text.

We might SHOUT

or… pause…

but any way you cut it, most of us primarily use text to communicate with each other. Which means that plain text messages look more like a message that you’re sending to someone on a one-to-one basis.

Plus, plain text is easier to create. You’ve got a box, you type in it. If it weren’t easier, we wouldn’t send the majority of our personal email messages in it. Even in your simplest HTML messages you normally make a hyperlink or change a font size or color.

And, text is text is text. Different email programs may display some HTML differently, but for the most part, text messages are going to look the same no matter what program your subscribers use to read them.

Reasons to Use Plain Text

Reasons Not to Use Plain Text

HTML Benefits

Before we go any further, let’s clarify one thing: I am NOT suggesting that you completely avoid using Plain Text! You’ve got to have a plain text version. If you’re not so sure, go read my post on why plain text is necessary. We’re talking about whether you should include an HTML version in addition to your text one.

So why aren’t we all using plain text?

Simple: you can do more with HTML. You can use color, images, sizes to connect with your readers in more ways. You can better tie what people see in your emails to what they see on your website.

And, you can see whether or not people are even opening your messages. And you can track clickthroughs without showing a tracking URL in the body of the message.

Reasons to Use HTML

Reasons Not to Use HTML

So What Do the Judges Say?

It’s a tough decision.

Text is cleaner and leaner, and looks more like emails that we send to each other everyday. It’s stick-and-move marketing, simple jabs that get the job done.

But HTML packs more punches. It’ll hit you with crosses, hooks and uppercuts in addition to the simple jabs that text offers. Granted, not all of those always work (example: image blocking), but they’re manageable (example: use ALT text to get subscribers to enable images or describe what the image was).

Me? I use HTML when I can. But it’s not about what I do or what I prefer.

It’s About What Your Subscribers Prefer.

Just be sure you know what Text and HTML bring to the ring and use each to its full potential.

What Have You Found?

Do you send text or HTML? What do your subscribers respond better to? How did you find out?

By:
Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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59 Comments

  1. I do use both, but even my html is text that I have
    just used the bolding, italics and underline.

    I have not tested pictures and such…and…probably should.

    5/3/2007 9:08 am
  2. I use the html option so as to use Aweber’s tracking capability. And then, like you Travis, I just use bold and hyperlinking.

    Maybe it’s time to experiment with underlining even!

    5/3/2007 10:43 am
  3. marcus

    I just worry that using HTML will trigger more spam filters.

    5/3/2007 12:20 pm
  4. Is plain text better than HTML or is just the same thing to send your email.

    5/3/2007 12:45 pm
  5. I always use html and just copy it to plain text so I’m sending both but I love html and so do many of my subscribers.

    I get a lot of positive feedback from them – things like ‘WOW – that really hit me between the eyes!’ and ‘How did you do that?’.

    I use a table to create a box with solid coloured background just by using one column and one row. Anyone else do this?

    5/3/2007 12:54 pm
  6. Hmm..how come there’s no mention of the fact that html emails have a higher chance of getting filtered? That’s the main reason why I’m not using html emails.

    5/3/2007 1:25 pm
  7. For my newsletters I use html

    for follow-ups I use text to create a more of a personal feeling

    5/3/2007 3:38 pm
  8. A couple of you have commented about the risk of content filtering with HTML.

    The key to keeping your risk of filtering down is the actual content of your messages, not just sending them in plain text as opposed to HTML. An HTML message about a golf newsletter is going to be filtered far less than a plain text message about cheap pharmaceuticals or penny stocks.

    When you’re creating your messages, whether you use HTML or not, take advantage of the SpamAssassin tool that’s integrated in your account. Check your scores and make any needed changes based on SpamAssassin’s criteria.

    As long as you keep your SpamAssassin score low, and include a plain text version, you can send HTML messages without significantly increased risk of filtering.

    5/3/2007 3:47 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  9. beading-software.com

    We use both plain text and HTML and just change our HTML to format the text so it looks a bit "prettier".

    We also use the HTML to create links within the message for "click here" for example rather than in a plain text message where we would put "fo more information click the URL below – http://www.sampleURL.com"

    5/3/2007 7:43 pm
  10. Josh

    Thanks Justin. Text vs html is a huge issue as an email marketer.

    5/3/2007 8:38 pm
  11. Remember too that many webmail services (like gmail) have images turned OFF by default. This means that when your email does make it to the inbox the first glimpse many recipients get of your email will be text without pictures. So, even if you are designing in html and using graphics, it should be coherent without your graphics showing.

    5/4/2007 9:33 am
  12. Adam,

    You’re absolutely right, in many email clients images are disabled by default.

    Quick Tip: be sure to specify the HEIGHT and WIDTH of images when using an outside editor to create your HTML.

    One thing I’ve noticed in Gmail is that if you don’t specify the HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes for your images, and the subscriber has images diabled, the "box" where the image would be (and where your ALT text would appear) isn’t the same size as your image. This can affect how your text and other content flows around where that image would display.

    This isn’t an issue if you’re adding images using our HTML editor because we’ll automatically include those attributes. But if you’re creating your HTML in an outside program, make sure that HEIGHT and WIDTH are specified in your IMG tags.

    5/4/2007 12:16 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  13. From my own experience, I find that a well crafted HTML is much more likely to grab my attention. It also enables me to track the opened emails and whether or not the links are clicked to check if my subject line and messages are effective as they could be.

    5/4/2007 1:04 pm
  14. I use both html and plain text. My emails really do not need to be in html versions but boy was I in for a suprise when I started using the html to follow click thrus. Just by changing my subject line I went from a very low click thru to almost 95%. Had I continued using plain text, I would not of been able to got such vital information.

    5/4/2007 4:18 pm
  15. The biggest drawback on plain text is
    the inability to hide html links, but
    that’s why we use links like
    http://danielmcgonagle.com/likes

    and whatever the product is.

    you can hide long, ugly affiliate links
    with link shrinkers,or merely by using
    Aweber’s tracking links,but there is always
    a small number of people that complain that
    the tracking links doesn’t work for them the first time.

    All that being said, I haven’t noticed a
    difference in response rate between either of the 2

    5/7/2007 12:20 am
  16. I generally use html and text – primarily because I like the tracking feature.

    My response rate tends to be higher when I send out a text – only email, but because I don’t see opens, it is harder to understand why.

    5/7/2007 5:29 pm
  17. I use Text…

    I haven’t started using html yet but I’ll try it out soon.

    5/7/2007 7:50 pm
  18. I prefer the HTML look and feel and I think today that is what your customers expect, a professional and upmarket image throughout the whole document. If its about marketing, and thats why we are all here,then make sure your article, newsletter or advertisment is going to catch their attention in the first few seconds!

    5/8/2007 2:07 am
  19. I have tried both ways using html and text messages. I prefer text over html.

    5/8/2007 2:13 am
  20. I find plain text restricting as many others have commented. It is ideal for short quick personal messages which don’t need ‘decorating’. If, on the other hand, I’m looking at transfer to websites for marketing purposes then I tend to used HTML. There’s no hard and fast rules – I alternate between one and the other acoording to my mood at the time!! One thing that does irritate me a little with plain text is you don’t seem to be able to emphasise text except by capitalising it.
    I have an issue with supplied fields (using html). Perhaps someone can tell my why I can only embed them in plain text?

    5/8/2007 7:56 am
  21. I use both … my regular eZine is in html & text, but when I send out autoresponders or special annoucments (1-3x month) they are in text-only. These emails are usually about one thing … a new eBook I just finished, a class later that day, or a new free article on my site. These emails are written to come “from me” as a special note, and helps to changes things up. I still use aweber link tracking in those text-only emails, and they typically get a great click rate (12% to 25%).

    5/8/2007 9:26 am
  22. I never use HTML. The reason being that my email client does not accept HTMl so when I get an email in HTML, I won’t spend the time reading around all of the HTML tags.

    I go directly to the unsubscribe link.

    Since some of mt subscribers email clients won’t except HTMl either, I would rather keep my subscriber than give them a pretty picture to look at.

    My solution: For my newsletter, I offer a PDF version and an online version where I can "pretty it up" but send all emails in plain text.

    5/9/2007 1:32 pm
  23. Very interesting discussion indeed.

    And here I thought I was being old-fashioned only using plain text.

    AND I spent HOURS last night designing my first HTML newsletter.

    I think, based on responses above, I might do a combination of both (weekly tips in HTML) and follow-ups in plain text "for the personal touch" because I must say I am addicted to the stats part of it.

    Thanks for a great article.

    5/10/2007 5:57 am
  24. I use text only. Easy to prepare, less problem to read by most email clients.

    5/11/2007 11:36 am
  25. I use text mostly.

    It’s easy to use, and simple, and gets the results I need.

    It’ all about the message anyhow!

    5/11/2007 10:09 pm
  26. I’ve been mainly using html for tracking purposes in initial emails, but then go text for followups.

    I like testing which is why I keep on going to html – even now.

    5/14/2007 3:39 pm
  27. Jan

    We use text to get through the filters with a link to the html version (that’s so much prettier!) so the receiver can make the choice which they prefer.

    Obviously our audience is creative and loves color, so they’re more likely to click the link within their text email to get to the version that includes audio/video and more.

    Thanks for the review of the two methods. You’ve confirmed my decision to use both.

    5/15/2007 3:25 pm
  28. Emphasize text? Some mentioned that plain text can only be emphasized by capitalization. Think again.

    How To Emphasize Text for Profit

    Whitespace forces text to jump off the page.

    "Quotation marks also scream for attention", mused one professional writer. "In fact, studies indicate people often skim through narrative to focus on what people actually say when they read novels or news."

    Word prominence also geometrically multiplies the power of text. Search engines like Google go so far as to measure word prominence or how early in the text words appear. So the phrase, "word prominence", stands out more in this paragraph than the last phrase, "a dense paragraph". That’s because many people never read to the end of a dense paragraph.

    Words Worth a Ten Thousand Pictures

    Ordinary text holds the power to change the world. It already has. Many times. Consider the Magna Carta, the Bible, the Quran, the Declaration of Independence.

    The plain text of skilled copywriters can dwarf any other weapon marketers ever dream up to use in emails.

    Still, HTML that looks exactly like plan text without bold, underline or italics deserves an experiment to get open rate statistics.

    5/19/2007 2:24 pm
  29. I love HTML and I also send plain text.
    My subscribers love HTML. I think it is up to the personal
    preference of your subscribers since they are ultimately
    the ones reading them.

    5/31/2007 9:42 pm
  30. I don’t know one thing about HTML butbI amlearning from all of the good comments left here.

    6/1/2007 10:04 pm
  31. Lee

    If I create both HTML and text messages in the "follow-up messages" section, how does it send them? Does it send them:

    1. Somehow as a single email?
    2. As two separate emails to each subscriber?

    Thanks,

    Aweber newbie :-)

    8/7/2007 11:29 am
  32. Hi Lee,

    The text and HTML versions are included in a single email. Each subscriber’s email program will determine which one s/he sees. By default, the HTML one will be shown unless:

    * The subscriber’s email program doesn’t support HTML, or
    * The subscriber has chosen to read plain text only and turned off HTML support in his/her email program

    8/7/2007 11:59 am | Follow me on Twitter
  33. I normally send out both versions, but I feel that when marketing
    tangible goods, a picture is worth at least a thousand words. In text I
    can only attempt to paint a picture of the enjoyment you will receive
    by having your own swimming pool or hot tub, but with an html image,
    I am able to show a picture of people actually enjoying the product.

    And now with the ease of using either and/or audio and video, html is
    almost a must do !

    8/7/2007 12:02 pm
  34. Grant Reason

    I’ve found a great deal of wisdom in all of my business affairs remembering these words,
    "LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY. And the most successful leaders in Internet Marketing I’ve ever read or known all concur. Leave every option to reach your prospect open. If your profit margin does not allow an adequate advertising budget to reach every potential prospect then perhaps you might reexamine your choice of businesses.
    A picture can be worth a thousand words but not every picture is. A few WELL chosen words can move mountains, but it’s the vagaries of the audience we must accommodate. I’ll use both HTML and plain text and recommend both to all my clients and colleagues, as well as direct mail, face2face networking, radio, television and print media. That’s how branding happens !!
    Thanx for the forum

    8/19/2007 5:21 am
  35. I use text.

    Why?

    Well, when you get an email from a "friend" its in text.

    Our job is to turn leads into friends and friends into buyers and buyers into repeat buyers, not to send pretty messages.

    I know the click rate stuff is important, but the question is really, "Did the email serve its intent?"

    And the intent is to make the person react and/or purchase.

    You can get that done in text very easy.

    And it conditions your subscribers to (drum roll please……) READ!!

    8/21/2007 5:57 am
  36. John

    I would like to verify that the only difference when you receive an e-mail that arrived in Plain Text;

    This Means to me that, you will not any Hyperlinks in this e-mail, if there are Urls, then you shall have to copy & paste, clicking will not operate.

    To me, this is the only difference, prior to reading this article.

    Please if this is so wrong, let me know as I probably should know better as I am an A+ Certified PC Technician & A Certified PC Analyst, but this is approximately 85% H/W and the remaining 15% in Software, like Internet Explorer, Windows Operating Systems & Drivers for all the different Peripherals..

    Please, like I said, if I’m off in any way, JUST JUMP UP & DOWN AND TELL ME SO..

    9/30/2007 7:55 am
  37. John,

    With plain text email, you would enter the full URL and then each recipient’s email program will determine whether or not to make it clickable (the majority of modern email programs will make plain text URLs clickable).

    10/1/2007 7:36 am | Follow me on Twitter
  38. Thanks Justin. Very helpful.

    1/17/2008 5:24 pm
  39. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I did not know why my links and photos were not showing up on my plain text newsletters. Duhhh. Now I have another avenue for promoting my e-books, books and courses.

    Thanks for the information. I am always impressed by how willing people are to share their knowledge.

    Of course, nothing takes the place of hard work.

    5/19/2008 2:02 pm
  40. Whether to use plain text or html depends entirely on what you’re promoting.

    For some markets, you can only market effectively using pictures of your products and html.
    e.g if you are selling something like electronics, TVs, movies, mp3s etc. A picture of what you’re selling goes a long way. Text on its own would never work here.

    However, if you are explaining concepts, analysing things, revealing subtle tips etc, then a plain text format will suffice. What you are selling here is INFORMATION and that can only be expressed using words.

    So html or text simply depends on what you are promoting.

    6/22/2008 3:43 pm
  41. I’m a newbie..For my website I wish to start enewsletter. I’m going to start with little bit html. what’s ur suggestion? My website lists contests from around the world. my enwsletters focus would be to inform visitors about the latest updates and newly added contests

    8/1/2008 11:19 am
  42. Great article showing the pros and cons of both.

    I like html for my weekly newsletter, but I opted for plain text for all my personal and AR emails.

    8/13/2008 9:10 pm
  43. LROD

    I know this discution started long time ago and I guess it never ends at least until now.
    In my case I like the HTML and I know the pros and cons about it and I learning more now I read the post, but I was wondering how some newsletters are able to pass the image block in outlook and other email systems. For example, everytime I send one out to myself I have to enable the graphics, because outlook 2003 and that’s fine, I know that will happened. However sometimes I get a newsletter in my email where when i open it shows everything, text and graphics and it might be a first time that I receive it. How do they do that?
    Been looking into this for a long time now and I was wondering if anyone knows. Some templates (free or to buy) even have a descriptions that will work on major email system and the images don’t get block….Any one knows anything about it?

    Thank you in advance for the help and your knowledge.

    12/16/2009 1:51 pm
  44. I remember this being discussed frequently when html emails first came out. I didn’t realise it was still an issue. I think open rates generally are more important to consider nowadays.

    5/14/2010 12:49 pm
  45. rebecca

    ok, it’s text for me…I’ve spent far too long formatting only to find the darn newsletter so beautifully crafted doesn’t come out right on friends computers. What is the point in that?

    However, when I read my text version, ok it’s plain, but it’s EASY to read, scannable and says the same thing so much faster…AND it’s not going to take me (the author) days, yes days so far!’ to format each month.

    - people just want the information…if it’s hard to render, got a problem, images not displaying I find I never read email newsletters like that, – however pretty – I don’t have time…so it’s text all the way for me for my subscribers.

    10/22/2010 10:49 am
  46. Anthoyn

    I completely disagree with everyone who says that plain text is easier to read and looks more like a one-to-one message.

    Using rich text (html ot otherwise) can enhance readability where used sensibly. It enables you to incude more information in a more concise intuitive format.

    When I see a plain text message it looks more like a computer-generated message than a personal one to me.

    I think people who insist on using plain text are dinosaurs who need to get real and accept that we live in a rich media environment.

    1/14/2011 4:42 am
  47. I was just doing some research on HTML vs plain text email and this page helped summarize the issue.

    For me, html is best because it is the only way to do contextual hyperlinks.

    7/15/2011 11:29 am
  48. I would prefer to use HTML but I think it is being blocked by some mail servers. Plain text is better than no message at all!

    4/4/2012 6:15 am
  49. When does the Auto-Generated Plain Text button trigger when the button is turned on?

    7/30/2012 12:53 pm
  50. Steve,

    If you have this option turned on, the plain text will generate as soon as you save your message.

    7/30/2012 2:38 pm
  51. I would like to send only text emails – turn off html completely. I am trying to find out HOW I do that but can’t.

    right now I’m getting the message that the email is different in HTML and text.

    I use satellite internet and am having my share of trouble with Aweber as is, and I’d much rather get the pesky HTML editor entirely out of my way.

    Suggestions?

    Thanks in advance!

    8/25/2013 2:40 pm
  52. Ronda – If you hover over the “Messages” tab, you will see the plain-text option!

    9/4/2013 12:04 pm
  53. Hi. I’ve made my Follow-ups in Plain Text and now, I would like to convert them to HTML. Is there an easy way to do this in Aweber? Can’t find the option to convert those plain text messages to HTML easily.

    12/30/2013 10:20 am
  54. Rachel Acquaviva

    Marhgil, you can just copy your plain text content and paste it into any HTML template. Then if you want to change the look of your email, it’s easy to keep your message and apply a new template. Just select the template you want to use, check “Keep My Message Content” and click “Apply.”

    12/31/2013 10:05 am
  55. What about text to graphic ratios? Are there any studies, or recommendations on how graphically heavy an HTML email should be, for optimal results?

    2/12/2014 2:28 pm