A Plain Text User’s Guide to HTML Email

HTML and plain text each have their place as email formats. Plain text has a no-nonsense, businesslike air, and is simple to create. HTML grabs attention with colors and images. It lets companies incorporate logos and display data with graphics.

HTML and plain text each have their place as email formats.

Plain text has a no-nonsense, businesslike air, and is simple to create. HTML grabs attention with colors and images. It lets companies incorporate logos and display data with graphics.

Sometimes, though, plain text is used by marketers who would prefer the gloss of HTML, but aren’t sure how to create it. The good news is, many email marketing services provide pre-designed HTML email templates that make the switch practically painless.

Of course, there are still a few things to learn. If you’re new to HTML email, follow these tips for polished, professional messages.

Remove Dummy Text

plain text email

If you are using a template, make sure to take out any dummy text. This text is usually meaningless, included only to suggest how you may want to lay out your content.

Dummy text in your emails is likely to confuse subscribers, so make sure to replace or delete it!

Create Links Carefully

plain text email

HTML email lets your readers simply click on links to open new pages instead of copying URLs into new windows. Take advantage of this benefit by making sure to create the links properly.

If you use AWeber, just highlight the text you want to become clickable, click the link button and paste in the URL of your destination page.

Tip: If you’re tracking clicks, don’t use the actual URL as the text of the link, or your message could be mistaken for email phishing.

Good: AWeber’s blog Bad: https://www.aweber.com/blog/

Link to the Web Version

html email

A link to the web version of your email can help readers who have trouble viewing your messages. If an email appears incorrectly or subscribers are too wary to let images display in their inboxes, all is not lost.

Put a link at the top of your email, where distressed openers will see it right away. In AWeber accounts, use the “Direct Link” from the broadcast archive.

Otherwise, just save the image as a page on your web site and use the resulting URL.

Design for Images Turned Off

images in email

Make sure your message is comprehensible without images.

Many email clients don’t display images by default. Subscribers who don’t change these settings won’t see your pictures and graphics, so make sure you:

  • don’t display important information as an image
  • don’t rely on a background picture to make text readable.
  • do include ALT text. This is alternative text that describes images when they aren’t displayed.

Test in Different ISPs

email testing

When you’re finished editing, send yourself test copies of the message in different email accounts.

Each ISP renders email a little differently. Make sure they are at least consistently readable.

To do this, create test accounts in the most popular webmail providers and desktop email clients.

Don’t Forget Plain Text

plain text emails

Although creating your messages in HTML opens up all sorts of creative, organizational and branding possibilities, it’s not a good idea to abandon plain text altogether.

Always include a plain text version. Your email service provider should provide the option or, if you are coding your own emails, follow these instructions.

Then if an ISP can’t display your HTML email, it will revert to the plain text version and your message will still be delivered.

Your Plain Text-to-HTML Concerns

Have you made the switch from plain text to HTML?

If so, what were the trickiest bits for you to learn?

If you want to switch but haven’t yet, what concerns are holding you back?


  1. SA

    5/20/2010 11:47 am

    Great article on making the switch to text emails. Next step for me is to start using a template.

  2. Annie

    5/20/2010 11:58 am

    Gosh, that was an eye opener.
    I have been using HTML just to
    make presentation better!

  3. Carl Juneau

    5/20/2010 12:41 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    I’ve been using the actual URL as anchor text in my HTML emails for a long while.

    I’m surprised you’re saying I shouldn’t.

    What % of emails get bounced because of that?


  4. Adele

    5/20/2010 9:37 pm

    I wanted to use a newsletter format from one of the templates..but there are sections on the right sidebar ..I don’t know what to put there or how to get rid of the sidebar column.

    Because of this, I just create simple text messages.

  5. Sean Breslin

    5/21/2010 3:33 am

    The readability tip was good, an example of white text on a black background… spot on!

    I tend to stick to plain text myself, when time allows I am thinking of changing over.

  6. Amanda Gagnon

    5/21/2010 9:42 am

    I’m glad this has been helpful!

    Adele ~ We do have a few templates without sidebars. The Coupon and Coupon Code options are fairly simple.
    If you need to get rid of any of the elements in them, select them and click the tiny x on the top center or side. Let us know if that helps!

    Carl – Appearance of phishing might not necessarily cause the email to bounce, but it could certainly contribute to an ISP marking it as spam, which there is no way to track.
    If your link matches your displayed URL, though, you should be just fine.

  7. Joseph D. Shiller

    5/21/2010 10:57 am

    Some of us are accustomed to working with our own editors. I personally use NVU. I am use to it, so I can work more efficiently. I tried cutting out the body code from yours, then pasted it into mine for changes, then replaced it into yours and it worked OK. You just have to keep things simple though, since some items don’t translate well. This was all precipitated by some frustrations I received while working in your station, however it has improved a lot lately, I will say.

  8. Paul Friar

    5/22/2010 7:29 am

    I’m still not sure that having an HTML version of an email would be any more persuasive than just seeing a plain old text version. I care more about the content of the actual message than what format it’s sent in. But that could just be me, I suppose.

    If it’s true that some people feel that an HTML version is warmer and more friendly looking than just lots of lines of text, then there is definitely a good reason for using it.

    At the moment I use both, so that I can take advantage of not displaying the URL in the message, and otherwise both versions are identical.

  9. Jared Kimball

    5/24/2010 9:32 pm

    It’s good to see a simple guide to walk those people who are new to html and might be afraid to send out those pretty looking emails. When I speak with people about creating html emails they normally shudder with fear. I always try to encourage them that they can learn with a little time and practice.

  10. Tony

    5/25/2010 3:30 pm

    My problem is way behind those others
    Simply put I don’t know what to do when I get a message in HTML
    It comes through in code that I cannot handle.
    I have looked for some help with this admitted elementary problem but cannot find it.
    All the advice seems to be on coding and sending, not on reading.
    What do i need to do to be able to read HTML messages?
    I use Windows 07 Home premium.
    Any help would be appreciated.

  11. Amanda Gagnon

    5/26/2010 8:35 am

    Paul ~ Using both types certainly lets you cover everyone’s preferences, with a backup version if something goes wrong, so it’s great that you do that.

    Tony ~ It sounds like there might be a problem with the way your email program is rendering those messages, so you might want to look into creating an email account in a different program.

  12. Kathleen R. Bagwell

    6/3/2010 7:06 am

    I am ready to get started now. Thanks.

  13. Christa

    6/4/2010 8:08 am

    To have been sent this post is great. I know HTML a bit, but could not figure out how those beautiful looking emails are done and did not find time to look it up.

  14. Rahinur Rahaman

    6/6/2010 11:41 pm

    Awesome article at AWEBER. Keep it up.

  15. Moses Adewole

    6/7/2010 4:43 pm

    I am not sure writing in other tongues, or texts, such as plain or HTML, is a thing for the sixty-somethings, simply because we do not seem to have time on our side.

    Granted we can learn at an age and money-making is not a respecter of age, but how long do you think it will take to write a saleable HTML text, or the apparently simpler plain text ?

  16. Amanda Gagnon

    6/8/2010 8:22 am

    Moses – Writing a plain text email is as simple as typing words. It will only take you the time you need to figure out what you want to say.

    Creating an HTML email can actually be just as easy if you’re using an ESP (email service provider) like AWeber. You just click on the template you like and type your words into it.

    Let us know if you have any more questions!

  17. Andy Williamson

    10/19/2010 5:44 am

    I used plain text for my last few emails and though it did seem to reach more people (handhelds etc ) Aweber then said only HTML tracks the clickable links. So I guess, when in doubt use both!

  18. CC

    2/18/2011 1:13 am

    Wow dude great tools. I had no idea so many tools were actually available.

  19. Caleb Galaraga

    4/1/2012 4:14 pm

    I used mainly text for my lists, but was hoping to transition to an effective customize HTML template. I was wondering, what’s the standard height and width dimensions for an Aweber template? I have all my lists on Aweber (obviously).



  20. Justin Premick

    4/18/2012 7:51 am

    Hi Caleb,

    Most templates are about 600 pixels wide.

    There isn’t really a standard height… that’s determined by how much content you have to put in your message. The template will expand vertically to fit your content.