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

  • Displays Consistently Across Email Clients
  • Always Necessary for All Messages (whether you use HTML or not)
  • Looks More Like a Personal Email Message

Reasons Not to Use Plain Text

  • Can’t use Colors or Graphics
  • Can’t turn words like “Click Here” into Links – must type out URL
  • Harder to Break Up Into Easy-to-Scan/Read Sections
  • Can’t Use Multiple-Column Formats Easily

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

  • Can Track Opens
  • Can Make Text Links Clickable
  • Can Use Images and Colors – Good Branding Opportunities!
  • Easy to Break Up Content into Digestible Bits (using columns, headers)

Reasons Not to Use HTML

  • Takes Longer than Text – and You Have to Do Text Anyway
  • Images are Often Blocked
  • Looks Less Like a One-to-One Message

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?


  1. Richard Cummings

    7/15/2011 11:29 am

    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.

  2. Mike

    4/4/2012 6:15 am

    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!

  3. Steve

    7/30/2012 12:53 pm

    When does the Auto-Generated Plain Text button trigger when the button is turned on?

  4. Rebekah Henson

    7/30/2012 2:38 pm


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

  5. Ronda Del Boccio

    8/25/2013 2:40 pm

    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.


    Thanks in advance!

  6. Amanda Gagnon

    9/4/2013 12:04 pm

    Ronda – If you hover over the “Messages” tab, you will see the plain-text option!

  7. marhgil

    12/30/2013 10:20 am

    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.

  8. Rachel Acquaviva

    12/31/2013 10:05 am

    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.”

  9. Chris

    2/12/2014 2:28 pm

    What about text to graphic ratios? Are there any studies, or recommendations on how graphically heavy an HTML email should be, for optimal results?