In this article I’ll cover:
- pros and cons of HTML emails
- pros and cons of text (light HTML) emails
- which email format should you use for your business
Tell me does this sound familiar…
You are planning for your next email campaign.
You already know the goals, copy is ready, strategy is set and all that’s left now is to craft an email which will take your message and convert it to clicks we all like to see.
But again, you are facing with one more decision.
The format of the email.
Should you use a fancy email, filled with attention grabbing colors and images or would going old school and just getting message across bring better results? How can you know for sure?
To tell you the truth, it depends.
Because with emails, nothing is 100% certain for your list until you test it out yourself.
That said, let’s shed some light on these two types of emails so that in the end, you’ll be able to make the best decision.
Do note that when I’m talking about text emails, I’m talking about minimal HTML and not plain text. You still want to format your text and have tracking pixel for stat purposes (which you don’t have with plain text). And in inbox, these light emails still look like your everyday emails.
Pros of HTML emails
- Keep branding image in your emails
If you want to stay on brand, HTML is the way to go.
- Make your content stand out
Well designed HTML emails not only look professional, but they can also make your content stand out better with various colors, buttons and images.
- More interaction
As emails become more and more advanced, we are seeing some really cool stuff going on in emails, like videos, games and more interactivity in general.
The whole point of this cool stuff is to increase engagement and get those clicks. But remember what the goal of the email is and don’t go crazy on flashy stuff.
- Entice curiosity
If you are running an e-commerce, then sending images of products on sale is a no brainer. Images will entice curiosity and get more clicks as a result.
Cons of HTML emails
- Higher costs of setting everything up
In most cases, along with copywriter, you need a designer and a developer.
Every magic comes with a price.
- Most of the email clients won’t load images by default
So all that extra effort might be in vain if your subscribers don’t enable images.
Do note that if the email is opened in Gmail’s promotions tab, images get loaded in automatically. So at least that’s one good thing promo tabs are doing.
- Less chances of landing in primary inbox
Heavy HTML emails usually end up in Gmail’s promotions tab. It’s just how their filter works on default. And your subject line better be good in there or your email will die unopened.
HubSpot did a research which just confirms that more HTML elements drop chances of email landing in primary Gmail tab:
- Adding images (GIFs) to your emails reduced open rates by 37%
- Using an HTML template in your emails reduced open rates by 25%
- Increasing the amount of HTML in your emails reduced open rates by 23%
I would say this happened exactly because those emails ended up in promo tab.
Let’s see how it affected the click rates.
- For the plain-text vs. .GIF image test, the .GIF version had a 2.3% lower clickthrough rate. This, combined with the lower open rate, meant the plain-text version got 42% more clicks.
- For the plain-text vs. HTML template with images test, the HTML email version had a 21% lower clickthrough rate, and combined with the open rate the email had 51% fewer clicks.
- For the simple HTML template vs. HTML-heavy template, the simpler email had a 5.3% higher clickthrough rate, and combined with the higher open rate, resulted in getting 30% more clicks.
One could argue here that not all HTML open rates are tracked in the first 2 points. Why?
Because if images are not loaded (which is default state for most email clients), the tracking graphic won’t be loaded either and your ESP won’t register an open.
Luckily, we have clicks as a metric which are more accurate and prove that text emails are usually performing better.
- Rendering issues across all devices
It wouldn’t be fun if it would be easy.
Problems with email clients are that few things are standardized. Each email client will use it’s own set of rules for rendering.
Someone inexperienced with developing emails will get a lot of headache trying to make them work everywhere, so make sure you have the right person for the job.
Bare in mind that even that doesn’t guarantee pixel perfection. Because some email clients just don’t keep up with the modern world (looking at you Outlook).
So don’t stress to much if your email is 2px off on the right corner of the third column (design police incoming!).
- Easier to mess up
This is related to previous issue. But even if you have near perfect rendering, you still have to think how that fancy design will deliver your message.
Get the design elements wrong and you’ll have a lot more trouble. Your content might look cheap, email may be hard on the eyes and hard to read, your email might be to heavy for mobile loading etc. With text emails, that’s one less thing you have to worry about.
- Higher SPAM score
If HTML code is poorly written, SPAM score will jump up.
Pros of text emails
- They look a lot more natural
They don’t look like your usual promotion email. Only formatting is usually just for making text links, so they are not much different from your everyday email you would receive from a colleague or a friend.
- Focus is strictly on copy
I purposely made this a pro. Copy is usually the thing that sells in email and in here there are no other distractions. Its just your reader and your copy.
- Higher chances of email landing in primary tab in gmail
Gmail is the most popular email client. This is important. It isn’t a strong guarantee that it will always land in primary as it depends on a lot of other factors, but chances are higher.
- Easier rendering for wearables
Even though smart watches are not that common and we can’t really say they’ll take of, it’s definitely something to consider.
- They feel less salesy
We are visual beings. Once we associate something, it takes a lot more effort to pull that back. So even though you may already know that the email was sent through ESP and is indeed a marketing email, the first look doesn’t make it feel like one.
Cons of text emails
- No branding on your emails
There is nothing (other than the content) that will set apart your email from all the others. It will look just like a regular email.
In some industries and for some companies, it’s really important to keep the same branding image on all channels.
- Focus is strictly on copy
Yeah, it’s a double edged sword. Why? Well, there are no images to save you here. If your copy sucks, your results will suck too. Make sure you place copy as a priority.
- No product visuals
If you’re an e-commerce, showing off your products in email is important. If your subscribers don’t see them, they probably won’t bother clicking unless it’s something they are already familiar with.
So which email format should you go with for your email campaigns?
Well, again, it depends.
I wish it would all be black and white. But you’re dealing with people here, and that’s where things get complicated.
How your emails will perform depends a lot on the industry you are in and your product/service.
Taking these things into account, these are my general guidelines when choosing email format.
Use full HTML email when
- You are communicating as a company
- Your product’s major selling points are aesthetics
- You are promoting more than one thing – when you are sending a weekly post digest for example or have multiple products, images will help making everything easy to scan (otherwise avoid emails with multiple focus points)
- Your industry is: consumer goods, food, IT, media, real estate, retails, travel and transportation, tourism and similar where your product/service has a big visual (tangible) value
Use text (light HTML) email when
- You are communicating as a single person
- Your message needs to be personal and easy to read
- You don’t need images to present the main idea
- Your industry is: affiliate, agency, consulting, education, financial, health, insurance, law, self help and similar industries where value of your product/service is less visual (intangible).
The numbers won’t lie
Take this information as general pointers on where you need to go if you are just starting out.
If you are already sending emails, check if you are covering all these points and if there is anything you can improve in your email structure.
Your next action step is to do some A/B testing and review the results. That’s the only way you can optimize your emails for best results and know for sure what works best for your list.
As mentioned already, prioritize clicks more than opens. Most often, opens won’t tell the whole story because of tracking pixels not loading.
Have you already done some testing with these? Let me know in the comments what were your results and which email format do you prefer.