Does email marketing actually work? HTML vs. plain text

4th October 2019
Author: Natasha Keary
Posted in: Distribution

Things change. In 2019, marketing entered the future. Marketers are now using VR and integrated AI. They’re well-versed in cutting-edge ephemeral content marketing, fluent in voice search tactics and naturals at optimizing for wearables. Move over, Bladerunner – the future is now.

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But alongside all of these new, shiny marketing techniques, email marketing is still at large. The first email marketing took place over four decades ago, and today inboxes and junk boxes are bloated. Personalized subject lines have become ubiquitous, and the number of emails caught by Gmail’s ‘promotions’ folder is skyrocketing.

But let’s not beat around the bush anymore. Let’s ask the three main questions: 1. Does email marketing actually work? 2. What kind of email marketing works best (HTML or plain text)? And 3. how do you make your email marketing better?

1. Does email marketing actually work?

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While email is one of the older marketing channels, it’s not losing its relevance as time goes on. In fact, it’s only getting more relevant. By 2023, it’s expected that 347.3 billion emails will be sent and received every day. Half of the world’s population sent emails last year, and by the end of 2022, the number of email users is expected to rise to 4.2 billion.

There’s no denying that emails are a very useful way to reach loads of potential customers. However, that’s not the only reason why they’re a unique way of reaching out. Emails are one of the few channels which create the impression of a one-to-one interaction. We use emails to converse directly with colleagues, friends, and relatives. That makes them a personal and direct way of communicating.

So, does email marketing actually work for click-throughs and conversions? Absolutely.

Mckinsey found that email marketing is significantly more effective at bringing in new customers than other channels. In fact, it’s 40 times better at gathering clients and conversions than social channels like Facebook and Twitter.

But – in most cases – the best kind of email marketing isn’t what you’d expect. It’s far more old school than you might’ve imagined at first.

2. What kind of email marketing works best? HTML or plain text?

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Email marketing is great for reaching out and bringing in large numbers of customers. So why are so many junk-mail boxes full to the brim?

Many emails are wasted and end up filtered out by Gmail or left unopened. There’s a knack to sending emails the right way – and this might depend on whether you’re sending HTML or plain text emails. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each, and why choosing the right one might save your mail from the spam pile.

HTML

HTML is the clear favorite from a designer’s perspective. Incorporating multiple styles, colors, themes and embedding multimedia is only possible in this format.

Not only do the emails look swish, but they can also gather analytics with embedded tracking tools. However, image or multimedia-rich emails are usually red flags for the likes of Gmail and Outlook. A particularly heavy HTML email template is a one-way ticket to the junk folder.

Plain text

On the other hand, plain text is a simpler, more reliable option. While HTML has come a long way since its widespread popularity in the 2000s, some users still experience accessibility issues. A web browser might disable some features or block others from appearing at first. Plain text, in contrast, has guaranteed accessibility.

On top of that, a simple text email can strike a personal note with its recipient. You probably wouldn’t send an overly stylized or image-heavy email to a colleague.

The downside – plain text can’t give you any analytics. This is only possible with an embedded HTML link.

Users’ preferences

This is where it gets surprising. Despite the visual appeal of HTML emails, users are more inclined to enjoy plain text emails. A study by HubSpot found that plain text emails have higher open rates, according to their focus group of over a thousand professionals. Even a single image in an email can reduce the click-through rate. An HTML template with images had a 21% lower click-through rate than the same plain text version, and the HTML template had 51% fewer clicks overall.

Plain text emails come out on top for both click-through rates and open rates. Despite looking lovely, HTML emails lost out to their old-fashioned text-only counterparts.

3. How do I make my email marketing better?

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Maximize the potential of your email marketing by keeping things simple. The most exciting, flashy email might not be the best way to engage with your clients. Old school is sometimes better, and in the case of emails, the one-to-one text-only message might be the better way to have a conversation.

That said, every business requires a different approach. While plain text comes top in some cases – the opposite might be true for a different business. It’s important to do your research to find out which style resonates best with your readers.

While marketing gets more and more futuristic, there’s enormous value in the old school. Email marketing, especially when stripped back to the basics, is still hot for conversions and bringing in new customers.