A good friend of mine, Theirry, asked if I could engage the marketing masses and help settle (or at least fan the flames) of the email debate regarding which works better: text based emails or HTML.
LOTS to consider here. Everything: including what you’re sending, when you’re sending, what your goals are, to WHOM you’re sending, and many more. So, if after I’ve finished my thoughts you still want more detail simply ask in the comments. I want to be able to help you wade through those questions…but you’ve gotta ask!
Before I start the analysis we need to address a few things:
1. We have to strike a balance between what’s best for the customer….and what’s best for the marketer.
2. No matter which ‘side of the aisle’ you fall on, there are RULES that you need to follow to maximize all metrics…and I won’t tell you all of them 😉
3. There’s NO RIGHT ANSWER! Most times with HTML there’s a text version that’s sent as well…but let’s just focus on one vs the other.
Agree?? OK good….let’s get started!
What I’m going to do is go over some main points of email marketing…then have each style ‘address’ it. If you want me to add a category just ask in the comments!
1. Ease of Use by Marketer
Text: Very simple, you basically type and send. All you have to do is make sure that you don’t have any weird page breaks that would skew how it’s read.
HTML: Quick to put together once you have a template or two that you simple plug in…but you do have to do that template at least ONCE, and you might send that image of your internal trade list instead of public trade list…which are both labeled with ‘list’ in there.
Advantage: TEXT: It’s just too simple to mess up. The worst that can happen is that the lines get truncated…but with HTML you might send out an image of something else, or have the colors mess up, etc etc.
2. User Experience
TEXT: The argument for text is that it’s simple, clean, and the content is RIGHT THERE. They don’t have to click an ‘allow images’ to read what they’ve signed-up for. This is conducive to wordsmiths who prefer to let the text drive the clicks.
Downside is that your links show up as raw links instead of ‘click here to buy my latest great offer’, and users are basically reading an email the same as they would read a word document.
HTML: Obviously being able to frame your message in a visually pleasing manner is going to be better for users. You can hide your link inside words which allows you to put more tracking on specific links other then something like bradslink.com/email1. You can provide images to better diagram what they’ll see on the next page once they click, or show them pictures for your vacation, or whatever. Just like the old adage about eating with your eyes first, people CLICK, first with their eyes more often then not.
However, users most often will have to click ‘view images’ every time, or click ‘always allow images’ in order to read the email. We want people to click INSIDE the email and the more clicks ‘wasted’ getting them to see it might hurt your clicks. There’s the issue of them actually seeing the email…images and html gets picked up by spam filters at an ALARMING rate. For me, I’ve had dozens of emails that I get on a regular basis end up in spam even though I’ve allowed images, whitelisted, etc etc. It’s just the risk.
Advantage: HTML; The rewards are worth the risk if you ask the gen pop….(yeah I just referred to potential buyers in prison slang)
3. Better Open, Click Thru, and Conversion Rates
TEXT: Hard/impossible to track! Can’t track opens, can only track clicks if a specific unique url is used, and conversions will have to be done back-end which is a bit of extra work.. Honestly you can guage all the stats just from the unique url…I know because I do it with clients all the time.
One could argue that too many metrics forces one to over analyze. That’s true in a sense, and text allows you to just focus on one…clicks.
HTML: It’s like the Matrix of metrics (I’m copywriting that phrase!)!! You can track opens, clicks on specific links, clicks on specific images, who was eating ice-cream when they clicked on your link, etc etc etc. Basically you have a LOT of metrics which would help you to target your messages and methods…
But it might be too much and you over analyze and spend the time tweaking your way out of a consistent email that your users are used to getting. I’ve been there done that…and it’s no fun.
Advantage: HTML; But the fact remains you can get more stats and track emails more clearly via HTML.
I could write a masters level thesis paper on this topic, but I still might not hit the questions that matter most to you…everyone’s got an opinion on this so let’s open up the comments section and get it out!
Let the comments fly!!!!
An interesting debate.
When one of my team are designing an html mailer, I always review it first with DISPLAY IMAGES turned off. That way, if they’ve forgotten and give me key information or calls to action that I can’t see or read without displaying images, it becomes very clear very quickly. I also scan all of the image file names, to make sure that they are conveying useful information rather than stuff like:
Luisa…GREAT CALL! I’m on SO many lists and people miss the right image, or put it in wrong on a WEEKLY basis. Human error happens, but putting checks and balances in place is a GREAT way to avoid them.
As a customer [hey we are all customers to, right] I much prefer and will read more of an email sent in HTML. I am amazed at how many marketers still don’t understand how to break up paragraphs and fonts to draw more attention to the whole email that’s written in text form.
Marketers can’t really do much about the font and bolding without turning it into html, that’s what’s hard.
I do not read HTML emails.
Mike…why not? Just too overrun with spam, don’t want to click ‘allow images’, or just out of spite ;)??
…my goodness… is it 1997? …. hard to believe a marketer doesn’t know which works best FOR HIM at this point in time.
Eric, haha that’s true…but there is something to be said for continuing to improve to what works best for a new audience. Just like long sales pages and how they’re no longer the standard with the video sales page introduction.
A simple, short paragraphed text email gives me the message just fine without having to load images, try to read over modified text, etc. Plus it looks great on my cell phone.
Hey Mike… great point about looking great on the phone. I know this isn’t where this conversion was meant to go… but I’m not one to follow the rules anyway .
Forget HTML and Text. Did you know open rates on cell phones (for text messages) are something like 95%! Incredible, there’s some money to be made there, I’m just putting together plans on how to monetize it with a launch I’m working on this year.
Mike/Brian, I think this SHOULD be part of the discussion!!
I know I probably read about 50% or more of my emails on my phone. When something comes in wonkey, or can’t be seen right, I delete it. So now we have to take into account ALL the email services out there (aol, gmail, yahoo, msn, etc etc) and NOW we have to take into account all the mobile ones. I would have to say that TEXT wins the mobile round.
What do you guys think?
@brad and @eric,
Definitely the audience makes a huge difference. I have some customer lists that are comprised mostly of readers who are still getting email on their original aol accounts… and some who are much more sophisticated, and set up specialized email addresses for each of their subscriptions. You have to tailor the message and the format to the list
If only there was a way to please everyone…LOL!! Send the perfect message to grandma who uses aol via the free disks, and 19 year old super tech genius who has a jail break iphone!
I have to agree that HTML has the overall advantage. In a day and age where business base everything off of stats, you need to use the tool that gives you the most information. Plus, if you are trying to do anything fancy, like split up your list based on interest (by giving them different options to click in an email or whatever), you need to be able to track multiple things at one time. I understand the annoyance with HTML being easily spammed, and certainly the annoyance as a marketer writing in HTML, but it’s all about the risk/reward, and in this case, the reward of HTML’s tracking abilities and aesthetics out way its risks.