Plain Text Emails – Yes, They Do Matter.
What marketers think and the truth may be two different things when it comes to email recipient behavior. About 82 percent of marketers believe email recipients want visuals, while Thinkshift Communications found a trick that revealed a surprising number of instances involving customers reading plain-text messages.
The San Francisco-based ad agency ran an "opens" report, which only tracks HTML. Then Thinkshift looked at a second report that only included recipients who clicked on links.
"The names or email address that do not show up on the 'open' list but do show up under the 'click' list are most likely people who opened and engaged with the plain-text email," explains Thinkshift's Sept. 19, 2013 blog post. "The downside to this analysis: If a person opens a text email and doesn't click a link, there's no way you'll ever know."
The agency ran the reports for its clients and found between 5 percent and 25 percent of clicks were not tracked as opens.
"Other marketers who've done this same analysis report their plain-text email readership to be 40 [percent] to 50 percent in addition to what's reported on the open email reports," according to Thinkshift.
This is counter to commonly accepted wisdom that HTML emails are the bee's knees. For instance, one email marketing vendor may not be alone in incorrectly paraphrasing research on April 10, 2014, as saying "visual media is 82 percent more likely to be viewed than plain text."
The cited research, an October 2013 survey of U.S. marketers by Palo Alto, Calif.-based content curation providers trapit.com, actually says something far different (Opens as a PDF).
"When asked to identify major trends surrounding content marketing," the report reads, "nearly four-fifths (82 percent) of marketers believe that content is more likely to be consumed if it is visual, signifying the value in photos and video content." [Editor's note: emphasis added.]
While it's true images render by default in Gmail, that's only one ESP.
In her Oct. 15 article, "Best Practices for Plain Text Emails + A Look at Why They're Important," Lauren Smith of Litmus doesn't get into those stats.
She admits email marketers "nerd out about HTML emails," but says plain-text emails still hold an important marketing niche. Not only that, but she says the niche may be growing just a bit if wearables take off.
"While [plain-text emails] may not be nearly as attractive as HTML-based emails, they play a significant role in a well-rounded email marketing strategy," she writes. "And, with the launch of the Apple Watch—which likely will only render text—plain text messages will play an even bigger role."
Here's what Smith says marketers can do to optimize their plain-text emails:
1. Send Out a Multi-part MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) with every message, bundling text and HTML, because spam filters look for and like plain text alternatives; some emails and apps still can't render HTML properly; and the most unpredictable part of the equation, the consumer, may have email set for text-only and won't receive HTML-only messages.
2. Remember to Edit ESP Auto-generated Text Versions, because they may be garbled, Smith says. Whether marketers create their own text versions or edit auto-generated ones, make sure calls to action are easy to spot. (She suggests brackets as arrows, equal signs to create underlines, etc.)
3. Avoid Gray Walls of Type, as Denny Hatch likes to quote of David Ogilvy. Smith adds that even in a text-only email, there are ways to make the copy scannable—use headlines, numbering, asterisks, white space, etc.
4. Avoid Line Breaks. Line breaks make plain-text emails "look awkward and raggedy," Smith says.
5. Don't Overdo the Links. Otherwise, the email looks like a giant hyperlink; especially because links provide the only color. Litmus even goes so far as to remove click tracking for the plain-text email links, so the look is cleaner.
6. Do More for Subscribers Than Telling Them to 'View in Browser.' Smith says these approaches feel "a bit careless" and like they're not honoring the customer's wishes. She outlines a different minimalist approach, which at least includes the main CTA, along with the "view in browser" link.
7. Preview Emails. Whether they're HTML or plain-text emails, review them before customers see them.
How many marketers spend this much time thinking about their plain-text emails?
Please respond in the comments section below.