Plain text in emails – some best practice tips

Creating HTML emails is somewhat of an art form – and these emails can be heavily creative, with fantastic call-to-action (CTA) buttons and loads of links to interesting articles or to new and exciting products. I know for me, looking at the engagement levels for a particular campaign is quite exhilarating to see how this campaign has increased in unique opens and clickthroughs from the last one!

But what about the equally-as-important-yet-often-forgotten-about plain text version of the email? This is just as important (Source) as the HTML version of the email.

Plain text emails are exactly that – just plain text. They are the equivalent to a letter written on a typewriter (very old school) – with no images, links or images. And while they visually may not look as pretty or attractive as HTML-based emails, they play a vital role in the overall email marketing strategy.

So why should you use plain text versions alongside your HTML email? Email clients use what people in the know term ‘Multi-part MIME’ (or Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions) – essentially this bundles the text and HTML version of your email together when an eDM is deployed and there are three main reasons to have both versions:

1) Spam filters
Spam filters (like for example) need to see a plain-text alternative; if it’s not present, it is a major red flag.

2) Different email clients and apps
Some email clients and apps may not be able to handle HTML as well as plain text versions. So if your email is sent out without a plain text version and your subscriber’s email client doesn’t render the email as it should, you might have some frustrated customers calling, so always include the plain text!

3) Some people prefer it!
Simply put, some customers prefer to receive the plain text version. When people sign up to receive your newsletters, you should give them the option of signing up for the HTML or plain text version. If you don’t give them a choice and they are unable to view HTML emails, they might end up with something like this raw code below, which is definitely not the ideal experience you want for your customers!

Raw code

Optimise your plain text emails as you would your HTML version. Most ESPs will send in multi-part MIME automatically, but some email platforms will give you the option to manually update your plain text version. ALWAYS include a link to the online version, so customers can view the HTML message in a browser and if you’re able to, include some personalisation, like a first name. You should also test both versions at the same time, to ensure everything looks accurate. Amend, test and re-test.

Because the plain text is focused solely on the copy that you’ve included and you don’t have any of the HTML design elements to fall back on, you need to ensure your plain text is readable and customers don’t just dismiss it. Create a positive email experience – all the time, every time! Use things like headlines to break up the content and focus on the important aspects. But just like with your HTML version, you should always include some form of CTA and these need to be defined and stand out. Take the example below – this company has one major CTA which includes two angled brackets (>>) to draw attention to it. It is also well above the fold so your customers won’t have to scroll to find it.

CTAs in plain text
The other great thing about this example is that the company hasn’t overdone the use of links. With too many links, the customer can get overwhelmed, not knowing which link is more important than another. This could be devastating to your bottom line. The minimalistic approach of this example below shows how this should be done:

Minimal links in plain text version

Although having a beautifully designed and laid-out HTML is a great way to showcase your company and the services/products you offer, make sure the next time you send out an email campaign to your customer database that you spend some extra time and attention perfecting your plain text version.

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