Plain text emails, while often seen as a last-minute, auto-generated addition to your campaign, when used correctly can play a significant role in your marketing ROI.

In this post, we’ll outline considerations for optimising your plain-text efforts, and common questions and benefits of using this type of email in your marketing strategy.

But before diving in, it’s worth considering the following points:

  • Where do we currently use plain text emails in our customer journey?
  • What volume of our subscriber list receives a plain text format?
  • What percentages of clicks are generated from a plain text version?
  • Can I offer a plain text option for those who would prefer it?

Deploying plain text and html emails
When deploying an email, both the plain text and HTML versions are sent to the subscriber’s email address. The email client or device determines which version to show based on the recipient’s device capabilities and preference.

HTML-only emails are a warning sign for inboxes, as spammers tend not to take the trouble of producing a plain text version. If they do, it’s rarely more than a link to the online hosted HTML version – a technique that should be avoided for marketers.

By not including a plain text version of your email, should a recipient’s device or email client not accept HTML emails, the recipient is likely to see the actual HTML code itself – resulting in a poor user experience and a potential unsubscribe.

Benefits of Using Plain Text Emails in Your Marketing Strategy

Plain text emails are universally accepted and understood by everyone.

Out goes the stylish visual formatting, beautiful imagery and HTML and in its place a clean, minimalistic, no-frills version of your email, where your message or value offering is the main primary driver.

It’s always worth offering your subscribers the option to receive plain text at acquisition stage for devices and email clients that aren’t fully compatible with HTML syntax (think blackberry’s or Lotus Notes). Plain text is a practical solution to ensure your message is delivered and understood by the maximum possible number of recipients on your email list.

Whilst most devices these days have the capability to display HTML emails, the subscriber’s preference or device can determine if the HTML or plain text version is presented.
A substantial benefit for using plain text emails is that they are quick to open and load for recipients who do not have fast internet access or are on the move and using their mobile data connection.

Accessibility to content
Formatting plays a big part in plain text emails.

By spreading the content out into sections – using abundant spacing, lines and capitals – the content is partitioned into an easily scannable email.

Within your HTML email, there will normally be multiple items with the same link (such as headline, image and call to action button). For plain text, this is stripped back to one, simple URL per article, commonly placed at the bottom of the content segment.

Common questions asked

So, how and where should I use plain text emails?
Plain text emails are widely used for onboarding or transactional email lifecycle programs where there is normally a singular, crucial action that needs to take place to move a prospect from acquisition to activation stage in their customer journey.

Plain text is a safe choice for these important messages as they’re inclined to receive a higher deliverability rate as they are not treated as commercial emails. This is important if you have not previously sent or exchanged emails with the recipient before.

Another practical use is as part of a nurture campaign. When a lead is generated, a plain text trigger email from the relationship or sales manager can be sent, with replies sent directly to them and followed up.

If you’re sending emails at a high rate to a large volume of subscribers at an individual business, plain text has an improved chance of passing firewalls or quarantine filters and into your recipient’s inbox (though do consider throttling your sends).

A good rule of thumb for considering plain text emails is where the message is a personal message from an individual in your business or as a first communication from your business to the recipient.

How are plain text emails tracked?
Because the plain text version of an email does not feature the pixel tracking which determines HTML open rates, Email Service Providers project the open rate from the number of unique clicks that the plain text email receives.

By using further tracking parameters on your email links through your analytics platform, you’ll receive additional insights.

Ready to kick off your next email campaign? Here’s 10 considerations for optimising your plain text efforts:

  • Ensure you include a “View Online” in the top of the plain text email to give recipients an option to view the email in its intended HTML format
  • Don’t copy and paste from a rich text editor or Microsoft Word – use note pad or a similar application to ensure no formatting is carried over into your plain text ESP editor
  • Get creative – keep the format clear and concise using spacing, lines and capital letters to produce a clear, skimmable, digest-type format
  • Swap out any bullet points or special characters which are not supported
  • Aim to include one URL per text or content segment
  • Your message is the key driver. Ensure the value is understood from the copy alone
  • Plain text emails still need legal, compliance & data protection requirements applied to them, the same as the HTML version
  • Include plain text URL’s and format tests in your pre-send checklist, such as unsubscribe and personalisation links
  • Add specific tracking UTM’s on your plain text version for further insight
  • Offer a plain text option in your preference centre and consider this option in any email lifecycle stages where the message is in need of a personal communication

Plain text emails offer a range of deliverability, onboarding and accessibility benefits to your email marketing activities. Why not start by reviewing your current plain text efforts and with some easy to implement changes, you could see improvements to your customer growth and retention.

Have questions or interested in learning more about email marketing? Check out our Digital Marketing Surevey (DMS) to learn what advisors want from email, and keep and eye out for our latest data, coming soon.