The battle between HTML and plain-text is an issue that a lot of businesses and marketers think about to themselves when it comes to email marketing. There are advantages and disadvantages to both HTML and plain-text emails. HTML can be used to build nice emails, but plain-text gets straight to the point and is more readable.

HTML Explained

HTML emails are visually appealing. They allow businesses to build eye-catching emails by inserting attractive graphics, images, and colors. Depending on how you design your email, you can make the most valuable information, like a call to action or sales message stand out with large fonts and colorful buttons.

However, even though HTML allows businesses to send attractive emails, subscribers might not even see them. For example, if you ever subscribed to Cosmopolitan’s email newsletter, you might notice that images in their HTML email are blocked. You will just see colorful text on a dark background and empty image boxes. There is a tab at the top of the email saying, “This message contains blocked images” and you will have to click on “show images” to see all of the pictures and graphics. I experienced this with both of my Yahoo! Mail and Gmail accounts. Today, Gmail has gotten better with showing images but Yahoo! still blocks them.

Another problem with HTML-only emails is that they are quickly sent to the spam folder. So always keep a plain-text alternative when using HTML so it can be readable to email viewers.

Plain-Text Explained

Plain-text emails are exactly what its name describes, plain-text. When a subscriber opens this email, they will see black text and blue hyperlinks on a white background. Nothing too fancy.

The advantages of plain-text emails are that they are easily readable, and there aren’t any blocked images interrupting the viewing experience. By writing concise sentences and leaving a lot of whitespaces, subscribers can quickly skim the email. The biggest benefit of plain-text emails is that you won’t lose messages embedded in the images. For example, you won’t have to deal with the problem of having your 30% off coupon picture blocked.

A problem with plain-text emails is that you can’t track their open rate. If you use MailChimp to send your emails, you most likely read the open rate metric to determine campaign performance. But unlike HTML emails, plain-text emails do not have an “open” or tracker pixel inserted into an image that signals MailChimp that the email has been opened. This is a problem for marketers who want to test and understand the results of their campaigns.

Which Is the Better Choice?

Honestly, it depends on who you are selling to and what you are selling.

HTML emails are very popular with big brands and businesses that need visual storytelling to sell a product like clothing and shoes. However I notice that a lot of professional individuals like solopreneurs, marketers, consultants and authors use plain-text emails because they believe that text, not images, get straight to the point on the issue that they are addressing. If they told information through pictures, they are in jeopardy of losing their core message.

So if you’re deciding whether to use HTML or plain-text, I advise you first to write your content, then decide whether it would be more powerful with images. If you are using HTML, please limit your images and the messages they carry. Invest in multi-part MIME to protect HTML emails.