To begin, I have collected various stats on html vs plain text emails:
Almost 60 percent of e-mail users have the ability to receive HTML e-mail, which gets twice the response rate as text e-mail. Source: Jupiter Research
In 2001, 68% of all email marketing was in HTML format (from opt-in email publishers and permission-based email marketing ad networks in the US). Source: Opt-in news- January 2002
57% of email received by US Internet users is in HTML format (does not include rich media or animation). Source: IMT Strategies – September 2001
Text messages were unsubscribed at a slightly higher rate than HTML in Q3 and Q2 at 0.22 percent, though nearly even with HTML Email Labs Q4 2003
• Historically, consumers respond better to HTML than text, and the gap in performance is increasing
• HTML performed markedly better on average and generated click- throughs of 11.2% as compared to 5.6% for text.
• Text click-through rates have continued to decline during 2002 (from 7.1% in Q2), while HTML click-through rates have slightly increased (from 10.0% in Q2)
• Non-text email made up 81% of the average company’s campaigns in Q4 DoubleClick Q4 2002 Email Trend Report
• 62 percent of consumers prefer text-only email, 35 percent want HTML email (colors and pictures) and 3 percent want rich-media (video and sound). An Opt-In News survey Q2 2002
• U.S. Internet users’ attitudes toward commercial email formats found 60 percent favor HTML over text, and 80 percent said they “enjoy rich media email.” Valentine Radford survey Q1 2001
• 18.5 percent clicked through on text messages, while HTML collected 15.6 percent CTR.
• Text email got a 9 percent conversion rate, with 5.3 percent for HTML. • 7.7 percent of HTML email bounced, compared with 7.4 percent for text. • 3.2 percent of HTML email generated unsubscribes, compared with 1.2 percent. IMT Strategies Q3 2001
Some of this information is outdated – however the insights are still valuable. Results in this area are far from conclusive, with the general consensus being ‘test, and give what your audience likes/responds to’.
Here are the pros and cons you have to take into account:
• Displays well in most email clients and devices
• Looks like a personal message
• Need to type out full URL for a link
• No colours or graphics
• Harder to format for easy reading
• Can only use one column
• Click tracking can be done, but ugly long tracking links have to be used and must be typed in full and cannot be hidden by an anchor. Open rate tracking is pretty much out of the question, but you can get an idea of opens as clickers on your emails must have opened them in the first place! (Thanks to Andy for the nudge on this point)
PRO TIP: If you are using a long ugly tracking link, you can use an URL shortening service to disguise your link. For example, the following link (http://www.jaymail.net/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Textlink&utm_campaign=ProfileLink) was shortened using bitly’s pro service to: http://jyml.me/tw1tr I use this link on my twitter page, and it links back to my home page. As you can see, the short link is much easier to work with, and the end portion can be personalised to your needs.
However, using certain shortened URL’s (such as bitly’s standard service) in your email can result in email getting marked as spam (certain spam filters pick up on short links as a way to cloak harmful links) so always check for this prior to launch! Thanks to Andrew for this tip!
• You can get more detailed stats on your messages (open rate, click rate etc)
• You can use anchors like this to hide ugly tracking links
• Can add graphical elements, color, images, call to action buttons and more
• Almost limitless options for formatting
• Can look less personal that plain text
• Images can be blocked by the email client
• Rendering in email clients is prone to breaking so time consuming testing is required
I find that html email with subtle styling/images can work well, as it’s a good middle ground between plain-text and html. This could look almost like plain text, but we can use anchor links, track our message and have more control over styling and format.
To conclude – there is no real hard and fast rule here. The only way to go is to test what works best on your list!