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    HTML or Plain Text Emails – Which do you choose?

    by Stacy Parr Finance Manager

    When you’re running an email newsletter, there are lots of decisions you have to make about the content, the frequency, the times and days you send them out, and many other factors. But have you ever thought about the actual coding that forms the email itself?

    It has a profound effect on the nature of the email and its capabilities, but for the most part, we probably don’t think about it because the email software sorts it out for us. Essentially, there are two types: plain text and HTML. Here, we look at both to decide which is best for you.

    What is a plain text email?

    Plain text emails are exactly as the name suggests – just letters, numbers and the standard punctuation symbols. There’s no option to have coloured text, hyperlinks or even smart quotes, bold, italics or underscores, as they all require a bit of information that goes beyond the mere character. It’s even more basic than a text message, as that can contain a link that you can follow on a phone.

    Clearly, plain text limits what your message looks like, because as well as the text itself being plain, there’s no way you can embed images, so no logos, graphics or product pictures are allowed. Open up Notepad on Windows and you’ll see the simplicity and limitations of plain text. The Apple equivalent, TextEdit actually goes beyond plain text as it allows some basic formatting.

    However, there are advantages. Plain text is as simple as can be, so it’s likely to be accepted by all devices. If you have broken links or links to websites that an email security system has blacklisted (which is out of your hands), an HTML message might be auto-deleted. Plain text is also good at talking to devices like Internet of Things objects and smart watches, for example.

    What is an HTML email?

    If you’ve ever coded a website from scratch, you’ll understand what HTML is – it stands for hypertext markup language, and it’s the basis of the whole internet. Other languages are used, such as PHP, CSS and JavaScript, but they all run through HTML, which instructs the browser.

    Basically, anything that can be viewed on a website can also be viewed in an email client or web-based email service that understands HTML. That means images, coloured text, full formatting, interactivity, and, most importantly, links. However, people still expect their emails to be relatively small in terms of file size, especially since they might be out and about using expensive mobile data, or have a poor signal. So while it’s possible to embed certain interactive elements into emails, it should be done prudently.

    Which is better?

    For the vast majority of email marketing applications, coded HTML emails are by far the better option. Linking to your website is an essential part of the process, but branding and general prettification are how you stand out from the competition, especially in the B2C world.

    However, there are a few cases where plain text might be preferable, for example if your emails are not for marketing purposes, or if you’re trying to keep an eye on your bandwidth (HTML necessarily uses more data as there are more bytes of coding). It’s also possible that your emails are fed directly into a system other than an email client, such as a database, which can sometimes struggle with rich text, so simpler is better.

    For the vast majority of purposes, however, you’re going to be fine – indeed, at an advantage – if you use HTML.