When it comes to formatting emails, you essentially have three options: plain text, rich text and HTML. The type you choose determines what your email body looks like, and what you – and your recipients – can do with it. Let’s have a look at them and explain why HTML is far superior in many ways.
First, there’s plain text. It is essentially text stripped of all its digital capabilities except that it’s shown on a screen. It’s black and white text, with numbers, lower-case and capital letters and the basic symbols you’ll find on your keyboard (plus a few extras like degree signs and currencies).
There’s no bold, italics, text colour or background colour, and you can’t even have hyperlinks or embed images. If you’ve used Notepad on your computer, that’s the limit of plain text.
It’s not completely useless, though. Messages have incredibly small file sizes, so it’s good for communicating where there’s slow internet or low bandwidth. Plain text is also useful for sending commands to devices, as there’s no formatting to confuse the reader, and you won’t accidentally display coding tags on a plain text display.
If you end an email in plain text, all the reader can do is read it, and the way it displays will be determined by the recipient’s device.
Rich text is a step up from plain text in that you can include some formatting such as italics, bold and underline, as well as bullet lists, different fonts, coloured text and some alignment.
You can also embed images into messages, which is useful for company logos in signatures, for example, but it’s hit and miss whether the image will be displayed for the recipient – it’s often rendered as a hyperlink. Essentially, though, rich text emails are like basic Word documents – a block of text, and some fundamental formatting, but nothing too complex.
All modern email packages use HTML, whether they are computer clients like Outlook or Apple Mail, web-browser-based email like Gmail, Hotmail, iCloud Mail, or email apps that your phone uses.
When you download a message, it can therefore display it with all the formatting, images, responsiveness, alignment and interactivity that you would expect of a website. Plain text and rich text will display on these clients, but they’ll look pretty basic.
So if you want your emails to be on-brand, looking professional and having a degree of interactivity, it has to be HTML. You can use all the codes that come with HTML, most notably CSS, so you’ll be sure the layout is perfect whatever device it’s displayed on (provided it’s coded well).
The only drawback is that HTML files are larger, so if you’re mailing to recipients in areas with poor connectivity or to customers who are likely to pay for their mobile data, you should be prudent in the amount of large files you send.
HTML3 is great at making interesting, well designed layouts that don’t involve downloading bitmap images, so there’s no reason why you can’t send attractive but efficient emails using such code.
You don’t even need programming expertise to send HTML emails. If you get your email templates professionally designed, you can use any email system such as Mailchimp, HubSpot or Sendinblue to send out mailshots. All you need to do is fill it with excellent content.