communications strategy

Making Plain-Text Emails Less Plain

Thinkshift | September 19, 2013

Since the early 2000s, heated (yes, heated!) debates about plain-text versus html emails have died down, but despite what many think, plain-text emails themselves are not dead. (You doubt? See my first post on this topic, “Do Plain-Text Emails Still Matter?”)

For whatever reason—preference, security, a day when the email client is down or slow—people are still receiving and engaging with plain-text emails. Shouldn’t they be enlightened, entertained and persuaded?

A few ways to spruce up your text emails

Text emails are just that—plain old text. They’re even more limited than personal email. You can’t italicize, bold, change fonts or change font size—in general, you can’t add much of a personal touch.  You’re limited to using caps, adding spacing between lines and paragraphs, and using asterisks, dashes or numbering to break up chunks of text.

So put all of that to use. Use caps for your title, and place long links after a paragraph rather than in the middle. Use dashes or asterisks as bullets for lists.  Whatever your strategy, put a few minutes into making your plain-text emails look more appealing, or at least more readable.

OK, fine, but can we track  them?

There are a few ways to analyze people’s engagement with plain-text emails. After sending an email (give it some time, a week or two), pull a report that lists the people who opened your email.  (Remember, opened-email reports only show engagement with html emails.) Next, pull a second report that shows the people who clicked on a link.  The names or email address that do not show up on the “open” list but do show up under the “click” list are most likely people who opened and engaged with the plain-text email.  The downside to this analysis: if a person opens a text email and doesn’t click a link, there’s no way you’ll ever know.

We’ve run this analysis on some of our clients’ emails and found that between 5 and 25 percent of clicks were not tracked as opens. These people are likely to have engaged with plain-text emails. Other marketers who’ve done this same analysis report their plain-text email readership to be 40 to 50 percent in addition to what’s reported on the open email reports.

As long as we don’t know as much as we’d like to about the behind-the-curtain technologies that sort and sometimes zap our beautiful html emails, it pays to err on the side of caution and give our email campaigns the chance of reaching all of our readers.

This blog is the second in a two part article. Read the first part here.


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