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HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

Wondering Which is Best? Here’s How to Use Both

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Should you be sending your emails as HTML or plain text? 

While HTML puts powerful visual and storytelling features at your fingertips, we’ve got some data that might surprise you about the effectiveness of plain text emails. 

But instead of seeing it as an either-or decision, let's explore the power of using both.

When you balance the visual appeal of HTML with the personal touch of plain text, you can create a series of compelling email campaigns that strike the perfect balance between aesthetics and genuine connection with your customers.

Setting the Stage: HTML Vs Plain Text Emails

Both options have their advantages and considerations, so let's look at a broad overview of the differences between them.

HTML emails allow for more visually appealing and dynamic designs. With HTML, you can include images, colors, fonts, and even interactive elements in your emails. This can help grab the attention of your recipients and make your messages more engaging. Additionally, HTML emails offer more flexibility in terms of layout and formatting options.

Plain text emails are simpler and have a more straightforward appearance. They resemble regular text-based messages that we send every day. Plain text emails are typically lighter in file size compared to HTML emails, making them load faster for recipients with slower internet connections or older email clients. Moreover, plain text emails tend to have better deliverability rates as they are less likely to be flagged as spam.

The decision between using HTML or plain text emails depends on various factors such as your brand image, audience preferences, content type, and desired level of engagement. It's essential to weigh these considerations before deciding which format best suits your email marketing strategy.

Understanding HTML Emails

When we talk about HTML emails, we’re referring to emails that are formatted using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). HTML is the standard language used to create web pages, and it allows for the inclusion of various elements like text formatting, images, links, and more. 

Designing an HTML email is very similar to designing a web page, and it displays similarly in the recipient’s inbox.

Advantages of HTML Emails

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

HTML offers a more visually appealing and interactive experience compared to plain text. With HTML, you can design and customize your email templates with different fonts, colors, and layouts, and even include multimedia elements such as images or videos.

HTML emails also allow for better tracking and analytics. You can embed tracking codes or use specialized email marketing software to monitor open rates, click-through rates, and other engagement metrics.

Disadvantages of HTML Emails

It's important to note that while HTML emails offer many advantages in terms of design and functionality, they may also have some limitations. 

For example, not all email clients or devices support advanced HTML features equally. Therefore, it's crucial to test your HTML emails across different platforms to ensure optimal rendering and compatibility.

HTML emails may also trigger spam filters or get delivered to a promo inbox since they are typically sent by brands and not individuals.

Understanding Plain Text Emails

When we talk about plain text emails, we refer to emails that are devoid of any formatting, images, or HTML elements. They are straightforward in their presentation, focusing solely on the written content. Think about the emails that you send to a friend — they are probably plain text.

Unlike HTML emails that allow for design elements and multimedia content, plain text emails rely solely on words to convey the message.

Plain text emails have been around since the early days of email communication and continue to be widely used today. They are favored for their simplicity and compatibility across different email clients and devices.

Advantages of Plain Text Emails

While plain text emails may lack visual appeal, they often have higher deliverability rates compared to HTML emails. They also tend to load faster and are less likely to be flagged as spam by email filters.

In addition, plain text emails resemble the personal emails we get from friends and family. This simple, direct format can be perceived as less “corporate” and more intimate, and it’s hard to quantify the psychological impact of that.

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

That’s why plain text is a great choice for sending highly personalized content to a specific list segment.

Disadvantages of Plain Text Emails

The stripped-down format of plain text doesn’t allow for colors, product images, or other visual elements to enhance the email's appearance and message. This makes plain text emails less visually appealing and possibly less compelling compared to their HTML counterparts.

Additionally, without images or formatting options, it may be challenging to convey complex or detailed information effectively.

Plain text emails also lack interactive features such as clickable buttons or menus that can enhance user experience and engagement.

Finally, since plain text emails cannot be tracked with pixels or other tracking methods commonly used in HTML emails, it may be more difficult for senders to gather data on open rates and engagement levels.

Why Trust Us? Lauren Haas is a marketing professional who uses email daily to reach out on behalf of small businesses and nonprofits at her agency, Main Street Marketing Mix

Performance Comparison

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

Let's delve into the key metrics that can help us compare the effectiveness of each format: open rates, deliverability, and click-through rates.

Open Rates

Open rates indicate how many recipients actually open your emails. While HTML emails can be visually appealing with images, colors, and formatting options, plain text emails often have higher open rates as they appear more personal and less promotional.

Hubspot did some side-by-side tests on this, and even they were surprised by the results. Here are some quick stats from those experiments:

  • 37% lower open rate when a simple HTML template with a .gif image is used instead of a plain-text template

  • 25% lower open rate when using an HTML template with images instead of a plain-text template

  • 23% lower open rate when a more image-heavy HTML template is used over a lighter HTML template

In every case, the open rate was highest when sending a simpler email, and plain text emails performed the best.*

*It’s possible those differences can be attributed to a higher rate of deliverability for the plain-text messages, rather than to the format itself. 


Deliverability measures the percentage of your emails that reach the intended recipients' inboxes.

HTML emails face more challenges with deliverability due to spam filters or compatibility issues across different email clients.

Even if an HTML email doesn’t trigger a spam filter or compatibility issue, it’s much more likely to wind up in Gmail’s promotion tab. When that happens, the email has technically been delivered but it stands a lower chance of being opened.

On the other hand, plain text emails tend to have higher chances of landing in the primary inbox as they are less likely to trigger spam filters.

Click-through rates

Click-through rates measure how successful your email is at driving engagement and conversions.

HTML emails offer clickable buttons or hyperlinks that are visually appealing and encourage users to take action. However, plain text emails can create a sense of authenticity and trustworthiness that leads to higher click-through rates among certain audiences.

Which is better? In the Hubspot study cited above, clickthrough rates were consistently lower for HTML emails.

  • 2.3% lower clickthrough rate for the message with a GIF image vs. plain text (total of 42% more clicks for plain text, when you combine the open rate and the clickthrough rate).

  • 21% lower clickthrough rate for the HTML template vs. the plain text (51% fewer clicks overall)

  • 5.3% higher clickthrough rate for the simple HTML template over the HTML-heavy template (30% more clicks overall.

Intuitively, most people would expect the email with images and buttons to get more results. But in reality, the higher deliverability and open rates —  combined with the personal feel of a plain-text email — led to a much higher response.

Design and Branding Implications

When it comes to design and branding, the choice between using HTML or plain text emails can have significant implications.

Brand Expression Through HTML

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

HTML emails allow for more visually appealing and interactive designs, with the ability to incorporate images, colors, fonts, and even animations. This can help create a strong brand expression that aligns with your company's visual identity.

If your brand’s image is highly visual, you’ll want to send HTML messages primarily.

The Minimalism of Plain Text

On the other hand, plain text emails offer a more simplistic and personal approach. They have a straightforward format that focuses solely on the content of the message without any distractions.

This can be particularly effective for conveying a sense of authenticity and building trust with your audience. For example, if your brand identity is closely tied to your founder’s personal brand, you might choose plain text to make the recipient feel like they’re receiving a private note directly from the founder.

Accessibility and User Experience

The decision between using HTML or plain text emails can have a big impact on accessibility and user experience.

Accessibility in HTML Emails

HTML emails allow for more visually appealing designs, with the ability to include images, colors, and formatting. However, this can pose challenges for individuals with visual impairments or those who rely on screen readers.

HTML emails may not be properly interpreted by assistive technologies, making it difficult for users to access the content.

User Experience in Plain Text Emails

On the other hand, plain text emails offer a simpler format that is universally accessible. They are compatible with all email clients and devices, ensuring that everyone can read the content without any issues. Plain text emails also tend to load faster and are less likely to be flagged as spam.

When considering accessibility and user experience, it is important to strike a balance between visual appeal and inclusivity. Providing an option for both HTML and plain text versions of your email can cater to a wider audience and ensure that everyone can engage with your content effectively.

Technical Considerations

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

When it comes to choosing between HTML and plain text emails, there are several technical considerations to keep in mind. Some of the primary issues are compatibility, load times, and data usage.

Email Client Compatibility

While HTML emails allow for more visually appealing designs and formatting options, not all email clients support HTML rendering equally well. It's important to ensure that your chosen email format is compatible with the majority of popular email clients to ensure a consistent experience for your recipients.

Load Times

Another consideration is load times. HTML emails tend to be larger in file size due to the inclusion of images, stylesheets, and other elements. This can result in slower load times, especially for recipients with slower internet connections or limited bandwidth. On the other hand, plain text emails are lightweight and load quickly across all devices and networks.

Data Usage

Data usage is also an important factor to consider, particularly for mobile users who may have limited data plans. HTML emails with rich media content can consume more data compared to plain text emails which typically consist of just text characters.

If you prioritize design aesthetics and have a tech-savvy audience with reliable internet connections, HTML emails may be a suitable choice. However, if you want quick loading times and broad compatibility across various email clients and devices, plain text emails might be a better option.

Analyzing a Marketer's Perspective

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing between HTML and plain text emails as a marketing tool.

Let's dive into the factors that play a role in their decision-making process.

Marketing Goals and Email Formats

The best place to begin is to consider the purpose of your email campaigns. If you want to showcase products or services with visuals or include interactive elements like buttons or forms, HTML emails provide more flexibility.

On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a personalized touch or you want to focus on delivering concise messages without distractions, plain text emails may be more suitable.

Audience Preferences

HTML vs Plain Text Emails: Which is Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

Another consideration is your target audience. Some people prefer minimalistic designs and prioritize content over visuals, while others may appreciate the aesthetic appeal of well-designed HTML templates.

If you’re targeting young, tech-savvy consumers who appreciate modern design and interactivity, HTML emails may be more effective.

However, if your audience consists of older demographics or those with limited internet access or preferences for simplicity, plain-text emails might be the way to go.

Many marketers ask their audience for their preference when signing up, but that’s not a foolproof approach. Most people will choose HTML simply to indicate that they’re able to receive those messages. But plain text messages might be more likely to reach them, and they might find the direct, intimate nature of plain text more appealing.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to choosing between HTML and plain text emails as each marketer's strategy will vary based on their goals and target audience preferences. 

It's important to analyze data from past campaigns and conduct A/B testing to determine what resonates best with their specific audience segments.

Best Practices: Balancing Both Worlds

The ideal strategy is to use both HTML and plain text emails in your communications, and constantly measure their effectiveness for different kinds of messaging. Finding the right balance between HTML and plain text can be a game-changer.

When to Use HTML Emails

HTML emails are great for promotional campaigns, newsletters, or showcasing products.

Some of the best uses for HTML-formatted emails include:

  • Introducing new products

  • Sending newsletters that cover multiple topics

  • Showcasing products or concepts that are highly visual

  • Telling stories that are enhanced by illustration or video

  • Presenting visual data using charts or graphs

  • Emails aimed at establishing/strengthening your brand identity

When to Use Plain Text Emails

Plain text emails also have a personal touch that can resonate with readers who prefer a more authentic and less flashy approach. Sending plain-text emails might help you evade spam and promotional filters and increase your deliverability and open rate.

Try plain text in these situations:

  • Making sure your welcome messages reach your audience

  • Sending quick, timely announcements about sales and events

  • Checking to see if an unresponsive recipient wants to stay on your list

  • Thank-you emails

  • Highly personal content

To strike the right balance, keep testing different formats for different types of messages and measure engagement metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. This data will help you determine which format works best for specific campaigns or target groups.

HTML & Plain Text Emails: Closing Thoughts

Remember that no one-size-fits-all solution exists in email marketing.

By constantly evaluating the effectiveness of both HTML and plain text emails in your communications strategy and finding a balance between the two, you can optimize your messaging mix to achieve better results while catering to diverse preferences among your audience.

beehiiv lets you send beautiful HTML newsletters or simple, direct plain text messages to your audience. The platform, which is built for growth, makes it easy to run A/B tests and monitor your metrics to see what draws the best response from your audience. If you’re not already publishing your email content on the beehiiv platform, give it a try today!

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