HTML vs. Text Email Newsletters

I have recently been involved in a project at my current job (Student Assistant for the T-STEM Center at TTU – the job rocks) in coding up an email newsletter. I have been doing research on the side reading blog posts and such regarding the HTML vs. text email battle. For those who don’t know, the issue is whether email should be strictly text or include HTML elements. The text emails are your basic plain vanilla text email you receive from your friends and colleagues detailing an issue or how their day is going. The HTML newsletter is the one from shops and stores with images, background colors, all kinds of stuff going on in it. In short the HTML is a marketing tool and the text is a correspondence.

 

That is my response to this issue, the HTML newsletter is designed as a marketing tool. Majority of people realize images will capture your attention, heck even Scoble knows that. Also the HTML allows you to place your customized logo in there, to present in essence a web page to a person. This allows a company to take their magazine ad convert it to HTML and send it out, creating a unified experience in advertising as well as being able to incorporate images and colors into a company’s unified brand. HTML allows for marketing to be more effective and allows for a richer experience for the reader of these emails.

At the same time, correspondences are normally basic text and for a good reason. Text is fast, simple and easy to both read and write. Basic correspondences should not take half the day to create, that would be ridiculous. No one would use email as a means of communication if it took that long to tell Aunt Petunia that Cousin Earl is getting married in a month. Heck the message might take a month to write depending on how fancy you wanted to get.

It is for this reason that I feel that HTML newsletters are not an evil or even bad thing. If the purpose of your newsletter/message is marketing something then go ahead and use HTML. However if you are simply communicating to either your friends, business associates or even sending out a basic informational newsletter then you should stick with basic text.

All of this does of course come with several limitations; you should present users with the option to select HTML or text newsletters if using HTML, always have an opt-in policy and a quick and easy unsubscribe process, never spam or even come close to spam, most importantly make sure the newsletter works and is viewable in all email clients and provide a link at the top to view it online somewhere on your site.

Examples For Each:

HTML:

  1. New items up for purchase

  2. Similar items available for purchase to one a person just purchased

  3. Monthly newsletter for a store/purchasing center

  4. It will honestly enhance user experience and you test that it goes over well with your clients/customers

  5. The newsletter is sent out less than once a week, preferably once a month, unless prompted via a user action

TEXT:

  1. General correspondences

  2. You are not selling anything

  3. The newsletter is not selling anything only presenting information

  4. The newsletter is sent out more than once a week

  5. The newsletter informs the user of an commonly occurring action on your web page (A message is received addressed to myself via Facebook’s internal messaging system.)

  6. The majority of your users will only respond to text based emails or use email clients that do not support HTML emails (A common enough occurrence in the open source world.)

I think this is a pretty fair standard and seems to be the way the majority of most companies are going in terms of emails. The largest problems is when people embed an image as part of the signature on their emails or companies sending out HTML email for everything and anything.

jtyost2

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.


Posted in Technology
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