HTML Based Emails Against Text Based Emails

When your email campaign fails, it could be the type of email you send out that is the issue. In this blog we run a test to see if visually appealing HTML based emails or plain and direct text based emails are more effective in an email marketing campaign. The results may leave you shocked.

You work all day on a brilliant pitch to encourage your subscribers to participate in your latest offer. You’ve done all your research. You spent hours on all the right images and colors. You redrafted the copy three times to find just the right tone and feel. You even opened up with a personal testimony that was sure to engage the audience. You send it out to all your subscribers and- nothing! Nada. Zilch. The campaign, despite all your efforts, falls flat.

This is a scene that replays itself repeatedly in the marketing world. It is disheartening. It can make even the best marketers question their ability. Some people even give up in the face of so much work for such disappointing gains.

Here is the interesting thing- the copy may indeed be an excellent piece of content. It might be ready to land some incredible conversions that you work so hard for. However, it could be the type of email that is making or breaking your campaign.

We ran a test to see if visually appealing HTML based emails actually lead to more conversions.

Testing HTML Based Emails Against Text Based Emails

The test was simple. We took four separate email drops and looked at their performance. We looked at the number of times they were opened. Their general click to open rates. Their click through rates. And how often they interacted with the offer.

The assumption would be that the drops with better visual branding would produce better results. However, when we ran the test we found:

  • The open rate of both text and HTML based emails were virtually the same.
  • Text based emails had a 17% higher click to open rate, and a 21% higher click to open rate specifically on the offer.
  • Text based emails had a 17% higher click to open rate on the offer link.

It turned out that while the HTML based emails were better branded and visually appealing- they had far lower conversion rates than the plain text emails.

Why Were Text Based Emails More Effective Than HTML Based Emails?

In one word: Distractions.

Think of an email like a landing page. A marketing email and a landing page have one shared key function. They are both designed to create conversions. They are meant to compel a reader to do a specific task. When you add in extra things to draw a reader’s eye, you draw them to the visual and not the Call To Action.

Headers create a barrier that the reader has to go over before they even start reading. Social media buttons and extra links tempt the reader to check out them instead of your offer. Banners and fixed-width images draw the eye to them rather than the offer link. Any ads or affiliate links also draw attention to other things besides your offer.

In short, you are literally adding in things to prevent a subscriber from focusing on what you want them to do.

How Do We Use These Findings to Improve Our Email Copy?

Think of the elements of an effective landing page. The content and Call-To-Action are crystal clear. The visual cues are limited to things like arrows, bullet points, and contrasting colors. A form or a button leading to the next step is clearly defined. Everything is designed solely to pull the reader into a specific directive. These same elements can be used to improve the conversion rates of your email copy.

The simple rule of thumb is “Reduce Distractions, Increase Conversions.” Focus the subscriber on your content, your CTA and a single link that leads them to the next step. Not on visually appealing things that draw that attention away.

The test was a real eye opener for us. We had always assumed that these visual elements were essential to good marketing. However, they ended up doing the exact opposite. When it comes to email campaigns, simple and focused text-based emails were clearly more effective than HTML based emails.

How about you? Have you tried a similar test with your own text and HTML based email copy? What were your results? We’d love to hear your insights and findings in the comments below.