5 plain text email best practices for digital marketers

With all of the tools, content, and knowledge available for marketers today, the design and layout of email marketing campaigns have become largely focused around beautiful images, bold fonts, and even animated gifs. Marketers have a full toolbox at their disposal when it comes to developing eye-catching email marketing campaigns.

If stunning email design has become the norm, then why would anyone care about plain text emails? Isn’t that like going to the fanciest restaurant in town and ordering a piece of plain toast?

But thankfully, there's still a lot of value in plain text emails and, as such, marketers should take note when building their email marketing campaigns.

A significant number of people use email services that require them to receive emails in plain text. What this means is that, no matter how beautiful your HTML layout is, all they will ever see is a plain text version of the email you have sent. 

This is often a policy associated with certain corporate email addresses although that’s not to say that many people don’t willingly opt for plain text-only emails. 

For some, the simplicity of plain text emails is preferable.

Don’t ignore your fans!

In any case, ignoring plain text email recipients is essentially alienating a large group of your subscribers.

Without proper plain text email design, all your subscribers will see is a mess of HTML code. Needless to say, that doesn’t look very professional and it definitely won’t help you convert your email campaign into tangible sales.

In this article, we will discuss plain text email best practices for marketers that want to ensure their campaign is successful, regardless of the settings used by their subscribers. 

You will learn tips to take your next email marketing campaign to the next level without expending a lot of additional time and energy.

5 plain text email best practices

You’ve created a stunning, eye-catching HTML email campaign. Before you send it out to your subscribers, take a moment to ensure that every single subscriber can take advantage of the offer you are sending. This means that you need to optimize a plain text email for those who will not see your beautiful email layout in all of its HTML glory.

Luckily, optimizing a plain text email can be done relatively quickly and easily. With these plain text email best practices in mind, you will catch the attention of everyone, no matter how they choose to view emails.

1. Personalization is king in plain text emails.

Most digital marketers are aware of how important personalization is to the success of their campaign. In fact, 74% of marketers say personalization increases customer engagement. Personalization becomes even more important when drafting a plain text email.

Why is personalization so important in plain text emails? When you remove flashy images, eye-catching fonts, and other elements like videos, all you are left with is the words on the screen. Those words need to be exciting and capture the attention of the reader. When people see their name and their interests put into words, they will find it much more interesting than a generic email that may or may not have relevance to them.

This highlights the importance of using personalization tools like segmenting your subscribers in order to deliver more relevant marketing campaigns to people which, in turn, should help to increase responses from subscribers.

2. Format content for easy skimming.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As a result, turning your beautiful HTML layout into plain text is not always easy and it may not be short. However, we know that people prefer short emails and tend to respond more positively to emails that are five sentences or less. If you can’t keep the content short, at least break it up so that people can quickly skim to find what interests them most.

Of course, since you can’t use HTML, that means you can’t use bold headlines, italics, or other ways that help break up content and allow for fast skimming. To do this in a plain text email, you may need to get a little creative with your keyboard.

Some marketers use all caps in their headers to clearly denote where a new section or offer begins in the email. Others may incorporate asterisks to draw attention to the headlines that separate content in their plain text emails. This is where an eye for design can come in handy. 

You want to draw attention to your headlines using capital letters and special characters. But you also want to avoid making your email look like something that your politically opinionated grandmother sends to the entire family after watching too much cable news.

3. Create a compelling call-to-action.

A call-to-action is an important piece of any type of marketing. It wraps up your campaign content and provides direction to your subscribers. In many cases, a call-to-action is simply an attractive link to a product landing page. With HTML, a call-to-action could be an image, a gif, or even a button.

However, when sending a plain text email, images and other elements that link to your website will not translate correctly. This means you need to develop a new call-to-action for your plain text email subscribers.

Since there will be no images or buttons to help create your call-to-action, you need to write an effective call-to-action and provide a text link that subscribers can follow. This can be a simple way to improve a plain text email but it is an element that many marketers forget. They include content and offers but do not wrap everything up with a clear call-to-action.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to keep your call to action copy short, sweet, and to-the-point. One of the main rules of thumb for writing call to action copy is that shorter is better. Hook them in, tease the offer, and then earn their click. Don’t make subscribers wade through a wall of text just to get to the point where they can actually click and start spending money.

4. Make the most of minimalism.

One common problem that some marketers run into with plain text emails is that they try to cram in a lot of information and links to make up for the content that may be lost when compared with HTML emails. However, opting for minimalism may be the best design choice you can make when drafting a plain text email campaign. In fact, minimalism is one of the major trends in advertising right now.

Instead of writing full paragraphs of information, try using hyphens to create short, easy-to-read bulleted lists. Use multiple line breaks between sections to create white space and clearly break up your content so it doesn’t become messy and cluttered. 

Most importantly, only include necessary links that are easy to find and click on for the reader. You want to avoid adding in links to every product mentioned or else your plain text email may look like the references section of a Wikipedia article.

Remember, when it comes to plain text emails, less is more. Simplicity makes for an easy and enjoyable reading experience which is essential for plain text emails. With too much information, your call-to-action or important points may be lost in the sea of text and links.

5. Respect the choices of your subscribers.

You worked hard to design a beautiful HTML campaign and you’re really proud of it. It may be tempting to simply drop a link to view the HTML version of the email on the web and call it a day. However, this may alienate some of your subscribers who, for whatever reason, may not be able to open your HTML layout when they see the email you have sent.

Take some time to respect the choice of your subscribers who have opted to receive plain text emails and create a campaign specifically made for their inboxes. They will appreciate that you didn’t simply throw in a link to the web version of your email. 

Most importantly, you may be able to increase your conversion rate for plain text email subscribers by taking the time to comply with their email preferences.

Wrap up

Creating a plain text email campaign does not have to be a stressful or time-consuming task. With these plain text email best practices in mind, you will be able to deliver better marketing content to your subscribers no matter how they view their emails.

With Emma, you can create stunning HTML email campaigns that will capture the attention of your subscribers. However, we don’t forget about those who opt for plain text emails either. Using Emma, you can also send an effective plain text email and ensure that you reach all of your subscribers with your message.

Ready to create better email marketing campaigns? Try Emma for free and take your email marketing to the next level!

About the Author

Lane Harbin

Lane Harbin is a senior content marketing manager at Emma. When she’s not geeking out over email marketing, she enjoys binge-listening to podcasts, catching up on the latest tech news, and constantly rearranging her living room.

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