Most of us in email marketing will agree that HTML based emails give better results than those of plain text. After all, hasn't research shown this time and again? Ask your subscribers which they prefer and the overwhelming response will be that they want HTML.
Further, HTML allows you to fine-hone your design, putting subtle pressure on a reader to move their eyes towards the click through button. Pictures paint thousands of words and who would not prefer to look at images rather than print? Plain text suffers in comparison.
There is little point, you would think, to commit to pointless research when the answer is already clear. But there are some who are willing to waste time, effort and money to test received wisdom, and more fool them.
Or perhaps not. In a simple A-B test, even a basic gif had a negative effect on success rates. In every test there was a statistically significant reduction in each metric compared to HTML. It was not what the researchers expected. Nor did I come to that.
There was also a direct correlation between the number of HTML elements and the success rate of marketing emails. Whilst in general the differences were not massive, it is still something that must be considered. Does all this mean that HTML is in some way dead and to be avoided?
The old argument against HTML, that of poor deliverability rates, was negated by proper and tight coding – hence the use of email marketing templates, which will have been designed and tested to ensure emails are not marked as spam – and including a text option. With design flexibility and the increasing sophistication of display in sales techniques, your first conclusion might be that there must be something wrong with the returns. In a way, you could be right.
Research is often general, in the sense that it takes an overview of all products. An HTML email that is selling a beautiful location might well do better than its plain text counterpart. One selling a subscription service for information might have the opposite returns. There is only one way of finding out what is best for your company or specific products: testing.
When testing you need to be concerned regarding the disparity between high and low levels of HTML content. You will have to test with plain text versus your normal degree of HTML, and again with an HTML 'lite' version. You will also have to work out what you consider a success.
In such cases as this, where there is an overall difference in the emails, the one metric that really matters is completions. Open rates and click throughs, whilst incredibly useful in testing specific elements of marketing emails, only enable completions.
HTML provides means to exercise control over the reader, subtly encouraging them to click through. Whilst open rates are of vital importance, if a customer then fails to complete, the result is a failure whether they read the email or not.
Whilst there is no overarching universally correct answer, such research suggests that testing rich text marketing emails might improve your completions. Discover what is best for you.