A common question asked when you first set out to write an email newsletter is whether it should be a plain text email or HTML (web page style). This is an important consideration since your choice impacts on how many people read your newsletter and how they respond to it. Let’s look at the obvious pros and cons of each format.
- Interactive – active elements can be inserted into emails limited only by what email clients can handle. May include movies, games, surveys or any active content.
- Metrics – Code can be placed into emails to provide detailed statistics on whether your email newsletters are read, for how long and which links are clicked and followed.
- Formatting can be controlled to the finest details including fonts, spacing, and design.
- Creating HTML emails take a lot of time and technical proficiency.
- Not everyone has an HTML capable email client in which case you will be excluding some people.
- Your basic message may be lost by the excessive content and “eye candy”.
- The range of options available in HTML are extensive and can lead to what I call “TMOS” – Too Many Options Syndrome, which is the antithesis of the concept “KISS” – Keep It Simple Stupid. TMOS can stop you from functioning efficiently because you are bogged down with how many things you could do, you end up doing nothing.
Plain Text Emails
- Easier to create – just type words.
- Less chance of formatting problems making the email display incorrectly.
- Less chance of a SPAM filter blocking the mail.
- Message will be easily digested by the reader provided you write it well.
- No distractions from graphics or over stimulation from too much content competing for attention.
- You sell with words, the most powerful sales tool available on the web if used correctly.
- Harder to capture statistics.
- Hyperlinks may not be active (most text based email clients convert HTTP links to clickable but some still don’t).
- Limited to text to convey your message.
- No multimedia can be included.
Why Do You Have a Newsletter?
Let’s cut to the chase here. Why do you have a newsletter? If you are running an Internet business your newsletter functions as a customer retention tool, sending out periodic reminders to pull your prospects/customers back to your site. Newsletters themselves also function as a direct sales tool. It doesn’t matter if you are selling affiliate products, your own products, a service or information, your newsletter is meant to do one thing – illicit a response from its audience.
In order for your newsletter readers to feel compelled enough to take action your newsletter must clearly state it’s message AND create enough of a pull, usually via emotional tugging, to get the reader to do something. The same rules that apply to websites and copywriting apply to newsletters except you have even less time to convince your reader to do something.
Newsletters fall into the domain of email, the most popular web activity. Email is mainstream, it has penetration and people of all ages and backgrounds know how to use it. Consequently the learning curve is a little higher and your readership knows how to at least complete the basic functions with email. This means that they are quite capable of giving each email about 1 seconds worth of attention before clicking that delete button. That’s not a lot of time to convince them that your email is worth reading.
Should I use Plain Text or HTML Newsletters?
In my opinion, plain text should be your choice for email newsletter format. Why? Because of the numbers. Email newsletters are a form of direct response marketing and in direct response marketing the numbers matter.
From the point of view of a small business owner with limited time and resources you want to maximise the results you get from your newsletters. You want a lot of responses to whatever your newsletter is trying to do. You should be able to easily test different copy and see which works best so you can maximise the numbers. It’s all about the numbers…
Your newsletter must hit the reader quickly and compel them to read on. Any delays or presentation errors are going kill your chance of capturing the attention of the reader. While plain text emails are not immune to display errors (more on this later) they are a lot more likely to be digested by the reader even if things don’t format exactly how you want them to.
A plain text email is more likely to reach a larger amount of people than a HTML email simply because plain text is more compliant to standards. Plain text emails are less likely to be blocked by SPAM filters. Plain text emails will display immediately, there are no download times waiting for graphics to finish loading. Plain text emails are more likely to display properly regardless of what email client your subscribers use. All this adds up to plain text emails being read more often…better numbers…see a pattern here?
Bells and whistles are nice. Interactive toys and flashy lights and sounds are great. But ultimately it’s words that sell. If you write compelling newsletter copy aimed at your target audience that have been carefully selected by the methods used to acquire newsletter sign-ups, you have the perfect vehicle to illicit a response using words that sell. Why dilute your message by wrapping it within colours and images or overstimulating your readers by providing too much information when a few paragraphs can create your desired results more effectively.
Why Not Use Both Plain Text and HTML?
Good idea! If you have the resources and skills to produce a quality HTML and plain text newsletter then by all means offer both to your audience and let them nominate which they prefer, or better still have the email automatically display the appropriate format by detecting what type of email client they have. If you offer both be sure to test to make sure it’s worthwhile. Are more people responding to plain text emails? Well in that case send everyone plain text.
In my case I’m a small business owner and I’m going to be writing the newsletters myself. I do not have time nor the skills to create a new HTML webpage for every newsletter I produce. I could perhaps have a nice standard template designed which I use for newsletters but as I wrote above, I believe that is a waste of time. Words sell, so I’ll focus on creating emotionally compelling words for my newsletters rather than waste time trying to get a box to align right correctly.
Tips for Better Plain Text Newsletters
TELL A FRIEND
Remember how I talked about the numbers? Your efforts should be focused on ensuring the maximum number of people are exposed to your email so your emotionally compelling and convincing newsletter can work it’s magic. This doesn’t have to be limited to just your newsletter subscribers — your subscribers can be turned into evangelists for your newsletter. Make it easy for your subscribers to forward your newsletter on to friends and associates – suggest it to them at the end of the newsletter. Of course for this work you better be creating a damn interesting newsletter.
Plain text can format incorrectly and one of the most common problems is line breaks. Either lines breaking too early causing your sentences to look
clumsy, or no line breaks at all, causing one of those nasty horizontal scrollbars to appear and your reader to read off the page to finish a sentence. The screen resolution of your subscribers computers can also impact how your text wraps causing these problems.
You can’t control the monitor resolution of your readers or what email client they use, all you can do is try and account for as many variables as possible. To compensate for this problem you have to set a characters-per-line limitation. I’ve researched into newsletter formatting and different people give different suggestions, from 68 characters per line to 63. I’ve decided to recommend to you the round number of 60 characters per line. This will give you nice compact paragraphs made up of nice compact sentences that are likely to avoid most word wrapping (or lack thereof) problems your readers might experience. On extremely high resolutions there will be a lot of white space and your email might look like one big long tower of text but that’s still a lot better than broken sentences or horizontal scrollbars and won’t be too common a problem.
How To Set Characters Per Line Limitations
You didn’t think I would tell you what to do without giving you practical advice on how to do it would I?! Of course not.
I have a script on my site that you can use to that will handle email newsletter formatting to any character width you specify. Better still it can even undo the current character spacing on any text you have, so it’s definitely a tool worth book-marking.
Newsletters Are An Important Tool For Your Online Business
Many of the most successful Internet entrepreneurs are wealthy because they have massive (10,000+) lists of highly targeted subscribers that they have been building for years. One well written affiliate product email to a good list can create thousands of dollars of sales and you don’t even supply the product.
Better still once you have a solid list you can contact similar focused online marketers and carefully select the right cross promotional activities that can double your exposure with one email to their list. Of course you have to have your own list to make available for cross promotions before you can expect to work with other people – the smart/persistent/rich help each other to get richer.
Even if you are using your newsletter as a step in the conversion process to generate sales of your own products or services it’s a wise to stay up to date on good newsletter management techniques. By focusing on the numbers you can maximise direct responses that will lead to more sales as visitors become prospects and prospects become clients.