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Vol. 1 issue #78  Sep 2, 2003

 

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The Great Debate: Text vs. HTML Email Messages
2003 By  Angela Wu


Some newsletter publishers swear that HTML messages are the only way to go. Others swear by the virtues of simple text.
Although newsletters were "traditionally" published as text only, HTML newsletters are on the rise -- and it helps, too, that most email software these days is capable of displaying HTML messages.

Here's a quick summary of some of the main pros and cons of each format:


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Plain Text Messages:

 

  • Relatively quick and easy to format when compared to HTML messages.
  • Fast loading. Not everyone has a high-speed internet connection!
  • Compatible with all email software. In other words, everyone can read it regardless of what email program they're using.
  • Potentially lower response rates: with plain text, there are no graphics, no bold or italics, and links may not be easily clickable. It's harder to draw the reader's attention to certain tips, links, or articles. Plus long URLs may "break" across two lines, making it more difficult for readers to visit the link.
  • You're limited in what you can do: for example, you can't send audio messages or run surveys. Your readers would have to click a link to go to a website if you offer this type of material in your newsletter.



HTML Email:

 

  • Formatting your newsletter can be time-consuming. However, you can minimize the time involved by creating and reusing an HTML template.
  • Visually appealing. You can basically send an entire web page to the recipient! You'll be able to better draw your readers' attention to specific items in your newsletter. On the other hand, there are plenty of HTML messages that look terrible -- difficult to read, clashing colors, etc.

 


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  • Potentially better click-through rates. HTML messages offer the interest and convenience of a web page: easily-clickable links, graphics, color, sound, and more. On the downside, readers may not appreciate messages that spawn popups, load pages without their permission, or are slow to load due to complex scripts, large graphics, or many of the other things that can be placed in an HTML message.
  • From the point of view of the reader, HTML messages can be a security risk: they can include viruses or contain malicious code.
  • You can include tracking scripts. For instance, these scripts can show you how many people actually read the newsletter as well as which articles are the most popular. This is a good way to tailor your content to better fit the interests of your readers. The reader, on the other hand, may have privacy concerns over the use of such scripts.
  • Not everyone has email software that can read HTML, while others choose not to allow HTML messages. In addition, not every email software renders HTML the same way -- so the recipient may see something entirely different from what you intended.
  • If you're unsure of which format to use, try it both ways or run a survey asking for your readers' preferences. You can also:
  • Offer readers the choice of receiving either plain text or HTML messages when they subscribe.
  • Send a plain text 'teaser' email message to notify subscribers that the newest issue is posted online. Or send the entire newsletter in text but include a link for those who prefer to view the newsletter on the web.


 
Everyone has an opinion on which format is "best"... but the bottom line is, the only way for you to know what's best for -your- audience is to test it.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Angela is the editor of Online Business Basics, a practical guide to marketing a business on a beginner's budget. This guide offers loads of instantly useable tips and links, in a down-to-earth style that even marketing "newbies" can understand! A helpful Online Business Dictionary is included too... visit: http://onlinebusinessbasics.com/article.html

 
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