April 1, 2010

When Is Text-Only the Best Email Format?


Hostway Team

By Joanna Fletcher

HTML email lets you give your customers a rich experience whenever they open a message from you. You can use HTML, the language of the Internet, to include your logo, graphics and professional layouts in your message, making every email look more like a custom-designed brochure or newsletter.

Killer Stats

Many programs can tell whether or not an email was opened, for how long, and whether it was saved, deleted, or even forwarded to a secondary address, by using a tracking pixel in an HTML email. This is a single pixel — one tiny dot on your screen — that has tracking code wrapped around it. It is “invisible” as part of an HTML email but can provide you with extremely valuable information about how well your email blasts are working and help you craft your subject lines in the most appealing way.

Text-Only's Appeal

Those people who are sensitive to privacy and security concerns may read email that has been sent only in plain text, because it removes the possibility of tracking or bugs that can report back to the sender on what happened to the email. This is one of the reasons why most of the spam received today is in HTML format. Tracking pixels can include all kinds of bugging software that gives the unscrupulous access to your private information. HTML email files are large, which may cause problems for those with limited email storage space, those with slow Internet connections or those using older software.

Tracking Text-Only

When you send a text-only email, you lose the possibility of a tracking pixel. This means that while your words may reach your customer list, you have no way to find out their impact. Some email programs can request a “read receipt” from customers; however, those people sensitive to being tracked are likely to turn off a default receipt option or refuse it if asked directly. These are the kinds of customers who will join your email list only if they can choose to have it delivered text-only.

The best way to tell whether your text-only message is effective is to include a unique Web page address (URL) in the plain text email. That way, you can see how many people who received and read your email did actually click through to your Web site, arguably the most important information to know anyway.

When to Use Text-Only

Give your customers the option of text-only and see how many take you up on it. Text-only is also appropriate for email that is a last-minute, rush, hot deal or special offer for select list members. Using text-only can imply that there is no time to craft an HTML page, spurring a customer to buy. Use unique landing URLs to track text-only conversions and ensure that your message is equally gripping in both formats.

About the Author

Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked, and played in virtual space for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial flair is topped only by her tolerance for failure.

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