What’s better? A Fancy HTML Email or a Simple Text-Based Email? (Survey Results)

by Derek Halpern · 130 comments

Last week we changed the format of the DIYthemes newsletter from a designed HTML email to a simple text email.

And the results were just as I thought…

People prefer text emails.

I’ve known this from testing on Social Triggers, and it appears that the test results prove that simple text wins for DIYthemes too.

Here’s the data:

Do people prefer HTML or TEXT email?

To find the answer to that question, we conducted a survey.

First, I posed this question:

“Do you like this new format for the email newsletter? Instead of simply sending blog posts, we’re sending a more personal email with commentary + information about the blog post.”

Here were the answers:

  • 55.1% of the respondants said “Yes”
  • 19.7% of respondants said “No”
  • 25.2% of respondants said “Kind of…”

And then I posed this question:

“If you selected Yes, No, or Kind of…, can you please elaborate? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Be as specific as possible.

This is where the interesting information came out…

People said they LOVED the text email because it was simple and much easier to read. Here are some quotes:

  • “Clean”
  • “Much easier to read”
  • “The new format tended to make me feel as if I were a tried and trusted confidant— and that was welcomed”
  • “It’s clean and easy to read. Call to actions are also clean and easy to follow.”

(+1 for minimalist web designs that focus on readability instead of fancy graphics :-D)

However, there was also some backlash. Not much, but there was some.

What was the main complaint?

People didn’t like that we didn’t include the whole article in the email.

It seems that people DO want to read in their email client, and when they do, they’re okay with staying there.

They also want the text to be clean, and easy to read, which makes sense.

But here’s the problem with “full text” emails:

In my experience, when you send the full text, you get less comments, less social media shares, and overall, LESS interaction with your subscribers.

I’ve also noticed higher unsubscribe rates, lower click-through rates, and in general, a lack of responsiveness.

That makes sense, too.

When you teach your subscribers to fail to take action every time you talk to them (even if it’s something small like clicking on a link), it can become impossible to get them to do it.

Should You Use HTML or Text?

No matter what business you’re in, you need an email list.

But the question is, should you create a fancy HTML template or a simple text email?

First, I’ve got a secret to tell you:

Even when you see this simple text email, it’s still actually an HTML email.

Yes, there’s a plain text version that some phones receive, but in general, you’re still receiving an HTML email.

As you can see, the only difference is that one email is a fancy design, and the other is more minimalistic.

Now the question is should you go with simple or fancy?

That all depends.

In my experience, simple text emails have been best—as shown here on DIYthemes, Social Triggers, and a few other sites I’ve run.

However, it’s best for you to test (and it’s easy to test emails with services like AWeber).

Also, I’m testing something new…

I’m sending this whole thing to the email subscribers as a “test.”

And instead of requiring people to “click to read,” I’d like you to do something else…

Instead of clicking to read the whole article, I’d love for you to prove me wrong.

Let’s see if it’s possible to maintain high engagement even with sending the full-text email.

How can you do that?

Leave a comment on this article, and then share it on either Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 130 comments }

Akshay Kakkar

I am the first one, but still the design of the email don’t matter to me, until the quality of content is good, where u win!

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

I agree, it’s really all about content however, the delivery method (HTML simple vs HTML complex vs TXT) can certainly be optimized, and I think this is the exercise here AK.

Vito Boscaino

I appreciate the topic and the insights that were delivered. Personally, I will cast my vote for the “simple” format versus “fancy”. As another point against “fancy” HTML formats, many times authors do not do “fancy” very well and the resulting HTML email presents itself as very poor quality. I would not expect that the business owner would be trying to send that message or establish that image, but it happens, way too often. In my mind, simple is better.

Ed Rivis

Hi Derek, I like the concept of having the full article in the email, but like you said, found that doing so dramatically reduced traffic to my site – less impressions (and clicks) of links to my product pages, fewer comments, and so on.

My approach is to format as plain text emails but send using HTML (as per the email you just sent me!) which does at least mean we can use rich text hyperlinks, get an idea of open rates and so on.

I enjoy your articles, and Thesis is awesome.

Thanks,
Ed.

Jacques

Doing that might see your open rates drop dramatically though, as most people don’t have images enabled by default and aren’t likely to enable them unless they notice something missing.

That’s definitely some data I’d like to see.

Josh Sarz

I don’t like reading the whole article in my email, that’s why I always click-through.

What’s funny, is that in my list they’re getting the whole article while still having a chance to click-through to read on my site, or leave a comment.

Quite the opposite of what I would personally like. Hmm. I have got to change that.

Calum Garvey

Most of my emails are read from my smartphone. The new newletter looks fine although a bigger size font might make it even easier to read!

Marc Silverman

Add a simple header logo (not too wide) and the “text” email will look even more complete.

Susan Clark

I read to the end of the email. I have also used the click-thru method to get my readers to finish reading one of my tips, but now I am rethinking that strategy, as I liked reading yours all on my reader and not having to click. Thanks for the content!

Susan Clark, Productvity Guru and ACT! Consultant

Nando

Hi Derek, You got me to click through again. I’ve always thought your “teaser” email to be one of the most engaging of all I’m subscribed to. Maybe it’s the fact that you take the time to put this little bit of extra work, but I think it’s a great technique. Ultimately, it’s your content that I find fascinating. Thanks for sharing it.

Tim Webster

Hi Derek!

I was one of the ones who said to leave the full article out of the email! Now I’m wondering if I would be commenting if I had to click through, wait for the article to load, read it and then comment.

But now I’m thinking… Are there any comment systems that support comments that are emailed in reply?

Nice work!

Will Regla

I like Marc Silverman’s idea of a simple header; best of both worlds. And I prefer a “click-through” format — saves me the time of only reading articles of direct interest (Not that all of yours aren’t fascinating, Derek, lol).

Nina

Don’t like plain vanilla. Despite content being dead on, don’t feel any connection with author or subject. I am conditioned and like the format of your teaser posts with brief introduction and link to full article.

David Bennett

I like plain text emails because they seems less ‘market-y’.

However, our business involves a lot of images, so it’s a ‘nice’ question as to whether our users would appreciate not seeing any images in our newsletters.

But to answer your question more fully, I am reminded of the experiment in the 1920s when worker dissatisfaction was very high at the Hawthorne Works and the experimenters discovered that people were not so much concerned with whether the walls were blue or pink or polka dot. What affected them most was having attention paid to them.*

So any change that says of itself that it is in response to customer demand or to benefit customers according to feedback etc., will always attract a positive response – unless it takes something away that users consider to be valuable.

* The Hawthorne Effect, as it is known, is here on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

David Bennett

I meant ‘they seem’, not ‘they seems’

I should proof my comments before posting… ;-)

Sean Davis

I like the simple text format and I like to click through to the site no matter how much of the content is included in the email.

Just yesterday, I was beating myself up trying to decide on plain text or fancy html. I stuck with plain text. I don’t send my entire article in the email, though. Instead, I “start a conversation” that leads to the subject of my article, then link to it.

My emails are never longer than about 8 lines and it’s working well for me.

Janis Jones

Once I know and like a source, I don’t mind plain text emails: they are easy to read.

But to get my attention, the HTML is needed.

Daniel Duclos

Challenge accepted: I prefer full text emails, I like reading without leaving my email client.

I’ll share it on Google plus.

Nichole_Kelly

Derek – This post makes me very happy! I’m such a believer in using text-based HTML email rather than the hyped up pretty HTML formats that most businesses feel they “have” to use to look professional.

Here’s my take:
When I see an HTML designed email I almost always file it in my brain under spam, read if I ever get to it.

When I see text emails like yours, it comes across as a personal message even though I know they are emails sent to your list. Even though I know that, I open and read it knowing that it will be brief and an easy read that doesn’t require a lot of brain power to consume.

Another thing that I think is key to making this strategy work is that 1) you are a fantastic and engaging writer (not everyone is) 2) you don’t write in long paragraphs. Every sentence is on it’s own line which draws the reader further down the page towards your call to action, rather than allowing them to skip to the link without a scroll and therefore reading more of the content.

Great stuff as always Derek!

Richard Maybury

Hi Derek,
about 2 years ago now I surveyed my subscribers. Most people either read or made initial triage decisions on their emails via their phone – my emails included.
Most prefered simple text.

I then changed my monthly newsletters on ConstantContact to a plain, clean html form.
No branding.
No pictures.
No smart hyperlinks. If I want to point people towards my post on internal communications the link reads:
http://richardmaybury.co.uk/2011/12/3-reasons-why-internal-email-can-be-a-costly-productivity-pirate/

I provide a general commentary + teasers into popular posts on my Thesis themed blog.
I get good open and click through rates.
I decided not to go down the complete plain text route sim-ply because I would miss out on engagement opportunities that are available through tracking open and response clicks.

Always read, enjoy and learn from your posts. Thanks.
Richard

George Kosovic

I was very interested to read the results of Derek’s recent test. Richard Maybury introduces an important dimension which, for my purposes, would make Derek’s results more compelling and more actionable. It’s not hard to imagine that anyone reading email while on the go on a smartphone is going to prefer the clean, simple, easy presentation of a text email. Put the same person in front of his or her 27″ iMac, the beverage of choice at the ready, and I think the test outcome is far less predictable.

What else besides the user’s email reader platform should we know before deciding the course of our future campaigns? How about age? gender? time of day? work day vs. non-work day? B2B vs. B2C?

The part of me that prefers to make life easier wants to take Derek’s recent test results and run with them. The part of me that knows that situational variables do count for something and that human beings’ capacity for self-delusion is largely limitless counsels me to take the best of what Derek says and test, test, test in my own sandbox.

Thanks, Derek. Thanks, Richard.

Kathy Purdy

I like to read the whole email in my email client. If I have to click-through, I will “Save it for later” which means I won’t ever get to it. In the new format, the text is really narrow, which on my big monitor seems strange, but it’s preferable to clicking through to reading it.

Annie Sisk (Pajama Productivity)

Interestingly, I’ve always gravitated to the simpler text-heavy, HTML-light version. And there’s a difference between subscribers to posts, and subscribers to newsletters. I send out a weekly or so newsletter (clean layout, black on white, only one decorative element and that’s the drop cap, reverse-colored box for the first letter). I don’t ask my subscribers to do anything in the vast majority of my newsletters — I curate content, I provide links, and I give them a unique article that’s not on the blog. I do that by choice because I want those times when I *do* have a call to some kind of action to be impactful, and because I believe strongly value-added content marketing like newsletters should generally be free of explicit marketing messages. Others may disagree, of course, and mileage does vary.

DaleK

I read the whole thing. In Thunderbird.

I don’t generally read email on my phone unless it appears to be something that needs a quick response. I find that my comprehension rate goes WAY down on the phone – I tend to skim and miss things. I save my reading for the PC.

More often than not, I instantly delete any long winded HTML I receive on the phone. However, I suspect I would have read this regardless of format as I’ve been pondering this question for months now! So really it was the subject/title that got me.

FWIW I don’t generally share things related to marketing as I don’t want prospects to feel as if I’m trying to figure out how to “sell” them something they don’t need – even though they likely DO need it!

Mandy

I don’t mind how the email comes as long as it talks to me, and is of value.

I’m a photographer so images would most likely crop up in my newsletter, but would have to be of value.

And as you say everyone is different?

Oh and thanks for this newsletter…

Pam Burzynski

I too like the plain text e-mails. Easier to read, and seems more personal even though I know it’s going to hundreds.

Mitchell Webster

Personally I have found that I do not like the simple text it is far to boring, and I often just hit delete and be done with them.
However that being said for my blog, I had asked subscribers if the preferred to receive the entire post in their emails or a summary of the post (which I prefer, as more people tend to go to the blog and look at the current as well as older posts) and the subscribers like the post summary and my blog traffic increased as a result of the summary.
However once again as for plain text summary or full post like the one you sent, I did read the full post however would i do it again probably not. Plain text is just that much too plain, you will lose me on this one.

Allen Underwood

I agree with what Kathy Purdy said above in the regards that on a lot of emails I will wait to read it later and then forget. HOWEVER, I do like the click throughs to the pages because I often find that the user interaction in the comments can be as informative as the post itself. Like this one for instance, we can all gain some very useful insights into how the majority of people want to consume information. Personally I prefer the teaser with the click through, but I didn’t mind reading this whole post in my email either.

Sara

I definitely prefer the plain text e-mails. I don’t feel like I’m getting hit with an advertisement, even when that’s still, in essence, what it is. It seems more like correspondence rather than solicitation.

And I am clicking on the link at the end of the e-mail to leave a comment. I think the trick to making that happen is to keep the readers engaged throughout the entire message. If you can get them to the end, and then give them an action, they’ll take the bait. On the other hand, if the message is too long or superfluous in its wording, people will bail on you before they get to the action item.

Rod

I have tried this with my readers.. I find if they read the whole article in an email, most of the time they don’t visit the web site.

Rick Anderson

The nice thing about the new format is being able to easily read it on my iPhone. The full version gives the chance to read it offline

Yan

It really all depends on the contents. If you have great contents (like the one above), it engaged the readers by asking questions, making observations. It is not boring does not matter what format it is in.

But if the contents are lack of information or plain boring or useless, it does not matter if they are in the fancy or simple format! :-)

Eric G

I’m a big rss reader and email newsletters suffer the same problems… I hate having to click out of my one reading environment into another. I much prefer the plain-text version. Thanks for the experiment.

Charles

I like short so I can decide if I am interested enough in the content to read the full article. My business is healthcare related so I don’t ever share things that appear sales related because no one likes to realize that they have to be “sold” good health (left to themselves people rarely make good health decisions) With that said I believe the short summary with click through requirement is best for you helping/selling to me and for me helping/selling to my patient base. Good job researching! Thanks.

Pat

Simple is best… If the graphics don’t add to clarity, then skip ‘em.

And I’m a designer so I appreciate the work that goes into proper formatting and adding graphics.

Bruce Eichelberger

Personally, I like the full text version in my email. One less step if I want to read the whole thing.

At the same time, for my own email newsletter, I find exactly what you are talking about. I send them a nicely formatted, HTML, full text version and the click through rates are much less. That makes comments much less as well.

Since I’m mixing it up for the New Year, I think I will test the “text-only” version as well as the teaser version and see what happens.

Bruce

Lezlie

I am MUCH less likely to read full text. The purpose of this was the only reason I read to the bottom. I much prefer the teaser with “click to read”.

Great information and it’s interesting to read these comments.

Rob Thomson @ River Homes

I agree that simpler is better. But in sending email reports to our clients in real estate, they tend to want to see featured properties. So there is a level of fancy in our riverfront listing emails that we send out. The recipient still needs to click through to find out more information about the property listing. So that is where there is a trade off in fancy emails. Show it, but not all of it. Too much and no one will ever visit your site. Why would they at that point. Thank you, great article. Can’t wait to see how the numbers work out in this experiment.

Emily

Text is better. I like having the whole article emailed but understand why people don’t. But I think people are trained enough to “click here for more” by now that it doesn’t really matter. I live in NYC where people read their email on trains where there’s no internet, so you can’t click through to read more.

Will be interested to see what your results are.

steve

The best way to get high CTR and opens is to have quality content that is pertinent to your reader… and you do. Great job. See…. it works. :)

Melody

Text only is boring. I’ve got a nice big screen and much prefer HTML emails.

Julie Vetter (Hoi Moon Marketing)

Hi Derek, Your email intrigued me so I read all the way through. Your point that each author must know their audience is the most important in my opinion.

Because I have to parse so many email newsletters a day, I like a catchy title and intro that let me know if I should click through. Then I have all the interesting articles in tabs and when I am done checking mail, read them. I prefer reading them in their context as the site gives me more information about the author.

Well-done visuals will seduce me to click-through as fast as a catchy phrase, but well-done is key, as you mentioned. Thanks for this cool experiment. The comments were a part of the value it gives.

Brian O'Keefe

I prefer text emails. I don’t mind HTML emails, as long as they’re simple and easy to read. A pet peeve of mine is receiving email newsletters that look like web pages, with multiple columns, etc. Too much to look at. I like to read left to right, and down. One column. I switched to a simple text format for the emails I send out a few months ago.

Pat Bloomfield

I read a while ago that plain text is the way to go from a marketeer. But all the emails I received were fancy pages ladened with images.

Thank you for confirming KISS is the way to go with plain text albeit in html.

For the record, I prefer receiving the whole message as it’s not always convenient to click-through. I think having a summary with an offer to click-through, followed by content and another offer to click-through gives the best of both worlds :-)

I don’t think having to click-through to read content makes me more or less likely to act. It depends more on time pressure and how compelling the message is.

Deborah Teramis Christian

Interesting mail test and timely example. I have lately been thinking about this very thing, considering whether to alter my existing email/newsletter format (which is plain html text right now). Thanks for sharing this, very useful.

On a related note, I’m guessing the glut of responses here is largely because you specifically asked people to show their engagement with your content. Am wondering how best to maintain that level of interaction over time with a lot of full-content emails-in-mailbox. Thanks for doing some groundbreaking here.

Chris Aitken

Derek: another vote for the “plain” email format, less spammy, etc. I did notice you delivered bold and lists in your prior email so figured you were still using HTML.

In terms of summary versus full emails, my suggestion is to consider offering both versions and let your subscribers decide! In MailChimp you can create one email but show or hide content depending on which segment you’re sending to. I assume (although don’t know) that you can do the same in AWeber and other commercial grade email systems. Small amount of additional effort to “hand craft” the email but might drive even higher engagement. What do you (and other readers) think?

Denise Hamlin

I also agree that simpler is better. Since I clicked through here from my WP dashboard my comment is not a result of your email. I went to look at the email just to see how it “worked” for me. It didn’t. It’s VERY long. I would never have read all that text in my email client. (Google Apps).

I’d say stick with the teaser, even though I agree that those are a little irritating.

Maija

Hello,

The only times HTML emails get my attention more than plan text is when they are from a favourite shop and there is a sale on, and the email has pictures in of things that are on sale. It’s the pictures of products that will get the click-thru.

For information and blogs I am really appreciating your text based emails.

Maija

John Collins

Much Better. I hate having to load images in gmail.

Sharon Marks

The all text emails have been used for a long time by “shady” internet marketers. Every time I get one I think I am being sold to and tend to delete it before I even give it a chance. I like a more “designed” email.

Ian

Hi Derek, I’ve just opened your email on a Galaxy Nexus & found it very difficult to read. The text flows off the side of the screen so I had to constantly scroll left to right. I then clicked through to your site & that is all over the place – the columns are very narrow. Tried looking at other sites & they seem fine.

With regard to your email format I prefer a short sales type summary of the post enticing me to click through, similar to what John Chow does. I picked on John Chow as I received an email from him prior to yours. It’s short, to the point & made me want to click through. The click through page was perfectly formatted for the phone.

Having said that I see he has a mobile.johnchow.com url

Yuri

Thanks for the stats, Derek!

Question: don’t you think that this preference, i.e. simple text vs. fancy graphics, may be niche specific? For example, if I had an e-store, wouldn’t images of products in the email be conducive to more sales?

Jacques

Images are absolutely the way to go when you’re trying to sell a physical product.

Mark Conger

Email notification – I prefer, even expect, to receive an email notification when a blog I follow puts up a new post. I would not have thought I’d like it, but, as it turns out, I do. When life gets busy and I forget to check a blog or two, I end up missing some great content. Getting an email tickler helps me remember.

Amount of content – I’m indifferent as to whether the entire blog post is in the mail or if there’s a snippet with a link to the rest.

Plain or fancy format – While I like the minimalist HTML, I’m not opposed to something more fancy as long as it’s not “pushy.” Actually, I think a really nice approach is to make the email look very much like the blog site itself. I’ve read emails before and actually FORGOT I was not on the website, and ended up clicking a link. I’m not offended when such a thing happens. It’s actually kind of cool.

Hope that’s enough info.

Tom

I prefer the text email format, but what just arrived was a little hard to read.

Larger fonts with an auto flow capability would be great. A simpler HTML format might also be in order.

Make it easier to read and keep it simple.

Shannon

MUCH nicer in a clean format. ONLY thing I worry about in doing that myself is that a lot of spam mailings come in looking just like that. Now, DIYThemes is not spam, obviously, but I would hate for my emails to get “glazed” over by my readers just because it resembles something less desirable. I use a “theme” from Constant Contact, and I use the same theme each time I send an email (no “mixin’ it up”) so I think it helps my readers visually determine that it’s from me and that means it’ll probably get read. I think my open rate is over 80%, and some of those who don’t open already know the information I am trying to send to them (I send emails to the writers of my magazine, so if they’ve already submitted and article and my subject line is “deadline looming for January” they don’t bother opening it because they know it is speaking to those who are running a bit behind schedule. *grin*
But I do like the clean look too… maybe I’ll try it and see what happens to my open rate on the next email I send out. Thanks DIYThemes!
Blessings!

Rebecca

I prefer plain text for business or info emails.
If the teaser in the email gets my attention then I’ll eagerly click through to read the entire post at the website.
This way I decide quickly whether or not the topic will be of interest to me.

However, I prefer to receive elaborate HTML emails from the creative “artsy” newsletters that I subscribe to.
The pretty pictures always grab my attention.

Mary Ann de Stefano

Simple and clear always wins, I think. Whatever format is used–plain text or HTML–it should enhance your message, not get in the way of it. Many emails (and websites, for that matter) are over designed. It’s the words that are most important. I want to be able to scan an email quickly to see whether or not I am interested in the message. Help me out with sub-heads and bullet points. If I’m interested, I will read and click. If I don’t know what I’ve got quickly, I will move on to read an email from someone who respects my time.

I’d like to comment on what I see as an annoying trend in many marketing emails these days. Plain text marketing emails are fine, but please don’t waste my time with a long story before you get to the point of the email. This long chatty story technique has become so common these days, I’ve unsubscribed from many regular emails I received because of it.

Tell me why you’re writing to me in the first paragraph please. Don’t make me scroll several times before I can know the real message. Trust that you have something worthy and interesting to share–or don’t email me at all.

Honestly, I don’t think you’re mailing me just because you like me. I know you’re trying to get me to click over to your website, and I’ll bite if you’re offering something that sounds as if it will be helpful to me. So get to the point, please. Include your fun story if you like–it does make things more human–but don’t try to trick me into reading through it before I figure out what you’ve really got to say.

Amber

Re the test email — no I did not read it all the way through. Too long and too hard to read, (and the layout too similar to the ones I have “blocked” because at the bottom there is always a sales pitch and I am weary of being bombarded with those almost daily). That is not to say I am referring to your content, which is very interesting. (:>)

Mary’s comments speak to several things I have found annonying. The trend, especially with those marketing on-line training to others who want to sell on line, follows a monotonous pattern regularly. . . . A lengthy chatty “conversation” (usually something about them) — and waaaay down at the bottom, another affiliate link about some “really great person they have known forever” who has this awesome program…..etc. The type is too small, it is difficult to read, and extremely boring! I have unsubscribed from all of them for that reason. Yes, calls to action are great — but when EVERY email is Just one more sales pitch, it is such a turn-off I disengage and unsubscribe.

Since I only read email on a large 27″ screen, the plain-jane emails look strange. For “sales” emails, MUCH prefer a succinct summary and click-through to a well-formatted page that the author cared enough about to include both great content and some color/graphics. (Dr. Mercola’s, for example. After several years, I still click through to his site and read the articles of interest). If the TITLE is intriguing and the summary relates to something in which I have an interest, I click through. If not, then not.

For “newsletters” (which I consider a different breed with a different purpose) I prefer a consistent, well-formatted, graphically enhanced design handled by Constant Contact — sans all attempts to “sell” anything — that provides current, relevant info of benefit to my business. I receive a number of those each month and thoroughly enjoy reading them.

However, this is simply my approach and as indicated in the many excellent comments others feel differently, which is fine. Regardless of which approach one uses, there is simply no way to please everyone all the time, so your research is both interesting and appreciated. May do a test and see what the results are. Thank you for the helpful information.

Shari

Well I did read the whole thing. I’d prefer a link at the top too. I like to open all the things I want to read into a group in firefox, and then read them when I have the time. Typically on my 1st run through email. It’s more a sorting process. I don’t like leaving things in my email for later so normally just archive and of course never get back to it. Most of the time I do however make it to and through the ones in firefox sometime during the day.

Mike

Hi,
I liked the previous html email format and I like this one ok except for the fact that this one is way too narrow in my email reader (Time and Chaos’s, Intellect) and I have to scroll waaaaayyyyy down, which is annoying.

The previous html email I liked because I could decide if I wanted to click through and read the whole article. Lets face it we may not be interested in reading EVERYTHING you have to write about. ;-)

Happy trails, Mike

David

I read everything you post because it’s useful so this is a light weight test result. It was more convenient in email but that only works if the content is image free and yours often isn’t. I guess you are just ringing the changes to keep interest fresh and why not.

Ricardo Bueno

I prefer plain text emails. Easier to read when I’m on the go. If it’s a blog that dishes out content daily, I’d prefer the full article in the email. But if content is published once per week let’s say, a summary with a link to the full article is fine.

What’s the difference? Well, I’m usually reading on the go from my mobile. I find it easier to read the article I subscribed to on my mobile. Though I think all websites should be mobile friendly, some aren’t. So it’s easier to read the email.

Kat M Bee

Yes, I too prefer simple HTML emails.

What I don’t like about yours is how narrow they are, and how much I need to scroll to read them. See here: http://screencast.com/t/fFBXbVKb.

If you can fix this, that’d be great! :)

Thanks!
Kat

Kristina E. Smith (@kristinasmedia)

For me, I would rather be able to read my email on my phone. So a heavily designed email kills me since I have to zoom in or enable images to really get the message. I don’t like to be forced to work to get the basics of the email.

Alex

Great advice indeed. I clicked on your email’s link to “leave a comment”. Thank you!!

Richard

I have very mixed feelings about it. So-called “fancy” at least means they went to a bit of trouble and didn’t just copy and paste something from some affiliate program or such, which is a plus from my perspective. On the other hand, “fancy” is not always good because you can’t depend on HTML looking exactly the way it was designed in all email clients.

I’ve tried both approaches, and I suppose the HTML but not fancy may be the best approach.

As for all text or a summary, I rarely click when all I’ve been given is a summary as I know that is just an attempt to drive traffic to a site. That’s fine, but I’m not one to jump through hoops just because someone want me to — unless it is something I am really interested in.

I have never tried the summary approach with my own list, but I may now just to test things.

I guess what it ultimately comes down to for me, as others have said, is content. How good is it? If it is good enough, I couldn’t care less about all other considerations. And if the content isn’t worth much, again, I couldn’t care less.

Kathy Henderson-Sturtz

Read to the end as usual.

For me it isn’t about HTML vs text or fancy vs simple. It’s ALL about whether I’m a) learning something new, b) retriggering a need to remember/ implement, c) enjoying the read, d) not feeling like I’m constantly barraged with “buy me, buy me” “signup signup” now messages ad nauseum from the same sender or affiliate group of senders.

To date, yours have always fallen into the a-b-c want to read to the end type.

Julian Seery Gude

Great topic and question. It all depends on the design. If the design is clean and attractive I MUCH prefer html emails. I believe the general population does as well and what the stats really say is that most design sucks so give me a plain text email. Your site (and previous email design ) are good, this is a take away.

And I have a question (and point): Since when do survey’s where people self report predict actual behavior? They’re a great feedback loop but….

Jake P aka Dr. Freelance

I’d have considered myself somewhat agnostic on the matter, until my recent acquisition of an iPhone. For that, much easier to read plain text.

But, the main point you proved with your email (which clearly provoked me to comment) was the importance of a hooky subject line and solid content. I think you can mix and match the method…but it’s ultimately the WIIFM that keeps me reading.

Thanks for a thought-provoking test.

Elsie Escobar

Yep, text is better. I read on my iPhone and it’s SO much easier to read. I get so much out of it.

I have a ton of DIY email newsletters that have gone un-opened (remarked as such) because I want to read them, because they are important and very informative, but I felt I needed to go to the computer to do it, which means I’m probably not going to get a chance to do it :(

With the text only, it helps me consume faster and easier.

Perhaps you won’t get as many site visitors but gosh darnit you will have a much more engaged audience, and when you do want or need them to come to the site, they will come!

Brian Kwong

You got me to click-through it from G+ as I hang out there most of the time.
I like reading the whole article in my email box actually but as you said, its easier to close the email after I am done and not interact in the comments area.

So for me, I will just send simple text email with a call to action link for now =)

Linda

Thought-provoking… there are actually good arguments for both approaches, and I appreciate the discussion.

Peg Stookey

Thanks for the tip about the simple version really being in HTML. One issue I’ve had with text emails is that you can’t imbed a link or track results. This solves the problem! DUH!

Oh-I like the text. Easier to skim over and find what I need to read.

Jadehandy

I’m still loving the text. I can see where full text trains less engagement, they (meaning me) have everything they need and it’s then extra effort after getting what they wanted vs. taking action to get what you want and then no additional action to engage or comment. Plus, I like getting additional insight by being a subscriber. Makes me feel special and more connected.

Charles Lindauer

Either html or full text can be great… or obnoxious. The content, and the way it’s presented will make the difference. In the email I received, the text was in quite short lines, I’d have preferred the text to run a bit longer before breaking. A personal preference, of course, but it is one of many functions of preference every author has to deal with.

Mike

I actually prefer the previous style of newsletter. I can’t stand full text newsletters because the text formatting is more difficult to read. It seems there is a line break every 5th word, and I would rather read longer lines. I think I’m in the minority, though.

Pixeldrum

Glad you brought this subject up. I think it depends on the business and the purpose of the newsletter. I liked yours in both formats, because the html newsletter was also clean and simple and it used a larger font. But your content is what I read, so it doesn’t matter if it’s in text format, and it is easier to read on phones.

This discussion just decided me to recommend to one of my clients to NOT use an html newsletter, because his clients probably want to read it on their phones, and his subject matter doesn’t need anything other than text with links to html pages.

Malcolm Patten

My goodness me! How apt… Having just invested in “Mail Designer” to send blog post type emails, your article is most illuminating. I shall definitely share this research on Facebook since most of my colleagues on there engage in some form of business promotion via email. Great stuff!

Alexander Korte

Maybe aweber, mailchimp & co. should invent a button were people can choose between “I am a full text in email reader” or “I like to click to open in browser window”.

Tony

I am pretty ambivilant as to text or html. However one thing does drive me nuts – your use of one line per sentence (or less). This is definitely bad readabilty practice.

In addition, the one line per sentence format adds needless requirements for extra scrolling. This extra scrolling is an additonal burden on readability.

Writing paragraphs has worked for centuries, for good reason, it helps with understanding. This one line per sentence nonsense is a great example of form overtaking function. Function always preceeds form in any form of good design.

Robert

“This one line per sentence nonsense is a great example of form overtaking function”

Lots of testing in direct mail shows that the shorter sentence, shorter paragraph structure increases readership.

Further, look at a novel from 30 years ago. They used longer paragraph structures than today. Even blocks of dialogue are now being broken up into one line, response, another line. Why? Because it creates better readership/faster/easier reading.

Robert

Ultimately, what I or anyone else “thinks” is of no consequence.

The truth is in the analytics.

I’ve seen bus loads of surveys of what people want in direct conflict with the actual analytics when tested.

What folks do is more important than what they say.

Matthew

I don’t usually read the DIY newsletters, despite having subscribed for several months. I look at the subject line, and maybe glance at the header, and then move on.

I read this one in its entirety. I think you’re onto something with all-text. It was way easier to read than the big, coloured newsletter.

Martyn Chamberlin

You’re a genius. I can’t believe how many comments this article has! And yes, you had me unusually attentive throughout the whole article.

Claud

Text with a summary or “read more” works best for me…I limit my email time to 15 minutes or less to avoid getting sucked into the email vortex. I’ll instapaper and check things out more deeply late evening when it’s quiet and I enjoy learning.

psalber

I read DYI emails because I want to enhance my blogging skills in small doses. I don’t really care about the format but think the enhanced html is better than plain text.

Becky

I much prefer simple e-mails that are quick and easy to read.

I prefer a title and quick summary to the blog post and the option to click through to the site.

Clinton Power

I always prefer quality over the look of an email. But that said, I think the look does play a small part. My personal aesthetic will always be for simple, clean and lots of white space. So if you use HTML, less is more is generally my preference.

Rick

I read the whole article, in my email client, on my phone. Now I’m commenting. As long as it looks good on my mobile I don’t care where I’m reading it.

Brendan @ BJJ Gi Reviews

Derek, I love the e-mails. I have recently paired down my e-mails to only a few online folks (I was on over 10 lists at one point) and you guys always get read first and thoroughly. Great work as always. Let’s see more for Alex!

Ryan

I much prefer the simple summary/teaser emails. They get me excited to read the whole post.

But….I did read your entire email and took action as you told me.

Then again, I’ll do whatever you tell me. I love your copy writing!!

Cheers,

Ryan

PS. I typically DON’T share IM emails to my twitter following (which are photographers) nor my facebook friends (who are truly friends and family). So no offense if I stop taking action on this one after I submit this comment.

:)

Patrizia

Steve Jobs didn’t believe in test marketing because he trusted his spirit/gut/sensibility/call it wot u will… No offense, Derek, but maybe we might keep this in mind. Creativity is not stats…… that’s my opinion and surprisingly it’s sometimes not marketing either. But thanks for your thoughts!

Ben Fitts

Just proving I did actually read the full text email ;)

In my experience the emails I usually read are text (or look like text even if the are html or rich text.)

The email that tends to be junk looks like HTML and has images that my email client by default blocks. There are a few HTML emails I actually want to read that way, but very few.

For me personally when emailing to my list I prefer to send text based emails.

I also had a job working for a major international retailer designing and sending their fancy html emails. But I still prefer text based for my list. It just feels right. HTML feels like commercial solicitation.

anna c

Plain text is so BORING! I vote for minimalist html that focus on readability, a few good looking logos, colorful call-to-action headlines made from well-designed (and appropriate) typefaces and no fancy graphics. But of course, I am a graphic designer.

Mike Boorn

Derek

Fascinating!

I believe there are more mechanics at work than may seem. When you write in the old format you have a ‘digest’ of sorts in the email, which is really (often) the start of the article. When writing that you need to write that so I want to click.

However, when reading that introduction I need to decide whether I want to click. So for the reader it works as a decision point. I see a few comments that indicate they like the old format better because in that format you have to keep the email really sharp, or else…. in the new format you don’t have that pressure and lesser writers than yourself may get lazy and not keep the format as sharp as before..

And now, let’s face the fact that we write emails like these because we want people to go to the site/blog and so something (comment, subscribe, buy stuff etc). I’d be very interested in seeing your end-to-end stats in the long term.

If more people like the new plain format but you still had more interaction using the old format—the old format wins IMHO.

Mike Boorn

David Thatcher

Hi Derek
Thanks for the email newsletters, yours are probably the best I get rated by “immediate usefullness” regarding typography and stuff like this one.

My feedback is yes I was still “engaged” by the simple text email and here I am. I am actually going to share this on FB which I do rarely.

Cheers and HNY! ‘av a good one!

chris

More Text please.

Great idea to poll for advice this way

BTW – Excellent newsletter, always read

Chris

Miraz Jordan

I’m enjoying the plain newsletter, especially now it has full text. Partial text is so annoying.

Alex@LateEnough

I have a question about your result. You don’t mention how many people total responded. The validity of the results could vary a great deal if 10 people responded versus 1000 people.

I also would be curious as to whether the people who like plain-text emails would be more motivated to respond because they like them or are the people who are unhappy more likely to respond.

Shane Harley

Although my head tells me that I like “HTML” designed emails (this is part of what I do, as a designer), this is actually the first DIY email I have read since I subscribed 3 months ago. I just start reading and kept on reading, on auto-pilot, till the end.

Silia J. Hatzi

Clicked to leave a comment thereby casting a vote for full-content emails.

Dennis O'Brien

“Chunking” has far greater value than cramming. It gives the reader time to go “OK” before deciding to read on.

Force feeding text in paragraphs doesn’t work because I think people have become immune.

Sure if it’s something they’re really interested in they’ll most likely read more but not for long before clicking that link and entering the funnel.

It’s a natural progression for learning that’s why we have sentences and if you write a 5 line sentence just see how far you get before “shutting out” the rest or losing the meaning of what it was you were trying to say in the first place because it just gets boring and monotonous to watch lines of text roll by even though in the beginning you felt like you had something really important to say.

Two sentences to a paragraph and you would certainly drop it if it were a book.

Some can cram when they study but it takes discipline to read one or two sentences and place them in short term memory for processing before digesting. Like speed reading I imagine.

After learning how to apply line height to the typographical layout of a post I’m a happy chappy. Don’t think I want to go there with my emails though so no full articles gets my vote.

Just enough chunks to whet the appetite. Well that’s how I got here anyway. How many read the full email I wonder? :)

Barry

OK folks, I am no internet wizard, just an interested reader. I pay someone else to do this kind of thinking for me because I know I can’t do it all, if you know what I mean. But I pay close attention just the same and reading this blog is my way of trying to learn a little more. Frankly, plain text or fancy stuff both need to be clean for me. The changing flow in a fancier html gives my eyes a break in the action. Either way I am going to read it all because I am interested in what you and a lot of other people have to say.
Hey, but what do I know?

Nikki B.

Thanks so much for addressing this topic. Personally, I love the text-only format and having the full articles to read in my email; however, I do understand the potential for losing click-throughs. Not sure there will ever be a perfect solution. We all have to listen to our own audience.

Jen McGahan

Just depends on the content. A newsletter is the opportunity for companies who send monthly emails (newsletters only) to reinforce their brand; some of my clients would be hard put to let theirs go. However, a single article meant to be clicked through may just as well be read top down in the email client. I still might sneak in a small pic half way through just for fun. Lot’s of folks are visual and if it’s the right pic, it keeps the reader moving on down. Very nice case study. Thanks for sharing!

Ian Brodie

Every time someone does a test on this (eg measuring click through rates) clean and simple wins. The best research I’ve seen is from MarketingExperiments a couple of years ago. They discovered that:

- Emails that use lots of graphics and formatting got 34% fewer clicks than plain text emails.

- Emails that had a little bit of formatting: the occasional underline or bold text and highlighted links got 55% more clicks than plain text.

Lightly formatted emails look like the emails we get from people we know and trust. Friends and business colleagues. Graphics heavy emails look like advertisements.

Graphics heavy emails – particularly those with headers – are difficult to read on mobile devices. On an iphone for example, it will expand the size of unformatted text to a readable level. But if there’s a fixed width graphical header then it will base the width of the email on that and typically, the text will be tiny and unreadable. Zooming in means you have to scroll backwards and forwards all the time – pretty untenable.

Ian

Mert

Casting my vote for simple HTML. Avoiding the commercial design, giving the message clear and summarized works for me.

Sue B.

I’ve done a ton of text vs. fancy e-mails, and the plain text always wins. People seem to feel that it is a ‘personal’ e-mail not just part of a mass distribution. However there are 2 issues with text e-mails….
1. it can be hard to convince your boss that this is the way to go, because they are so used to seeing pretty pictures, etc…
2. as a marketing professional, am I telling them that I’m not really needed? Anyone can send a text e-mail, right?

Rick

Thanks Derek for the “full” article….I’m casting my vote….I’ve always preferred a No frills type of email and believe it or not….I don’t read emails I get with a huge headers and fancy images that cover half the email message…a few smaller images within the article is best. In fact I’ve been doing this for my email newsletters for over a year and I doubled my traffic and email sign up responses when I went to a smaller and cleaner email. Also, very similar to the way you do your emails….I gather my emails through mail chimp but create my email newsletter through my wordpress site as it gives me huge seo benefits.

Thanks again for a great article!!

doug_eike

Simple-and-clean email messages make sense to me. In addition, I like to read the entire article without having to click to get to it. If I want to comment on it, I have no problem with scrolling to the top and clicking to do so. I did that this time. Thanks for the insights.

Kat M Bee

Should we expect the same emails from DIY and Derek Halpern?

If so, I’d like to subscribe from one or the other.

Thanks & Happy New Year! :)

Kat M Bee

*unsubscribe…

Andy Moore

Derek, definitely the Text one whether it’s HTML or not. Much cleaner, easier to read and no distractions.

I am a great lover of KISS. No, not the Rock band but Keep It Simple S….
Works most of the time!

Andy Moore

Cynthia

Since the days when fancy html email design was possible, I received vocal feedback from my IT oriented audiences that they hated html so I have stuck with a minimalist design. I have heard feedback from my audiences that design heavy templates come across as spam.

Bike Hermit

I read the whole thing on my phone last night but was unable to comment, so I am doing that this morning.

Michael | BuildinganOnline.com

Hi Derek and a Happy New year to you and yours.

Personally I prefer the text version, but when it come to your posting on this blog, I don’t even see the email.

I almost always comes here from my wp dashboard, so in your case it doesn’t matters at all.

Very interesting test though, and I will sure do some testing regarding this matter myself too.

Regards,
Michael

Liat

Yes, I read the WHOLE full-text email and then left a comment. I DO like it that you ask me to come here and participate.

I prefer having the full text in the email, but I don’t mind it the other way, either, as long as you tell me exactly what to expect when I get there!

Lynne

Let’s assume we are only talking quality email here, not the deceptive, sales rubbish spam that seems so prevalent these days.

Really dislike HTML emails…. Much prefer plain text… and I don’t mind clicking through to the website where it can be as fancy and social as you please… :)

I don’t overly like ‘sharing’ things too often on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus (I don’t want to be a ‘spammer’ there either), but occasionally I will share… My interaction has nothing to do with html or plain text emails though. More to do with the relationship I might have with who has sent it, and the quality of the information…

Plus there is the liklihood that I won’t read the html anyway…. so definitely not going to interact then! Don’t always read every email I get. Will sometimes glance over it. Depending on how busy I am…

Plain text emails win hands down…. for me. Hope that helps.

Tim Dini

This question is based on the false premise that HTML email is inherently ‘Fancy’ while Text based email is inherently ‘Simple’.

Doesn’t this depend on the style used?

To me, emails written in Arial, Verdana, or Tahoma font are ‘cleaner’ looking than plain text emails. I’ve also seen very nice minimalist HTML emails that are easy to read, pleasant to view, and also ‘cleaner’ looking than their plain text counterparts.

I agree with Vito’s comments above as I too prefer ‘simple’ over ‘fancy’. But that doesn’t mean I prefer plain text over HTML.

Mimi P-F

I liked the simplicity of the text but also that it was in a big font and had the accent fonts in color to break it up. I did like reading it through in the email but I might also click through. My only suggestion would be to have a hyperlink to click through on the last line where you suggested we leave a comment. Also, I’ve been told not to make the lines on my emails wider than 50 characters but I see you’re letting them go much wider. Have you done any testing on comparing line lengths?

Ro

Heck…I don’t believe I actually read the WHOLE THING! I rarely ever do that. But I was waiting for the hook and there wasn’t one. Congrats! You’ve turned an “Okay, I’ll just look for the important bits” into an “Okay, let’s see what he’s got to say” Truly Amazing.

djbaxter

Why not give people a choice? The increasing trend toward deciding what’s best for people or making unilateral decisions abiout what they want disturbs me.

Want to know what I want (as opposed to what other people want)? Ask ME.

Diane Capri

I don’t like text e-mails. Too boring. Sorry.

Lee Buck Miller

I was so very tired when I found that it took so much energy to click to leave a comment. I think that I will be too tired to read any more emails.

I do enjoy clicking to read articles though because I know that after reading the article I am at the end where I can then make a comment, it’s like getting two actions for one click. It’s a huge energy saver and aren’t we supposed to be saving energy?

Varghese Pallathu

I’m one of the guys who suggested you a while back that the newsletter format does not look good. I did not mean I prefer Text format with that reason. My intention was to say the layout and graphics in the original newsletter were distracting enough for me to loose interest to read article. It is like a new unopened bag of chips fallen into dirt. I know I can still eat the chips, but it is not that satisfying after seeing the dirt on the cover. I prefer html newsletter.

Chirag

Simple is better I feel :)

Oliver WebMatros

From my experience, the right choice of format depends on the content. A photographer, a cook, a designer, an apparel company, etc – all need to have images and a stylish email layout to suit their brand.

On the other hand, people who sells knowledgebased products, can use text based email with good success.

Natasha

on the subject of subscriptions; I’ve been using subscribe2 only to find out that it isn’t sending updates to my subscribers. Any advice on which subscription service to use with the latest thesis? Thank you! Thank you! P.S . I found your article insightful :)

Jennifer Bulman

I like the plain look. I am less likely to link out to the entire content if you have links. If the entire content is in the email, but the email takes only a couple of minutes to read, I will. My favourite style is the Yahoo Groups style of newsletter where the links are at the top and I pick what I want to see, and click down to the entire post – can that be translated into a single plain email with a TOC (sounds easy, but I know that some bulk email apps do not allow these internal llinks).
Jennifer