Email Templates or Plain Text Emails: Which Works Best?

I’ve noticed something interesting: all the top SEO and digital marketing websites I’ve subscribed to, do not use email templates (otherwise known as HTML emails). Most of them use plain text emails.

Which is why I’m writing this post; to answer this question:

Why is it that the top Internet marketers mostly use plain text emails?

And if they use plain text emails, should you too?

A plain text email sent to me by HennekeDuistermaak, top writer and marketer

email-from-conversionXLPlain text email from conversion optimization specialist, Peep from Conversionxl

I set out to find the answers…

Once you’ve gone over my findings, you can decide for yourself whether you should be using email templates or plain text emails.

Difference Between Email Templates (HTML) and Plain Text

HTML emails have color and images, while plain text is just that – black text on a white background.

The emails below are email templates by GetResponse. They are beautifully designed and contain color and images.

Free HTML Email TemplatesImage Credit: GetResponse

On the other hand, the following is a plain text email I received as a subscriber to Quicksprout, owned by Neil Patel, Internet marketing guru:

plain text email by neil patelPlain text email from Internet marketing guru Neil Patel

You can see from the examples that email templates are way prettier than plain text emails, which further confuses the fact that the majority of digital marketing leaders opt for plain text.

Allow me to share what I’ve found…

Actual vs. Reported Behavior

The famous Henry Ford of Ford Motors, once said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, he would have built a faster horse, instead of the world’s first mass-market motor car.

Customer survey responses don’t always reflect reality. Ford recognized this, which is why he never asked his customers what they wanted. Instead, he listened to what they were saying.

SmartInsights confirms that email templates (HTML) are opened less and have lower click-through rates.

Why Are Email Templates Opened Less?

So why do people say they prefer fancy emails with images, but open plain text emails more?

This is what I found:

  •  Depending on the email service, most images in email templates don’t automatically load in the preview pane, so when the recipient sees the email, it’s not as pretty as it was intended to be. In fact, some don’t even make sense, like this one:


The example above shows how the preview looks in my email preview pane – I am sure you’ll agree it does nothing to entice opening…

And most people won’t bother downloading the images unless it seems as if something in the email is missing.

This is how the email example above was intended to look by the designer:

email template for startup

  • Email templates sometimes come across as spammy, while plain text is more like getting an email from a personal friend.
  • Email is easier to read, especially from a mobile phone when it’s plain text, and the majority of people access their emails, and the Internet, from a mobile phone now instead of a desktop PC. Plain text emails also come across as “cleaner”, which interprets in the recipient’s mind as “uncomplicated”.
  • Email services are increasingly filtering messages. Take Gmail’s promotions tab – anything Google deems “commercial” gets put into the promotions tab instead of the main email tab. As a result, the recipient is already psychologically prejudiced against the “promotional” email.

The Deliverability Debate

In previous years, the argument was that HTML emails (email templates) were not always delivered to the recipient.

Nowadays, this is no longer an issue so long as the HTML email is properly coded and there is a plain text version to go with it. Most email marketing software provides this function.

If you use email templates, make sure that you create a plain text version of the email too.

What Else?

I’ve generalized in this post, but the truth is that you need to test.

For instance, if your emails are about photography and accommodation, your business depends on images and you may need to use images in your emails. If you’re in real estate, you may need to display property in emails, and consumers expect images in most retail or ecommerce emails, especially when they receive sales emails.

If you opt for the simpler route, I like what Hubspot did for their plain text emails, and you can emulate them by simply adding your logo to the top:

email template

Technically speaking, the email above is an HTML email, but it comes across, and will behave as a plain text email if it’s properly coded.

When it comes to email marketing, less is more.

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