Image-only marketing emails have been frowned upon since the birth of email marketing. But what if they aren’t really that bad? Since email marketing has a return on investment of $44 on every $1 spent, we wanted to make sure we had the right information. To determine if sending image-only HTML emails are truly detrimental, we began comparing plain text and HTML email formats and tearing down the walls of HTML email best practices.
Email Marketing Format Comparison
Plain Text Emails
What Are Plain Text Emails?
Plain text emails are simply that — emails that utilize only text. These emails don’t use any formatting such as bolding, italicizing, or underlining.
When to Use Plain Text Emails
- You’re Expecting Replies from Recipients — Plain text emails are simple and allow recipients to easily reply without any formatting or sending issues. They usually come from a personal email address. In comparison, many HTML emails utilize a “no-reply” email address, so the recipient would need to contact a different email address if necessary.
- You’re Communicating as a Single Individual — If you’re sending an email that’s coming directly from you personally, it’s best to use plain text. For instance, if you’re following up with a potential client, a more intimate, plain text email will give them the perception that it’s personalized and catered toward them. Generally, HTML emails are sent out to many different people at once, so they could be perceived as too generic.
Advantages of Plain Text Emails
- Universal Readability/Accurate Rendering — Thanks to the simplicity of plain text emails, all Email Service Providers (ESPs) have the ability to display the accurate, intended version of the email in recipient inboxes.
- High Deliverability Rates — Plain text emails are smaller in size and don’t utilize as much bandwidth as HTML emails when delivered. Overall, ESPs can filter and generate plain text emails easier than HTML emails, which increases the deliverability rate slightly.
Disadvantages of Plain Text Emails
- Limited Analytics — One of the huge issues of plain text emails is that marketers aren’t able to track email open rates. You can track link clicks within the email itself. However, open rates are just as important for analyzing the success of email campaigns.
- CTAs & Links Blend In — Since plain text emails don’t utilize any formatting, important links and call-to-actions (CTAs) blend in with the surrounding text. This disadvantage could deem the entire purpose of your emails worthless. If you’re looking for recipients to navigate to a certain link or complete a certain action, success may be slim.
Plain Text Email Best Practices
- Make Headers Clear — You can’t format plain text email headers to be a larger size or a different color, but you can separate headers from body text by making them all caps or incorporating symbols. The capitalization and symbols will help to draw attention to the main points.
- Get Creative with Lists — Plain text emails won’t allow you to incorporate traditional bulleted lists, but you can make your own by using dashes, plus signs, or tildes. This will help to increase readability without formatting.
What Are HTML Emails?
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) emails are coded so that email elements are formatted and images can be added. These emails generally include a combination of text and graphics.
When to Use HTML Emails
- You’re Promoting Multiple Products — If you have multiple products to promote in the same email, HTML is the way to go. HTML emails allow you to space out text, use web graphics, and even include pictures of all the products you’re featuring. If you used a single plain text email, there would be too much text, too many links, and the recipient would most likely be overwhelmed and end up deleting it.
- You’re Communicating as a Group/Company — If you’re conducting email marketing for your company or a group of people, it’s advised to use HTML emails. Since HTML emails provide design freedom, you have the ability to make an impression on recipients and give them a full sense of your brand.
Advantages of HTML Emails
- Better Analytics — This type of email allows marketers to track recipient behaviors such as the number of times they opened the email, which links they clicked and how many times they clicked on them, and even how long they spent viewing your email. You can also see which browser or platform they used to view the email and their geographical location. Additional analytics provide you with a way to tailor your messages to increase sales and email marketing success.
- Design Control — HTML emails give you free range to make your emails as visually appealing as you’d like them to be. By adding bold, clickable CTAs and links, you can increase conversions to your site. You can also control the colors, fonts, and logos used.
Disadvantages of HTML Emails
- Spam Flagging — When it comes to HTML emails, sometimes ESPs can be persnickety. While one provider will mark your email as spam, another will deliver it to a recipient’s inbox just fine. Whether you are flagged for having low open rates or a misleading subject line, ESPs have the power to automatically move your email to the spam folder. Once your email lands in spam, the probability of the recipient ever opening it is extremely slim.
- Blocked Images — Image blocking is another challenge when it comes to HTML emails. Some ESPs block images until the recipient fully allows images to be shown from the particular sender. This causes issues for marketers who are creating and sending image-heavy or image-only emails. If email images are blocked when the recipient opens the email, they’ll have to take the extra step of approving images from the sender. Some recipients may not want to take the time or energy to do that. If that’s the case, your graphic or image work could be wasted.
HTML Email Best Practices
- Make it Engaging — If you’re taking the time and effort to create an HTML email, you might as well make something that will leave an impact on the recipient! By using angles, color blocking, and high-contrast CTA buttons, you’ll catch the recipient’s attention.
- Be Smart About Image-Only Emails — As we stated before, image-only emails have a bad reputation (T-Swift knows all about it). Even MailChimp, a popular email marketing platform, suggests that sending an HTML email as one giant graphic is a mistake. But, what if the key is to just use image-only emails wisely?
The Case for Image-Only HTML Emails
After comparing the research on both plain text and HTML emails, we had a lot to think about. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that the future of email marketing may lie in HTML image-based emails. We know, we know — insane, right? We literally just told you that one of the main best practices for email marketing was to not use image-only emails. Here’s what we’re thinking…
Check your Inbox
Take a look at some of the emails you’re currently receiving from companies. A majority of them will probably be image-heavy or image-only emails. So, how could it be so wrong if all of these well-known companies are using the strategy? Yes, they may be taking a risk, but what if it’s paying off for those marketers? No risk, no reward.
Consider Deliverability Factors
Email deliverability isn’t solely based on the image to text ratio. You could use the ideal 80-20 method as MailChimp suggests and still get sent to spam or have low deliverability ratings. Other factors that influence deliverability include the health of your message infrastructure, your content, your sender history, and a receiving system’s availability to accept the email. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using plain text or HTML emails, all of these factors can affect deliverability rates.
The Age of Visual Appeal
Over time, email marketing has moved away from text-based emails and toward visual content. More visuals allow email recipients to comprehend information quickly and efficiently. This is vital since studies have shown that people can be distracted within just 2.8 seconds. In order to keep your audience from getting distracted, you need to intrigue them and capture their attention immediately. That can be achieved with image-only HTML emails. Plain text emails may hardly even get a second glance due to their lackluster look.
The Impact Reinforced Branding
In order to grow your business, consistent, reinforced branding is a must. Your emails should feature the same colors, fonts, and logos as your website, business cards, and other advertising elements. Consistent branding can increase your business’s credibility and professional appearance. Ultimately, consumers tend to choose to work with or purchase from businesses they trust, and that can be accomplished with brand consistency through HTML image-only emails. The only thing plain text emails will allow you to control is your message.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not image-only emails are the way to go, you can always try A/B testing your emails! For your next email, create one traditional email and one image-only email, both featuring the same content. Use split testing to see which type of email is most effective with your audience. You may be surprised with the results!
Practicing What We Preach
Yep — we tried our own hand at image-only emails! The first image-only formatted newsletter we sent out had an open rate that was 26% above our average. The single-image click rate was 14% above our average. And, if you’re wondering about deliverability, we scored at 99.2%! Take a look for yourself…
Overcoming Image-Only Email Obstacles
Have we convinced you? Are you ready to make the leap into creating image-only emails? If so, we have a few tips and tricks that’ll help make it a successful campaign.
Avoiding the Spam Folder
To keep your image-only HTML email out of the spam folder, you should test it with an email testing program such as Email on Acid or Litmus. With their software, you’ll be able to view your spam report in minutes. It’ll allow you to see if there are any elements within your design that could cause your email to land in your recipients’ spam folders.
Expert Advice: Avoid using spam trigger words within your subject and email preview lines! Once you’ve finished composing your email, cross reference your text against a full list of spam trigger words.
Dodging Image Blocking
It’s important to be aware of the default settings for popular email clients. With that information in your back pocket, you’ll be able to adjust your email strategy to ensure your images and messages are seen by your recipients. You can also try image slicing, which allows you to seamlessly break up a single image into smaller images. To the end user, the email still looks like a full graphic. However, in reality, your email could be composed of multiple smaller sections. Plus, it allows you to see which sections of your graphic generated the most clicks.
Expert Advice: Don’t forget to use alt text (alternative text) for each image or graphics section! This will ensure your recipients can still see your message even if your images aren’t showing.