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Designers generally know that you should not send a purely HTML email, but should always provide a plain text alternative. That way, readers who can’t view HTML or who prefer to view email in plain text will still be able to receive your message.

Campaign Monitor always sends in multipart HTML + plain text (or just plain text), so from a technical perspective we’ve got you covered. You can even get a head start by generating plain text automatically from your HTML content.

In many cases, it is very easy to provide plain text alternative. If you have a newsletter which is mostly text, then all you are really doing is tidying up formatting and removing branding. Simple plain text formatting can get you great results. Other emails though don’t translate so easily.

An example that has come to our attention recently is from the Email Standards Project. We’ve created an email acid test that shows up rendering differences between different email clients. Now the actual readable HTML content of the email is not really relevant, it’s just lorem ipsum copy and some labels.

The point of the email is to see how it renders, not to get across a message in the copy. So when we came to provide a plain text alternative, it did not seem to make sense to provide a literal equivalent of the text from the HTML version.

Instead, the plain text has totally different copy:

Hello,

Thanks for supporting the Email Standards Project. If you are reading this test version, it means your email client either is set to prefer plain text, or does not support HTML emails.

The email ACID test and Email Standards Project are really concerned with rendering of HTML in email clients, since plain text renders far more consistently. Checkout http://www.email-standards.org/acid/ to see the test in HTML format.

We will not email you at this address again, unless you have also subscribed to our email newsletter separately.

While the text is totally different, the message that we get across is exactly what is needed. However, we got quite a few complaints from people who had sent themselves a test, and were upset that the plain text was not a literal, exact equivalent to the HTML.

This shows a misunderstanding of the term ‘plain text alternative’. When you send an email campaign, you have a message to get across. In HTML, that message might be best transmitted through some copy, a diagram or a screenshot. In plain text, you might need to explain the same message differently, given the constraints of the medium. Accessibility experts have been making this point for years of course.

What is a useful alternative content for a blind person might not be useful for a deaf person, or for a person using a mobile browser. Sticking rigidly to the idea of an exact translation can only lead to trouble. The best results will be achieved by taking each format and making sure it can stand on its own as a useful message.

What do you think? Is it a problem when the HTML content and the plain text are not the same?

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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