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We’re pretty big fans of beautiful HTML emails over here at Campaign Monitor.

We recently compiled the top 100 of them from 2014, we launched a free tool to help you create them, and we regularly write about how to structure them, code them and optimize them for conversion.

However, one thing we don’t talk about as much are plain-text emails and how to use them to drive conversions.

That’s why today, we wanted to share with you some best practices for sending plain-text emails that convert.

The importance of plain-text emails

Although they’re not quite as pretty, sending plain-text emails alongside your HTML email is quite important for a number of reasons:

  • Spam filters – When you send an email campaign, the plain-text and HTML version are actually bundled together using a format called MIME (which stands for Multiformat Internet Mail Extension). If your email doesn’t have a plain-text version, spam filters take that as a strong signal that the email is being sent from an untrustworthy source and is likely to mark it as spam.
  • Preferences – Some people prefer plain-text emails over their HTML counterparts and email clients like Gmail and Outlook do allow people to view the plain-text only version quite easily.
  • Email Client Support – While virtually all email clients these days support HTML email, new wearable devices like the Apple Watch are likely to default to plain-text emails due to their limited screen size, meaning the plain-text email could even be making a comeback in the near future!

How to send plain-text emails that convert

If you use an email marketing service like Campaign Monitor, then the tool will automatically create a plain-text version of your campaign and send it alongside the HTML version.

However, given the importance of these plain-text emails it’s worth spending a little bit of time optimising it to help ensure you get the maximum amount of conversions from your campaign.

So on that note, here are several ways you can optimise your plain-text email to help increase readability and conversions.

Leverage whitespace to make it easily readable

Leaving areas of open white space in between groups of copy helps increase readability and improve comprehension.

In fact, psychologists found that when readers looked at web-based copy, white space and margins were more satisfying to read and caused them to slow down and examine the information more carefully

To demonstrate the impact, let’s look at an example of two plain text emails with and without proper use of whitespace.

Without whitespace:

With whitespace:

As you can see, breaking the email up with some extended whitespace makes it much more legible and helps prevent people from being overwhelmed and simply clicking away.

Create a hierarchy

One of the biggest drawbacks of plain-text email is you can’t use common text formatting elements, like headers, in your email design.

However, even without those things at your disposal it’s important to create an information hierarchy to help readers comprehend how the different elements in your email go together to form a complete story.

The best way to do this is using either capital letters or symbols to establish your headers.

To illustrate, here are two instances of the same email we’ve been using through this post, one with a defined header and one without.

Without a defined header:

With a defined header:

As you can see, by defining the header using some basic plain-text formatting tricks you can still create a visual hierarchy that separates the various elements of the email and makes it easy to consume.

Highlight your main call to action

We recently tested the effect of using call to action buttons in email campaigns and found that they increase conversion quite significantly.

However, buttons don’t increase conversions because people simply love clicking on them. They increase conversions because they stand out above the rest of the content and focus the user’s attention on the call to action.

Even though you can’t use fancy buttons in plain-text emails, you can still use other formatting tricks to make them stand out above other content and draw the reader’s attention.

Characters like the asterisk (*) or angled brackets (< >) can be used to surround calls to action, and when combined with a bit of extra whitespace can help your call to action get noticed.

Without call to action formatting:

With call to action formatting

As you can see, by adding angled brackets a bit of extra whitespace we were able to make the call to action stand out from the body text whilst still maintaining the information hierarchy of the email. This means people still consume the email in the order intended (heading, body, call to action) but are much more clear on what the next step is.

In Conclusion

As you may have noticed in this post, by implementing the 3 best practices outlined above we were able to progressively transform a basic plain-text email that was almost impossible to read into a legible, compelling email campaign complete with headers, calls to action and more.

So next time you are creating and sending an email campaign, don’t just skip over the plain-text version. By implementing these 3 best practices you can transform your plain text email into a conversion machine.

Your turn: What other tactics do you use with plain text emails that make them more effective? We’d love to hear your insights!

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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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