HTML vs Plain Text Email: What Are the Differences?

Email has been around forever in internet terms, and while many have claimed over the years that ‘email is dead’, it’s in fantastic health. Indeed, people and machines send over 333 billion emails each day, meaning over 3.5 million every second.

One debate that continues to rage involves HTML vs plain text email.

Plain text emails are bland, but you know they’ll work. Meanwhile, HTML emails enable graphics, links, and other functionality, but you can never be quite sure how they’ll appear across different devices.

What are the two email types, how do they differ, and which is better? Let’s find out.

What Is an HTML Email?

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language and it’s the same code used by many websites. Emails created in this way can appear like any web page you can think of, complete with graphics, links, and other interactive features.

Unfortunately, email was never conceived with these features in mind. Even Gmail used to strip HTML elements out of email messages.

Mobile devices caused further problems. Their popularity soared before responsive design took off, ensuring that emails could adapt for different screen sizes and software.

Even today, many email clients, especially in the professional world, will strip active elements from emails to reduce security risks. So now, as it always has been, you’re never quite sure how your carefully crafted email layout will display to all readers.

What Is a Plain Text Email?

Somewhat appropriately, plain text email could not be simpler. If you’ve ever used Notepad, you know what to expect. These emails are text-based without any enhancements.

They’re great for information, but not ideal for marketing, not least because you can’t lead anyone to a landing page.

Crucially, you can be more certain of email deliverability – more in this article.

There’s nothing in a plain text email to attract the attention of spam filters and antivirus software. These emails aren’t dangerous as they’re incapable of causing trouble!

HTML vs Plain Text Email for Designers

How much does design and branding matter in your business? If you’re the kind of company that thrives on visuals and you’re known for epic videos and social posts, do you want to sacrifice that in your email communications?


Plain text emails reduce tracking capabilities. Alongside the absence of links and pictures, they also lack inherent analytics functionality.

Most email providers use images to track open rates and other stats. Without this information, it can be difficult to optimize campaigns as you don’t have as much to go on.

All is not lost, as plain text users can at least follow bounce, deliverability, and unsubscribe rates as they’re not reliant on the content of the email itself.

Discover More Great Marketing Tips on Our Blog

Email marketing is here to stay, and as effective now as it has ever been. The debate around HTML vs plain text email is sure to continue, and much of it comes down to what works best for both your brand and your audience.

Even if you opt for HTML emails, you may find less is more. We’ve got dozens of articles around optimizing email campaigns, from getting the layout right to boosting open rates and much more here on the blog. So, take a look around to find out how to take your email campaigns to a whole new level!

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