Plain Text Emails: Half the Battle

August 14th, 2009 | By Jonathan Miller | 1 Comment

‘Designing’ plain text emails is as important as designing html emails.

Many mobile email readers and some web-based ones default to a plain text version of your message. It is imperative that your email campaigns provide a plain text version of your email that is formatted for scanning and readability.

The plain text representation does not have to be a blob of text with no discernible structure. Working within the limitations of the medium, it can have the form and beauty of an HTML email. Here are some tips for text message preparation:

  • Space out the sections of your message roughly equivalent to the html-based design. If there are logical breaks in your html email, make those same breaks in the plain text version.

    Email with 'In This Issue' content at the top and underscores to denote titles.

    Email with 'In This Issue' content at the top and underscores to denote titles.

  • Use underscores to divide sections of an email into logical pieces. Also use underscores to denote section titles or headlines.
  • Keep headlines to 50 characters or less per line.
  • Keep body copy to 70 characters or less per line. If your sentence is too long, make logical breaks to force a new line and avoid potential left to right scrolling issues.
  • If you have an ‘In this Issue’ section in your HTML message, put the title of the email at the top of the plain text version, followed by the ‘In this Issue’ content and finally, your message.
  • Add a leading http:// to all web addresses that don’t already feature it. This will oftentimes make the link clickable in a plain text message in many email clients.
  • Replace HTML-based characters with plain text replacements (I.E. ® with (R), ™ with TM) .

    Use (R) to replace ®

    Use of (R) to replace ® and asterisks as bullet points

  • Replace bullets with asterisks or other symbols
    • Bullet Point One
    • Bullet Point Two

    *Bullet Point One

    *Bullet Point Two

  • Replace any hex codes for punctuation with their plain text equivalent. (I.E. & #8220; & #8221; would become “”).
  • By providing attention to these details, plain text email recipients will appreciate the readability of their emails and respond accordingly. And you’ll appreciate the effectiveness that text version emails can provide to your overall email campaign results.

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    • Rob S.

      I’ve seen a few e-mail service providers that allow the client to select when clicks will be tracked by type, i.e. you can set it to track clicks for html and not for plain text.

      I love this option when it is available, since a tracking link can look downright awful and even disconcerting in plain text. For plain text, I’ll gladly lose the click track metric in favor of a better user experience.

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