When it comes to email marketing, you’ve probably tried a number of applications, from Constant Contact to MailChimp. You kill yourself coming up with snappy, attention-getting subject lines. You add clever graphics, agonize over content, how to making it relevant and accessible. You’re constantly tweaking subject lines, calls-to-action, images, headers, layout, link positioning, copy, length, tone, content. The list is endless. Yet your open and click-through rates remain stagnant. What are you doing wrong?
Probably nothing. There’s one hard truth: nothing boosts opens and clicks as well as an old school, plain-text email. What? Yes. Forget fancy layouts and graphics. Forget the HTML emails you’ve been slaving over for years. Remember that mobile has altered the landscape dramatically. Everything these days calls for simpler and more accessible.
People say they prefer HTML emails
In a 2014 survey, HubSpot asked more 1,000 professionals whether they preferred HTML-based or text-based emails, and whether they preferred emails that consisted of mostly text or mostly images. Nearly two thirds of the respondents said they preferred HTML and image-based emails.
HubSpot experimented with varying degrees of HTML-richness — plain HTML templates, snazzy and sleek HTML templates, beautiful headers, different sized and positioned images, various call-to-action buttons, and GIFs — to see which would have the best result. The result? They Actually Prefer Plain-Text.
In every single A/B test, the more simply designed email won
The emails with fewer HTML elements won with statistical significance. Go figure. This doesn’t make sense, does it? Every other marketing channel is moving towards incorporating visuals and seemingly getting positive results. Think the overwhelmingly greater response to your Facebook posts that include an image, the trend toward videos, surge of social media sites that are image-centric, including Instagram, Snapchat, etc. People NEED to be entertained these days. Why, then, were emails performing worse when HubSpot attempted to make them more visual appealing?
The results confirmed original assumption: HTML emails decreased open rates
One thing that HubSpot noticed was that HTML and plain-text emails were both receiving the same deliverability rate. So if they were getting delivered at the same rate, how were HTML emails underperforming? To understand the full scope of what happened, HubSpot A/B tested their email sends. They tested various segments of their database in multiple regions to get a better picture of HTML vs. plain-text emails.
What was interesting, however, was that not only were HTML emails receiving lower open rates than their plain-text counterparts, the more HTML-rich an email was, the lower its open rate. Simpler HTML emails had better open rates than HTML-rich emails and plain-text emails performed best of all.
HubSpot’s conclusion: It’s all about deliverability
Just because something says it’s been delivered doesn’t mean it’s actually in a noticeable place of someone’s inbox. Email services are increasingly filtering emails (especially commercial ones) to provide a better experience for the user. We all know about Gmail’s promotions folder–it automatically filters what it deems “commercial” emails out of the main inbox unless the user changes the settings—and no one in his/her right mind does that.
The simple explanation is that image tags and HTML-rich templates seem to be getting flagged by email providers as commercial email, which means they get filtered out of a recipient’s main inbox–and people can’t open them. They’re delivered all right, but they’re not getting opened.
We’ve come full circle . . .
We’ve all spent years and considerable effort making our HTML emails more graphically enhanced, clever and enticing. We’ve come full circle. The message is still important, but it may be time to get back to the basics, focusing on making them simpler and more accessible.