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The other day, I read the results of yet another poll on the HTML vs. Text preference debate.

As a marketer, it occurred to me that what I really wanted to know was WHY some people prefer Text vs. HTML—or vice versa. If I knew how the look of the email affected people's perception of the email (and therefore of the sender), then I should be able to improve email effectiveness, regardless of format.

If I knew, for example, that readers prefer Text because they hate the ads that are more obvious in HTML, perhaps I could tone down my ads and people would be more receptive.

We surveyed our own population, asking not only which format was preferred but why one format was preferred over another. Over 600 people—mostly marketers and small business operators—responded. (The full survey can be found at Zoomerang.com.)

We asked readers how they preferred to receive newsletters and other emails. 55% favored HTML and 45% preferred Text. Given that well over 90% of email readers can view HTML, it was surprising to me that almost half the people would prefer to receive Text.

"Text is just so boring!" I think to myself. Why would anyone prefer it to HTML?

We gave those who chose Text a list of possible reasons to explain why. On average, people listed about two and a half reasons each. They said:

  • Can't read HTML 6%
  • Just want the meat without the distractions 32%
  • Like to read offline 15%
  • Ads are more intrusive in HTML 22%
  • Slow to download 14%
  • Other 11%

The most popular reason for choosing Text over HTML was an interesting one. People were clearly expressing a desire for email layouts that focused on the message, and they often saw HTML emails as containing elements that distract from the content—the content being the reason they signed up for the email in the first place.

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Lynda Partner is CEO of GotMarketing, provider of self-serve email marketing software. She can be reached gotceo@gotmarketing.com