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

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.

This is reinforced by their view that ads are more intrusive in HTML emails. Consider the implications of people switching formats to avoid your ads—yikes!

Also interesting was the fact that an amazing 11% of the respondents took the time to select "Other" and provide their own reasons. Obviously they felt strongly about this subject. Here is what they said:

  • Text takes up less storage space 28%
  • Security—fear of viruses 22%
  • Easier/faster to read/scan 13%
  • Text is easier to read on a PDA 9%
  • Text is more reliable, formatting/forwarding etc. 7%
  • Easier to save/file/copy text 6%
  • Like to read email in preview pane 4%
  • Text is more personal 4%
  • Fear of tracking/being spied on with HTML 4%
  • Text is more easily searched off line 1%

Concerns about the greater size of HTML emails relative to Text reared in a few places. Concerns about slower download times were echoed by the top reason: text takes up less storage space.

As the volume of email increases (both wanted and unwanted), the chance that your subscribers will become overloaded and start bouncing emails goes up significantly. Many of you are seeing this phenomenon in reverse—watching your campaign soft bounce rates increase over time.

Other choices for Text echo the theme of "just the meat please." People want to get to the part of the email they are interested in quickly and easily, without distractions—and they may not be reading it from the comfort of their desk.

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