Multi-Part vs. HTML- or Text-Only Emails
In part 1 of our email marketing series, we explored mass email in an age of spam and social media. For part 2, we focus in on the different types of emails.
In the past, the "right way" to send out an email to a large list of people was to build a properly formatted "multi-part" email: you combine HTML and text versions into a single email, and let the reader's email client—the email program they use to access/read/manage email—decide what version to send.
While this did have the side effect of doubling the physical size of the emails being sent, it allowed for the greatest coverage of email client types. It also provided good support for email readers, primarily used by individuals with visual handicaps.
However, times have changed a bit. Most modern email clients now completely ignore the text edition of the email and instead attempt to create their own text version directly from the HTML code. While this does mean you can successfully opt to sending out an "HTML-only email", it also means that some visual readers may have more trouble as the text copy created from the HTML isn't always the best.
Bottom line: Is it still worth sending out a multi-part email?
In most situations, yes.
The only other alternative is to offer two separate email lists: one that is for HTML and one that only sends out plain-text messages.
While the number of users who make use of text-only email clients is growing smaller (less than 2%), there is one key segment of the audience that we need to consider: those with visual impairments.
Many with visual impairments use software known as "screen readers" that literally reads the textual contents of a website page or email to them. Unfortunately, with all the code required to build a properly formatted HTML email, a screen reader can have a challenging time deciphering the contents for these users.
As one such user put it:
HTML emails are VERY distressing, difficult to navigate, and bury the text of the email in large amounts of HTML code gibberish, and generally cause no end of frustration for a screen reader user." (Why we need standards support for HTML email)
Bottom Line: If there's a small chance that you will end up with subscribers with some type of handicap that will affect their ability to understand the email, you still need to provide a text-only email version. You can choose to do that with a multi-part email, or by creating two separate email lists.
Food for Thought
- Which email formats are you more likely to open and read?
- What challenges have you experienced with emails lately?