5 Best Practices of Plain-Text Email Optimization [Part II]
We have discussed the importance of plain-text emails. Keeping in mind that it’s bad to ignore text versions of emails. But more importantly, marketers need to provide useful, well-designed plain-text emails. Fortunately, by following some of our tips below, you can optimize your plain-text emails for your subscribers.
How to optimize your plain-text emails
Most email service providers (ESPs) will send in multi-part automatically, or walk you through setting this up as an option. However, these auto-generated plain-text versions are usually unorganized and difficult to read. For example, the text version of the email could be filled with back-to-back links—there are no clear calls-to-action (CTAs), and it is a poor email experience for any person reading it.
While using these auto-generated versions can save you time, be sure to edit them if need be. There may be added spaces between paragraphs, corrupted characters (ASCII characters such as trademark, copyright, and smart quotes, etc. aren’t supported), and links and text that are unnecessary.
Regardless of whether you’re creating the plain-text version yourself, or using the auto-generated version from your ESP, it’s important to make sure the email is easily readable and that the calls to action are clear. Without HTML design elements like background colors, larger text for headlines, and imagery, you must use other elements to achieve readability.
Easy to scan content
Regardless of whether you’re designing for HTML or plain text, providing your subscribers with a positive email experience is key. Part of this is organizing content so it is easily scannable (because, let’s be honest—no one is reading every word of your email). Headlines also serve as a clear indicator of which pieces of content you’d like to be the primary focus, versus secondary, tertiary, and the like. There are numerous tactics to help achieve this.
While you can’t use larger text or different colors to separate headlines from the content, there are a few strategies that do work, like using all caps or symbols to separate sections.
With the double asterisk (**) next to each headline and a row of dashes underneath, the headers are clear, which makes the email easy to scan. If you don’t have defined headlines in plain-text email or HTML, then subscribers will not have a clear reading or skimming path. For example; if subscribers open an email without headlines, they won’t have any clue on where to look first and the email will look like a mix of text and links.
Another important element for scanning is use of whitespace—which involves including line breaks between different content sections, headlines, and CTAs. It creates a clear path for the eye of the subscriber. It also allows links to be easily clickable (and touch friendly on mobile devices). You can use spaces between paragraphs, links, and even equal signs (=) creates hierarchy.
Using lists is another great tactic for creating hierarchy in a plain-text email. While bullet points aren’t supported, you can use other characters, like -, *, or + instead. For example, a plain-text email can use dashes to list out special features included in a particular deal:
By using dashes, the hierarchy of the email remains intact—despite the lack of fancy HTML elements—and the reader’s eye is drawn to that aspect of the email.
Regardless of whether you’re sending an HTML or plain-text email, your CTAs should always stand out—your subscriber shouldn’t have to go looking for them!
While it’s a bit more difficult to make CTAs stand out without the help of colorful HTML-based buttons, there are other tactics you can use in plain-text emails. For example, an email can use two angle brackets (>>) to draw attention to the CTA:
Between the angle brackets and the “Shop Now” text being on one line and the link on the next, the CTA stands out in the email (and it’s easy to tap for mobile subscribers).
Let the lines run free
In the past, many email clients allowed text to run extremely long before wrapping it on a new line. As a result, it was a best practice to add line breaks every 60 characters in your plain-text emails to increase legibility. With times changing and the flooding number of mobile email clients, text emails are getting barred from running too long and they are being optimized to fit in the window.
As a closing thought, do not stuff the email with links. If you open up an HTML-based email and it’s full of CTA buttons, you’d be overwhelmed. If you open up a plain-text email and it’s full of links, you get the same reaction.