HTML Always Outperforms Text? Don’t Stake Your Career on It

HTML outperforms text. Almost anyone will tell you that, although it’s sometimes tough to find studies to back up this statement. Still, the anecdotal evidence is strong. Heck, even I’ve shown a couple examples of it in an article or two.

But CareerJournal isn’t just anyone. As today’s case study shows, sometimes text does better than HTML in email marketing.

CareerJournal is the career Web site of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The free site is a place for executives to read news articles, pick up job-hunting advice, access hiring demand and salary data, and more. Though many visitors also read WSJ, this section is not subscription based, as is its parent publication.

Last summer, CareerJournal added a new feature. Knowing that executives are reluctant to post their resumes online (would you want the world to know you’re looking for work?), CareerJournal created an area where users could anonymously post resumes. An individual submits all the elements of a resume, excepting her name. She is given a unique, private number. A potential employer can request to talk to “Number Such-and-Such.”

To market the idea, the company, aided by Trahan, Burden & Charles’ (TBC’s) interactive group, came up with the concept “hide while you seek.” They used this idea in print media, banner ads, and other media. When they put the email marketing campaign into place, the goal was to get individuals to click through to the site and, ultimately, submit a resume.

TBC developed three email models. An engaging Flash email included a stippled, black-and-white rendering of a job-seeking executive in WSJ’s trademark style and a number of props, including sunglasses, a clown’s nose, a pink straw hat, and a horned helmet. Recipients could drag and drop the items onto the executive, disguising his face. They were also encouraged to start their job searches by clicking on a link to transported them to CareerJournal’s site.

The HTML message has a similar feel, only this time, the executive was already wearing a disguise (fake eyeglasses, nose, bushy eyebrows, and moustache) when he landed in the recipient’s email box. The recipient saw a text message (more on that in a second) and was encouraged to click through to the site.

The text message was the same as the HTML message, which went like this: Want to explore your career options without having to cover your tracks? Visit the confidential resume profile database at, from The Wall Street Journal.

You’ll create a brief profile that can be searched by executive and corporate recruiters. When your qualifications match an available job, we’ll forward email directly from each recruiter to you, without revealing your identity. Only you can decide whether to respond.

So log onto today and click on the resume database link. And raise your job prospects, not suspicion.

All three versions were sent to the same database, typically rented lists from online publications. When the results came in, the text message was the most successful in generating job-seeking queries, followed by HTML, then Flash.

“My hypothesis is that while the Flash message was fun to play with, it’s not necessarily the best in terms of generating response,” says Fred Jorgensen of TBC. “The Flash piece was more important in that it drove home the thought of confidential resume submission… and allowed people to have some fun by spending time with the CareerJournal brand.”

He pointed out that the text message, on the other hand, contained only one bit of interaction: the link.

Interesting stuff. Here are a couple of my thoughts: Consider the target audience. These professionals probably don’t have the time or inclination to play with a fun email message, or not as much as if this were sent to, say, a group of elementary school art teachers. Is that one reason why text was so popular? I posit that it is.

Two: It’s unknown how many recipients deleted the message or filed it away and went back later. Is it possible a greater percentage of Flash recipients went to the site at a later date because the brand stuck in their minds? Sure, it’s possible — but it’s by no means certain.

If you’re considering an email marketing campaign of your own, don’t believe what everyone will tell you: that HTML always outperforms text. Consider your options. And your audience.

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