It’s Time to Drop the Text Version

If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution for your email program I have a suggestion: drop the text version. It’s a hangover habit that you just don’t need anymore.

First off let’s make sure we’re all clear what we’re talking about. When you send an HTML email you have the option to include a text-only alternative as part of the same message. Technically your email contains a header that indicates your message has multiple parts that are alternative versions of the same message (multipart/alternative). Any email client can choose between these alternatives. Those that cannot handle HTML can then display the text version. Some email clients, though capable of displaying the HTML, can be configured to ignore it and just display the text.

Here are three reasons why you should drop the text version of your marketing messages.

1. It’s a Dinosaur and No One Is Using It

The text alternative was an important feature 10 or so years ago when major email clients such as AOL and BlackBerry did not handle HTML. Failure to have a text version was a big mistake, as they’d display a blank message or cryptic error. Today, though, virtually every email client in existence can (and does) display HTML. AOL 6.0 added HTML support 14 years ago and BlackBerry has supported HTML for more than five years.

The bottom line is that no one is viewing the text version of your message. If you want to determine this for your own audience you can. Though you can’t directly measure opens, you can track the links in your text version separately from the HTML. When I did this many years ago only a fraction of one percent of clicks came via the text version. Today I expect it will be virtually zero.

2. It’s Not Helping

You may have heard that a text version is important for deliverability. It was believed that ISPs viewed HTML-only messages with suspicion. While it’s true that SpamAssassin does still have a rule that will trigger if you don’t have a text version, the score is very low. It’s highly unlikely that rule will push a valid message into the spam folder.

You might also consider that in my sample of more than 140,000 marketing emails, less than half (47.96 percent) had a text version. That isn’t a scientific survey, but I’ve got a wide range of emails from many of the biggest brands in my sample.

3. It’s Costing You Money

Unless you’re using the default text version auto-generated from your HTML by your ESP’s platform, it is costing you time and money every time you send. Each version has to be created, tested, and QAed, a process that’s often just as complex for the “simple” text version as for the more complex HTML.

Of course you can use those auto-generated text versions, but they can be ugly, misleading, and even broken, which means you may still need to do at least some work.

When it comes to dropping the text version, you have two choices.

Either, rip off the Band-Aid by dropping it altogether.

This is the cleaner, more forward-thinking albeit slightly more risky approach. I’m not aware of a single email client released in the last five years that does not support HTML email and I’m not aware of a single new email program created in the last decade that does not support HTML. In short, HTML is where it’s at for email. Text is dead.

Or, play it safe with a generic text version.

Create a single generic text version that points the user to the Web version of your HTML message and use that generic version in everything you send. This approach can keep your lawyers happy by containing whatever legalese or boilerplate they require but because it’s identical every time, you avoid the create, test, and QA overhead.

Whichever route you choose, it’s time for the text-version to make like a tree and leave.

Until next time.

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