Commentary

Watch Out For Plain Text

As you “should” know, a plain text version of your email is vital for inbox access.

Way back in the days before the Web or email existed, you sent plain text messages between computers/terminals, the file was a header, and the content was plain text. Then later on, HTML was bolted onto the bottom of the mime, and email marketing grew out of that.

Over time, more and more inboxes would render the HTML -- and now, pretty much all of them do so by default, even on BlackBerrys!

So nowadays, once you have made your HTML version, you just make your plain text version quickly, often with the click of a button -- or it is made for you, so you haven’t had to think about it for quite a while.

But now you do! Phones are getting bigger (and better), and to fill the void of the tiny smart gadget, wearables are appearing -- most notably, the smart watch!

The email apps on the new smartwatches running Android or from Apple render the plain text versions of the emails, mainly due to them being too small to bother with HTML version. The user can then “hand off” to the phone if they want to continue reading it.

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This means that your plain text will likely start to matter to anyone who has one -- but you likely won’t know about this, because there’s no open tracking in plain text, only link tracking and the likelihood of clicks on a watch is slimmer than a phone.

If you are currently using software that makes plain text automatically, you will likely see that that the way it renders is not very pretty. Many of these tools will simply take out all the HTML from that version and leave you with lines of the text and links as your plain text version. It might not sound too bad at first, but if you think about the top of your HTML emails -- and how that copy might be the first or only bit of content a watch reader might see -- you may have cause for worry.

The top of most emails is functional: You have the text for the snippet preview to tease a little, a browser view link, maybe a send to a friend, unsubscribe and some social links. The full copy of the email is normally a few lines down.

This experience is likely to make watch readers work a little too hard. If they forget to take an action and leave it unread until later, they may just swipe to archive instead, or have to swipe a little further to hand-off to the phone.

As these new smaller wearables become adopted, it will be very important for email marketers to manually optimise, at least, the top of the plain versions to carry on where the subject line left off and give watch readers a reason to read on, hand off to the phone or do whatever it is they do in their mobile inbox triage to make sure they get back to it later when they are on any bigger screen.

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