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Email has become a part of everyday life. There were more than 250 million sent every minute in 2022 and hundreds land in B2B buyers’ inboxes daily. It makes for a competitive landscape and emails are changing as a result.

Gone are the days of image-led, HTML-heavy messages; today, simplicity and personalisation are the mantras when it comes to email marketing. In response to both shifting customer preferences and technological developments, brands are reshaping the way they engage with their audiences – and it’s a trend that seems set to stick around. Let’s explore why.

What is an HTML-heavy email?

Not all emails are the same. We already understand the differences between plain text and HTML emails but even within HTML, there are variations. Think of it as a scale from very light to very heavy, with the level of formatting influencing the look and feel of the message.

A very light HTML email is formatted to look as though it is plain text. It may include some bold fonts or hyperlinks, but there are no images or design features. In contrast, a very heavy HTML email makes no attempt to appear as plain text. It will usually include complex layouts with different colours, rely heavily on images such as banners, logos and product pictures and feature multimedia elements or custom fonts.

Whilst these components can enhance the visual appeal, they do bring some disadvantages too.

The disadvantages of heavy HTML in sales emails

One of the main reasons to move away from image-heavy HTML emails is deliverability. The worst place any email can end up is a spam folder and messages with an abundance of embedded scripts, images and tracking pixels are more likely to trigger spam filters.

But deliverability isn’t just about avoiding spam filters and promotional tabs. Where an email lands is only part of the battle; the real goal is getting your prospect to read it.

Unfortunately, HTML-heavy emails also fail in this regard. A study by Hubspot showed that HTML emails had a 25% lower open rate and a 21% lower click-through rate compared with plain text. Whilst the research is a few years old, the results echo our experiences. The intricate layouts and embedded content of HTML, once regarded as essential to grab attention, no longer resonate with buyers. They are too salesy, with their flashy design and promotional content plugging products or services with impersonal and pushy messaging. They don’t lend themselves well to tailored messages either, and, as we’ve discussed previously, personalisation and creating a connection are key when it comes to lead generation and sales.

HTML-heavy emails also take longer to put together, and making quick edits or updates can be a challenge as changes may affect the entire layout and formatting.  Formatting problems can occur across different email clients, with potential rendering issues resulting in distorted layouts, broken images or misaligned text. And HTML-heavy emails present particular barriers for visually impaired users who may struggle with screen readers or have difficulty navigating overly complex designs.

So, how can we improve deliverability to increase the likelihood that an email will be read? Let’s look at this in more detail.

Best practices for email deliverability

  • Avoid elements that trigger spam filters

Deliverability might not be solely about avoiding spam filters but it does play a part. Spam filters analyse several factors to determine the likelihood of an email being suspicious or untrustworthy, including the content, design, sender reputation and email structure. So, reducing the use of characteristics such as complex HTML coding and multimedia elements, which are commonly associated with spam, helps to ensure emails end up in the right place.

  • Optimise for mobile

Statistics suggest that anything from 35% to 81% of emails are opened on mobile devices. Whatever the correct figure it’s a significant proportion, and certainly high enough to make it vital that the emails you’re sending can be viewed properly on a mobile phone. Heavy HTML emails pose significant challenges in this regard, as the file sizes often result in slow loading times and distorted layouts.

In contrast, text-based emails offer enhanced accessibility and a better user experience on mobile platforms. Clear and concise messages, with bullet points that are easy to navigate, load more easily and are automatically more engaging.

  • Add personalisation

There are few better ways to grab the attention of your audience than by talking directly to them and providing them with the information and answers they seek. From personalised product recommendations to customised promotional offers, campaigns that deliver relevant content to recipients based on their interests and behaviour consistently perform better.

And it’s much easier to add this kind of personalisation into an email that isn’t full of moving parts and large graphics. A word of warning, however. Although less may be more when it comes to email design, plain text shouldn’t mean boring and impersonal. In fact, when the communication is text only, each word has to work even harder to engage the reader and bring about action. This is why accurate personalisation is so important.

  • Keep it simple

Email is perceived as a personal method of communication. Buyers are used to receiving messages from friends and trusted colleagues – and these messages are plain and simple, clear and concise. Therefore, emails that replicate this straightforward style are more likely to resonate, to be seen as trustworthy, and to contain valuable information. A plain email in a sea of HTML also acts as a pattern interrupt: it stands out because it is different, making it more likely to be read.

The future of sales emails

There is a clear shift towards simpler, text-based emails, which, although built in HTML for tracking purposes, are designed to look like one-to-one communications. This approach does have limitations—there is less opportunity for branding and it’s harder to highlight calls to action—but it’s generally accepted that these are outweighed by the significant advantages in deliverability, including better open and click rates and improved personalisation.

With technologies like AI and automation continuing to evolve, we expect to see further moves in this direction. It’s something already in place at Interlink, where our personalised, plain text email strategy has delivered a significant increase in conversion rates compared to traditional HTML campaigns.

There are plenty more changes on the horizon too. Read about our other predictions for the future of B2B marketing here: