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Janet Roberts

HTML Tops Text in Reader Preferences
By Janet Roberts

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HTML is beginning to edge out text as the preferred format for email messages, whether they're newsletters or marketing emails, but don't expect it to replace text in the near future.

  • Respondents to GotMarketing's informal survey on format preferences preferred HTML to text, although the text adherents felt more strongly about their choice.

  • This week's release of DoubleClick's Email Trends Report found that HTML messages generated click-through rates that were 1.2 times to 1.7 times higher than those for text messages. Travel marketing messages did the best in HTML, followed by business newsletters and retailer-catalog mailings, consumer newsletters, business marketing messages and consumer marketing messages.

GotMarketing Survey Results

The survey, sponsored by email-marketing software designer GotMarketing, asked respondents to choose which format they use to receive email newsletters, say why they made that choice, and, as a bonus, to voice their opinion of rich media. More than 600 people took the survey.

Before I hear from all the statistical researchers in the audience, I should note this is not being presented as a scientific survey or the last word on text vs HTML.

Also, this survey was promoted primarily to people in the business, such as email publishers and marketers, although I hope some of you who publish newsletters for other audiences did invite your readers to participate.

However, if you know a graduate student in new media or marketing who's looking for a research project and a thesis, this provides an excellent background.

Here are some of the key results:

  • Of the 630 respondents who answered the question, 55 percent preferred HTML to text.

  • Almost a third of those who chose text over HTML said they did so because they just wanted "the meat without the distractions." HTML's main attractions are its layout possibilities and use of graphics and color.

  • Respondents also got to voice their sentiments about rich media (HTML with streaming video, audio and other enhancements).

The results? If you just launched a rich-media campaign, you might want to rethink it. More people responded to that question than to text-versus-HTML; the answer more people chose was "I really really dislike rich email." Forty percent were indifferent to positive about rich media, while 60 percent were negative.

(Come back in a year or so, and the tide might have shifted, as it seems to have done with HTML.)

Respondents could express their opinions in favor of text or HTML either by using five prepared statements in the survey or by writing in their own reasons. These "other" opinions are equally revealing.

Of those who expressed an opinion, 28 percent who voted for text said text takes up less storage space. Another 22 percent was concerned about security and viruses and 13 percent said text is easier to read.

But, over 50 percent of those expressing other opinions about HTML also said it was easier to read.

Conclusions: Launching an HTML newsletter, with a worthy text counterpart, is probably a safer publication model now than it was a few years ago. More research will be able to spell out differences between email newcomers and veterans, new subscribers or loyal long-term readers, those who read at work versus home readers, and business versus consumer newsletters.

Ezine-Tips for September 26, 2002

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