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HTML Templates Are Probably Hurting Your Email Newsletters [Updated]

· Email,All In One CRM

HTML templates for newsletters had their time, but it's time to put them to rest. Why? So your emails perform better. We've gathered a bunch of data to prove to you that basic emails are more effective, and also that any email marketing system which tries to promote templates with images is misguiding you.

[Note - updates to this article are listed at the bottom.]

How are Email Opens tracked?

Let's start by understanding how email opens are tracked. First, there's the old school way - the read receipt. There are two significant issues with the read receipt: 1) it interrupts the flow of reading the email as it requires action by the recipient and 2) any read receipt sent to a webmail client (e.g. Gmail) is disregarded.

The more common open tracker these days inserts an invisible one pixel image into the bottom of an email. If that image is "downloaded" then your email is considered opened. Every single email marketing system on the planet uses this method, as far as we know. 

The HTML Template Image Download Problem

The problem with email images, whether an html template image or the open tracking pixel, is that the vast majority of email users are using an email client which prohibits image download as the default setting. Let's look at the stats provided by Gartner and reported by Forbes:

  1. 13% of email server addresses lead back to Microsoft or Google cloud email services. The rest (87%) use conventional on-premise or hybrid email applications.

  2. 80% of on-premise email is owned by Microsoft.

  3. Of the two cloud services, Microsoft accounted for 8.5% through Microsoft Office 365, and Google Apps for Work had 4.7%.

The punchline: Microsoft powers 78% of business email compared to Google Apps for Work at 4.5%, and myriad of others make up the difference.

Why is this important? Because Microsoft Outlook and Outlook via Office 365 automatically hide images as their default setting.

When images are not downloaded, opens are not counted and HTML templates look like the banner image of this article showing large X's and "Images are not displayed."

Where Newsletter Providers Might Have Misguided You

Doing a quick Google search for "email client market share" yields a variety of vendor-created reports. The challenge we have with the top ranking reports is that they appear to be based on email opens. Effectively 4 out of 5 email recipients are using Outlook, which hide images as the default setting and inhibit the trackable open event. Forgive us if we raise an eyebrow to their "reports."

The Good News

All of that said, there is a silver lining here. Because so many business users use a Microsoft-based email system, there is a high change the open rates of your newsletters are actually higher than reported, as more people likely read your email than tripped the open tracker. 

Further, as you're planning your next email campaign, it will probably save you a tremendous amount of time to NOT have to deal with an email template. Craft a basic text-based email and focus on your copy and the action items you are requesting of your recipients.

Final notes:

  1. For many businesses, the open rate of a newsletter should only be considered good or bad relative to other newsletters you've sent out. 
  2. Across all systems, a click event is trackable. If you do request your recipients to take action, it might be more meaningful to compare click through rates than open rates.

If after this you believe you might be paying too much for your email marketing system, or want a simpler email marketing system, we invite you to check out VipeCloud.

Updates To This Article

This article was originally published in June of 2016, and the world of email is a constantly evolving beast. Here are some updates:

  1. If your client base is small businesses, or otherwise has a high probability of using Gmail or G-Suite, then HTML emails are likely not have as detrimental of an effect than if your clients primarily use Outlook. 
  2. That said, Gmail and G-Suite now tab their inbox emails, so if you have too much HTML in your email (as opposed to text) you can end up in the Promotions or the Social tab. While technically still the inbox, it's still not where you want to be. 
  3. Of course, if your client base is used to and expecting emails from you, there is a greater chance they have enabled image downloading for emails from you, so HTML newsletters might serve you well. 
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