Growth January 6, 2020

How I constantly get over 40% open rate on my promotional emails


Hey guys,

I've been seeing a lot of you sending beautiful newsletters and non-spammy promotional emails, that almost always end up on my promotions tab in Gmail. This means essentially no one will see them (and even less will click-through).

However, I've been using an ingenious hack that makes my open-rates shoot-up, to almost double of what they should be when compared to the average email benchmarks.

And how do I achieve this?

By always send e-mails using only plain-text. Always.

And 9 out of 10 times, they get over 40% open-rates, with very high CTR's aswell.

Now, let's go over the pros vs cons of plain-text.

PROS of Plain-text:

1. Gmail doesn't usually consider them promotional because they have no images or altered HTML. This means they almost always get delivered to the main tab, and because of that, they get much higher open-rates.

2. Being in plain-text makes them look just like any other important business e-mail, meaning they receive a focused reading. The proof of this is the high CTR on my promotional e-mails (see image above).

3. Because they look like regular emails, people are compelled to respond, and they do so more than in promotional emails filled with images. My emails look like conversations and not like sales catalogs saturated with images - this makes people want to reply and know more, even if the content is clearly promotional.

CONS of Plain-text:

1. This same philosophy can be problematic regarding transactional e-mails. I would be alarmed to see my credit card information or passwords being sent in plain-text (I would feel someone had hand-typed my information and therefore kept it for themselves).

2. I also wouldn't advise conventional e-commerce stores to follow this strategy. Regular e-commerce emails are literally sales catalogs - images and altered HTML were made for them, so they've got to use it.

Now, when I say plain-text, I do sometimes use the bold and italic functions.

And yes, while this does inject a bit of HTML into my e-mails, I haven't noticed any drop in either open rates or CTR's - so I'll keep adding a bit of it to make my emails look attractive, readable and natural.

So far I've done this strategy for and my personal website newsletter, and it's been working great - the open-rates remain the same.

Now, are you indie-hackers doing the same for your e-mails?

And are you having similar results?

  1. 3

    I heard this before about plain text emails, but I remember that we did an A/B test for opening rates when working at a startup (same title and content, just one version had a few extra images) and the open rates were the same for both plain text and multimedia emails. Did you try A/B testing plain text vs multimedia e-mails?

    Also, two out of three PRO points that you mentioned are about improving the click-rate, not open-rate: the user can't (usually) read the e-mail before opening it, so the content might not even matter, but only the title. Also point 1 is debatable I think, I have plain text e-mails that go to spam, and spammy e-mails with images that go into my main inbox.

    I am not advocating for either plain-text or non-plain-text, just saying that the open rate is probably unrelated to this criteria, or maybe, based on your point #1, deliverability rate might be different.

    1. 1

      Hey XCS,

      I personally haven't A/B tested it in my emails but when I compare to other people, and the various email benchmarks, plain-text is clearly winning.

      I'm also extra careful about not using spam-filter keywords, which could deliver me straight to the promotions tab (and would tank my open-rates in the process).

      Also, spammy emails will always get caught by spam filters, so this is not something that will be fixed by using plain-text.

      Maybe some of your plain-text emails are being caught by these filters unfairly?

      1. 2

        You're not comparing like with like. You're sending to a list of 145 people. Email benchmarks can be for lists of 20,000+, of course the behaviour varies drastically.

        Please don't make any bold assumptions based on the design based on this data without further testing.

        1. 0

          Shouldn't it scale accordingly?

          If I had the same level of interested subscribers, wouldn't a 20,000+ subscriber list see similar amounts of open-rates?

          1. 3

            No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no...

            You can always compare against industry and competitor metrics but ultimately, your goal line should be set by your own testing, against your own subscriber base, over time.

            Never expect results will scale by simply increasing your subscriber rate.
            Your engaged vs disengaged subscribers will vary, your content will vary, your brand reputation will vary, and your IP reputation will vary, to other brands you are making a basic comparison to.

            I like your thinking of sharing your results and it's a shame there's been a fair amount of a negative response to this.
            Great work and keep it up.
            Now run some of your own tests every so often and do some quick and basic analysis on how you're tracking. What did/didn't work. Test again in six months or run constant tests, as the Morning Brew team do with their newsletters.

  2. 2

    Echo this! Well done :)

    I’ve also applied plain text approach a few months. I can see open rate increased by 25%+ and click rate more than triple.

    Also testing some targeted segmentation and different delivery time. It works super smooth so far.

  3. 2

    It's not plain text, but HTML . Otherwise, you can' get any statistics

    1. 1

      Hey Tim12,

      Of course, most emails today will have some HTML - especially now with GDPR laws, in which you must provide an unsubscribe link in every email.

      I believe Gmail already accounts for this, or no lawful person/company would reach the main tab.

      1. 1

        GDPR ? what the link ?
        In fact, I'm not sure you know what mean "plain-text".
        I would advise you to search "compare email plain-text and HTML".
        In 2 words, the specific word "plain-text" means that when you send an email, you don't insert any HTML code. But even in "plain-text", you can insert any kind of links.
        I think you probably mean that you write only content without images.

        1. 0

          Yes, I do write content without images, and I sometimes add bold or italic formatting - this would make my emails no longer "plain-text", of course.

          I used "plain-text" in this context as it's the easiest term for people to understand I haven't used images.

      2. 1

        This comment was deleted 8 months ago.

  4. 2

    This is the philosophy behind ConvertKit: you can send only plain text email (

    This may helps with deliverability (but not always: I’ve seen many plain text email end up into the promotional tab).

    IMHO your 40% is probably due to the fact that you are sending out interesting content 🙂

    1. 1

      Hey Andrea, thank you for expecting the best out of my content.

      Now, besides picking a good host (Convertkit in my case), the most important thing you can do for your emails is to not use any spam-filter promotional words in them.

      If you write "100% free", "discount", "bargain" and so on, Gmail will move you to the promotions tab, regardless of your content being plain-text or multimedia.

      And while this seems like basic email marketing knowledge, a lot of makers (and even big brands) forget to check for it before sending important broadcasts.

      1. 2

        I agree with the thread here - a high open rate must be a function of the subject line and preview text (what’s visible in inbox). High deliverability provided by plain text is great, but it shouldn’t impact how many people think your email looks interesting.

        Looking at your screenshot of subject lines, I’d say well done! I’d open those.

  5. 1

    Hmm. While I do like sending plain text emails in certain situations, I don't think it affects open rates that much. I continuously get open rates above 40% while sending HTML emails containing images and even gifs. And 75% of my userbase uses Gmail.

  6. 0

    Some of what you wrote here is not true. Inboxing issues with gmail goes way beyond simple text versus html email.

  7. 0

    Your plain text emails are not plain text, they are still HTML. Just HTML styled to look like plain text. They still contain unsubscribe links, image tags, and hundreds of lines of HTML.

    I'd expect that this is more to do with you having a small, high quality, list, than the design of the emails.