(Unfortunately) the best Mailchimp templates are simple and boring

The debate has raged on for years—which is better for email templates, well designed HTML or plain-text? If you’re searching for the best Mailchimp templates for your email marketing, knowing what templates perform best is important in your search.

In the world of email marketing, where engagement, clicks and opens reign supreme, there’s sometimes a disconnect between what research shows and what we wish we could do in our business (and in our business emails). We want all communication with our customers or clients to look great, and plain-text has all the pizzazz of a letter from a typewriter (with no images, fonts or styled links).

So, although deeply saddening, plain-text email templates always perform better in terms of getting subscribers to click on links in emails you send them. Regardless of how fancy, gorgeous, or on-brand your HTML templates are. Aside from proper list-segmentation (which I teach in Chimp Essentials), nothing boosts and improves the number of clicks more than sending your newsletters and automations using a plain-text template.

Why ugly, plain-text emails always win

  • They universally easy to read. You don’t need to test their designs in every email client or using software like Litmus, plain-text just works because it has no design to test.
  • They get higher deliverability rates. This is possibly because they’re smaller in size and require less bandwidth, or because spam filters always look for a plain-text version, so the highest deliverability rate you’ll see is if you use plain-text.
  • They are widely preferred, especially on mobile. People tend to favour the simplicity of plain-text because it’s easy to read, especially on a phone or mobile device, and even easier to read on a watch or wearable.
  • They increase open rates. Sometimes by 10% more than HTML, in A/B tests. This could be because Gmail filters HTML emails as promotions and relegates them to that tab.
  • They’re still trackable. Mailchimp lets you use click tracking in plain-text campaigns, so you can see still who clicked on what.

The best Mailchimp template is plain-text

With Mailchimp, it’s easy to use plain-text for all your campaigns and automations, because they’ve got a free plain-text template (which you can use on their free or paid plans).

Create a plain-text template in one step in Mailchimp: click Plain-text. The best Mailchimp template is also the free plain-text template!

To create one, you simply select plain-text when you’re creating a new campaign or automation. That’s it! The best template you can use in Mailchimp requires zero work on your part.

But what if… you want to forsake a bit of the benefits of plain-text to send a really nice and unique email? Even if every study says that email marketing works best as plain-text, some businesses (profitable ones, and my own) still opt for a great and simple HTML template for their newsletters.

The best Mailchimp template (if you poo-poo on plain-text)

If you need a bit of brand recognition (this helps reduce spam complaints, if the subscriber recognizes your brand and remembers signing up for your list) or if you need a touch of visual story telling, like a product image, then HTML won’t be the death of your email marketing strategy.

The main point is to not to go overboard with design, images, layout and other “creative” things in your email. Remember that most people will read it on a mobile device, which has a small screen. And most people want you to get to the point… quickly.

If you need a bit of style, the best email template for Mailchimp is a simple HTML one. Here are the best practices for HTML email templates:

  • One (maybe two) images—optimized, unobtrusive and able to load nicely on a mobile device.
  • Stick to a single font with two colours—one for text and headings, one for links, so they stand out.
  • Get to the point—get to the content of your email quickly, right at the top of the email (with maybe one small logo).
  • Keep the footer legal—simple doesn’t mean forsaking CAN-SPAM or other email marketing laws, so make sure your footer still has an address, a way to opt out and possibly a note about why a person is receiving the email.

Here’s what the HTML template for my Chimp Essentials course looks like:

My Chimp Essentials HTML template for Mailchimp—a free Mailchimp template I customized for my brand.

It’s got the logo, and an on-brand colour for the links, and a simple footer. That’s it. It scales to mobile beautifully and has a great record for deliverability and clicks.

What else to focus on in HTML email templates

With the virtues of simplicity clearly defined above, let’s look at what else you can do in your email marketing to get the most out of HTML templates.

Luckily, with Mailchimp, their drag and drop builder for HTML templates is the best in the industry. It literally takes a few minutes to update and customize any of their free pre-built Mailchimp templates to match your brand’s colours, logo and fonts—without any programming required.

Drag elements from the right to the left to build the best templates in Mailchimp for free

Just don’t forget to test your email templates on mobile and desktop email clients, a feature that comes with Mailchimp’s paid accounts.

With a simple HTML template in hand, you can now focus on other super-important parts of email marketing, including:

To conclude

While studies show that plain-text email templates are the best in terms of delivery, opens and clicks, sometimes what’s right for your business is more related to what you want to do. It’s your business, after all, and you don’t have to follow the rules if you don’t want to (I don’t!) So a simple HTML template, that is easy to read but still on point with your brand, can be the best choice.

If you’d like to learn how to setup Mailchimp you can start experimenting with plain-text or simple HTML templates, you can read the Mailchimp tutorial I wrote right here. Or you can learn how to use your Mailchimp account as a revenue generator in my Chimp Essentials course.