The Email Multiverse – or, How Multi-Part Messages Are Like Comic Books

As you know by now, I’m an email nerd and – surprise! – I’m a comic book geek, too. I’ve been collecting comics since way before it was cool – long before tattooed specialty shop clerks (who try to make me feel like I don’t know the history of the Justice Society) were even born! I love the golden age heroes, like Earth-Two, Dr. Fate and The Helm of Nabu – heck, he was even based in Salem, MA (just like Net Atlantic)!

So what does this all have to do with email? Aside from the fact that I’d love a shout-out from @dandidio1, @JimLee or @geoffjohnsKAPOW! – quite a bit! Take the idea of the Multiverse. Comic book authors use the Multiverse as a way to tell stories about different versions of the same hero. And each version of the hero is interpreted differently by the readers. This is similar to the idea behind sending a multi-part email message. How?

Well, you’re sending the same message in two different formats (HTML and plain text). The HTML version contains the code which brings the images, text, fonts and links to life – kind of like the art in a comic book. And the plain-text version is like the talk bubbles in a comic book: something for the recipient to read!

Each version of the multi-part email conveys the message by itself, but some readers may only respond to the HTML version while others respond only to the plain text version. Put them together and – BAM! – you increase the chances of reaching a wider audience.

While the idea may seem antiquated, it’s still really important to send multi-part messages. Here’s why:

  • Spam Filtering: Historically, ISPs and receiving domains are suspicious of HTML-only mailings, because these are the types of mail that spammers typically send. HTML-only mailings tend to trigger spam filters on the receiving end, which means that your beautifully designed email will likely get shunted to a spam/junk/bulk folder, and never see the inside of the recipient’s inbox. BOING! Including a plain-text version of the mailing allows the filtering technology on the receiving end to process the mail and pass it through.
  • Email Clients: Believe it or not, back in the golden age of emailing, a lot of service providers couldn’t process HTML, so plain text was the only option. While the number of such email clients is small these days, it’s still a viable reason as to why sending a multi-part message is important. Additionally, there are special reading services and devices that aid visually impaired people, and they don’t work with HTML-only mailings. In these cases, it doesn’t matter if the email client can handle the HTML; it boils down to the needs of the individual recipient. I mean, imagine if Dr. Mid-Nite, the blind golden age comic super-hero, had to read your email in a well-lit room? Well, he couldn’t, because he could only see in total darkness!
  • Preference: Some of your recipients may actually prefer the plain text version of your mail. Many email clients allow their users to choose whether they want to receive text or HTML emails. If they select the text-only format, and your email doesn’t include a plain-text version, your message will be neither received nor read. Holy email fail!

Think about your emails as stories that are trying to evoke a response – an open, a click, a purchase, a relationship, etc. If you aren’t using all the tools in your utility belt (Batman!), then you aren’t giving your readers the whole story. Sending multi-part messages will definitely ZAP! good results your way!

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