Which Newsletter Format Should I Use? Text, HTML or PDF?

Copyright © 2008 eMarketing Strategist

Having an electronic newsletter (or e-newsletter) is an excellent way to stay in touch with clients and prospects. An e-newsletter can be produced significantly cheaper than a print newsletter and can be distributed at the click of a button without the cost of postage. Many professionals don't make use of this important marketing tool because they quickly get overwhelmed by all the options. This article will give you a basic understanding of the three basic formats for e-newsletters each with unique advantages and disadvantages.


HTML is a popular format for many newsletters. They are more visually appealing, easier to read and have a higher click through rate than text. You can include features such as active links to other web pages, shopping carts and newsletter sign up buttons. With a little extra code you can track metrics such as open and click through rates. This gives you valuable information about what people are reading and can help you fine tune your content.

An HTML newsletter can be opened and viewed in an email program provided the recipients email program is set up to display HTML. In older email programs, it was problematic to properly display HTML but increasing, email programs are designed and set up to automatically display HTML. You also have the option of sending an email with a brief description of your newsletter with a link to the full HTML version which is uploaded to your web site and looks like any other web page. While this is a good option if you have a large newsletter, it does decrease the open rate of your newsletter. Additionally, since an HTML newsletter is essentially the same as web page, it's very easy to upload the newsletter to your web site for inclusion in a newsletter archive.


A small but vocal minority prefer to receive text versions of newsletters. Text is the most basic way to send newsletter content so can be viewed by all your recipients whether they are using an email program such as Outlook and Lotus Notes or a web based email program like Yahoo or Hotmail. As the name implies, text-is-text which means you can't include any formatting other than basic punctuation. This means no graphics, active links, bullet points, bold text or italics. Your newsletter will look as if it's been done a typewriter. Since text is not as visually appealing, it is best to use this format when you know your recipients really want the information and are willing to put a little extra effort into reading it.

Text takes less time to format thus making it a good way to send extremely time sensitive information. Text newsletters typically put a lot of information in a relatively small amount of space so require less ink and print on fewer pages than HTML or PDF. Recipients who like to print the information for future reading prefer text for this reason.


PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file type created by Adobe. In order to view a PDF file, the computer it's being viewed on needs to have Adobe Acrobat Reader. Most computers have Acrobat and it's available for free on the Adobe web site. If sending or using a PDF file, it's a good idea to include a link to the Adobe web site so that recipients can download the software in the rare case that they don't have it.

A PDF file is like an electronic photocopy of a document. It looks the same no matter who is viewing it. Unlike text or HTML, it can be viewed but it cannot be changed or easily copied into another document. This is a good way to send or post information if you want to make it more difficult for someone to take your content and use it as their own.

This file format is ideal if you'd like to have both an electronic version and a print version of the same newsletter. You can post a PDF file to your web site and send the same file to your printer to print hard copies for mailing or distribution at meetings and conferences.

HTML versus PDF

An HTML newsletter can be formatted with the same look and feel as a PDF newsletter but will be a much smaller file size than a similar looking PDF newsletter. Images such as pictures and logos can be quite large and are typically the bulk of the overall file size in a PDF file. The larger the file, the longer it will take to download to the recipient's computer.

The difference in file size between HTML and PDF is primarily due to the way the graphics are stored and displayed. PDF newsletters include the graphics in the file sent to the recipient. In an HTML newsletter, the images are not actually sent with the rest of the content. The image file is located on a server. Essentially what happens is the code in an HTML newsletter tells the recipients computer “Go to this server where the image is stored and display it here.”

Both an HTML and PDF newsletter can be posted to your web site for future reading.

What's best for you?

The best file format for you specific needs will depend on a number of factors. Things to take into consideration before choosing the appropriate file format include:

• Is this time sensitive information that needs to get out quickly?

• Do you have pictures, charts or diagrams that you'd like to include?

• Do you want to track various metrics?

• Do you want both an e-newsletter and a print newsletter?

• Do you want to post the newsletter to your web site?

• How much time and money do you have to dedicate to this?

With some planning beforehand, your small business can create and send an e-newsletter in a way that will increase the number of recipients who will read it and think of your business when they have a need for your product or service.

Elge Premeau, the eMarketing Strategist, works with service businesses to get clients from the internet. She designs search engine/visitor friendly websites, creates compelling newsletters and uses the internet to get potential clients to contact you.