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The three types of Marketo email templates.

Read Time: 5 Mins
A hand holding an email envelope icon

When building a house, builders use blueprints to ensure everything goes efficiently, and that the house is both sturdy and up to code once it’s finished. Templates are the tool in Marketo that serve that same role for emails. Marketo email templates provide structure so emails can be built more easily, efficiently and consistently.  

Without templates, emails need to be built from the ground up every time, which results in inconsistent emails that are more likely to be flagged by spam filters, or violate email laws and regulations like CAN-SPAM and GDPR. 

There are three different types of email templates available in Marketo:

  • “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) templates that are created and managed using the Marketo user interface (UI).
  • Email templates that are created and managed through HTML coding.
  • HTML templates written to replicate the behavior of the WYSIWYG template.


Marketo WYSIWYG email templates.

WYSIWYG templates are created by building an email in Marketo either with no template, with one of the Marketo default templates, an HTML template with only headers/footers coded, or with any pre-existing WYSIWYG template. Once the email is created, edit the email using the built-in drag and drop editor and the built-in text editor, then convert the email into a template. When creating emails from this template, it is possible to add or remove elements using the design studio WYSIWYG UI.  


  • No developer Needed. This style of template can be entirely managed without ever touching the HTML code, so there is no need for a developer. 
  • Flexibility. Since elements can be added, removed or moved up and down using this style of template, emails can be easily modified to adjust unique one-off needs. 


  • Manual. Creation of individual emails can take longer as the user may need to remove extra elements or add any that were missing from the base template. 
  • Plain and unbranded. Since these are built using the basic drag and drop function and the built-in text editor, the ability to customize visual elements is limited. 
  • Less standardization. Since the templates are more flexible it’s easy for template users to deviate from branding or any standardization that exists in the template. 
  • Human error. The more customizable something is, the easier it is to make a mistake such as forgetting to hide a section that should have been hidden or accidentally placing content in the wrong order. 
  • Slower loads. If a template has a large number of extra elements added, even if they are hidden within a particular email created from that template, that email will take longer to load when opened in an email client. Think of it like a house where the lights have been turned off in the rooms not in use. Those rooms still exist and the house isn’t any smaller, we just see less of it. Some companies create a single flexible template with all sections that could be needed with the intent to hide all unused sections for each email built from the template. This can reduce engagement as it can increase loading times and the likelihood of being flagged in spam filters.


Marketo HTML email templates.

These templates are created entirely using HTML code. This can be either done within Marketo in the HTML editor, or in a 3rd party tool, after which the code would be copied into Marketo. Emails created from these templates will always have the same layout and can’t be altered.


  • Standardized. These emails allow for consistent branding every time and remove the possibility of human error. 
  • Efficient. When creating an email from an HTML template, all the user needs to do is place the copy and images. No edits need to be made to the layout, making it faster and easier to create emails. 


  • Rigid. Aside from dynamic content, the elements cannot be altered in individual emails, so content needs to be written to fit the template instead of fitting the template to the content.
  • Developer required. Since everything is done in HTML, someone familiar with HTML coding in Marketo is required to write the templates as well as edit or troubleshoot them. If edits are required in the template, they will need to be made by a developer.
  • No Marketo support. Marketo support does not assist with any custom code, so the troubleshooting they can offer if any issues arise around hard coded templates is limited. 


Marketo HTML with WYSIWYG functionality email templates.

Like more rigid HTML templates, these are built entirely using HTML code. However, developers savvy with Marketo can code the elements to include drag and drop functionality like a WYSIWYG template. 


  • Best of both worlds. HTML with WYSIWYG functionality allows for the best parts of WYSIWYG templates while keeping the benefits of HTML. 
  • Standardized. These emails allow for consistent branding every time and greatly reduce the possibility of human error.  
  • Efficient. When creating an email from a WYSIWYG style HTML template all the user needs to do is place the copy and images. They can also make minor edits to formatting using Marketo’s drag and drop functionality without deviating from the branding established by the template.
  • Flexible. This style is as flexible as the developer coded for. Elements can typically be added or removed, and developers can even include the ability to move elements up or down.


  • Experienced Marketo developer required. Since everything is done in HTML, someone familiar with HTML coding in Marketo is required to write the templates as well as edit or troubleshoot them. Specifically, this requires being familiar with the Marketo elements and how to write for them, which is a specialized skill set. 


When should I create WYSIWYG v HTML email templates?

A large part of the decisions around which type of template to create will depend on whether or not a developer is available, and what the basic needs of the template will be. For example, if it needs to be customizable, or if it needs to be very standardized.

Template Type When to Consider When Not to Use
WYSIWYG When a developer is not available to create email templates. When there is a developer available and standardization or branding is more important than flexibility.
HTML When a developer is available but they are not an expert in Marketo’s email template elements, and standardization or branding are more important than flexibility. When a developer is not available or if templates need to be flexible/customizable.
When a very basic template needs to be created with headers, footers and basic color blocking that will be used as a base for WYSIWYG templates.
When a strict template needs to be created that emails will closely adhere to and not allow structural changes.
HTML with WYSIWYG Functionality When a developer is experienced with Marketo’s email template elements. When a developer familiar with Marketo’s email templates elements is not available.

The Iron Horse Insight.

Overall, for B2B organizations using Marketo, Ironhorse recommends the HTML style templates with WYSIWYG functionality whenever possible as they are more efficient to use.  They also standardize the look and feel of emails being sent from Marketo without sacrificing the flexibility that WYSIWYG templates offer. Iron Horse does not recommend using WYSIWYG templates unless there is no option to get a developer involved. 

See how you can optimize your email program with Iron Horse’s Marketo consulting services.

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