A Short Guide to Transactional Email

The one message that needs to hit your customer's inbox

We've all encountered transactional email at some point in our lives, but there's still a lot of fuzz around the term. Marketers see them as a developer's job, developers secretly want nothing to do with them. But since your customers need these emails, it's time to clear the air a bit. In this guide we introduce you to how transactional email fits every marketing strategy perfectly.

Written by: Tom Blijleven Published: January 15, 2020 Latest update: March 29, 2021

So; What is a transactional email?

If your business happens online in any way, you've probably come across transactional email. It's the type of email between a sender (your business) and a recipient. Since it's triggered by a recipient, it's often called "triggered email". Other then marketing emails, transactional emails are the result of an event, interaction between businesses and customers, or settings within applications.

Contrary to marketing emails, or "bulk distributions" of a message to many recipients at the same time, transactional emails are personalized and typically sent to individuals one at a time.

Think of emails like these:

1. Order Update Emails

These emails include order confirmations, delivery confirmations, receipts, and many more examples of emails sent about an order/shipment.

2. Request Fulfillment Emails

Emails that are sent to fulfill a request. i.e.: Password resets, two-factor authentication emails, and activation codes.

3. Alert and Notification Emails

Used to notify customers or users about mentions, changes in an account (password change / suspicious login attempts), or changes to company’s policies.

4. (Behavioral) Event Emails

Whenever something unusual occurs, the best thing is to be prepared. For example notifying a customer when a purchased item turns out to be out of stock.

5. Report Emails

Periodically sent transactional email. Think of energy suppliers sending monthly emails about energy consumption, or software providers emailing about your yearly activity.

6. Referral and Invitation Emails

Though they're somewhat on the edge between transactional and marketing email, invitations and referral emails can be considered notification emails.

We've created a ReallyGoodEmails collection with great examples of transactional emails:

Go to collection

Collection of transactional email examples gathered at ReallyGoodEmails.com

The Need for Speed in transactional email

As mentioned before, transactional emails are crucial for your customers to receive. This means they also have a significant impact on your business. The faster a transactional email arrives, the better the experience. Imagine having a few minutes of delay in a password reset request. People will think there's something wrong. If this happens often, the next step will be complaining. You better get your transactional emails to the inbox as fast as you can.

Deliverability equals speed

Whatever the cause, email deliverability should be a crucial topic. To make sure you're delivering to the inbox lightning fast and super safe every single time.

Perfecting deliverability is a balance between picking the right email service provider (like Flowmailer), legislatory compliance, keeping an eye on your delivery rates, and the use of proper authentication methods.

A few quick tips on better transactional email deliverability

It's good to worry about deliverability, as it effects your email marketing too. So here are some quick tips on how to increase email performance:

  1. Keep an eye on bounces: Have a lot of bounces when you're sending email? These influence the way inboxes see your domain (reputation). The lower your reputation, the likelier you're going to end up in spam. Follow up on hard bounces by calling your customer, for example.
  2. Protect your web forms better: Tons of SPAM arises from bad form protection. Forms are used by spammers to let you send emails to non-existent email addresses, increasing your bounce rate (you just read why that's a bad thing). We've listed several DIY tips to help you with form protection.
  3. Use proper authentication methods: Authentication helps you protect your domain from malicious use (spoofing) by others. We wrote a short guide on why that's important and how to protect your domain.

But transactional email is more than just a programmatic communications channel with strict requirements. It's also a fun, helpful tool in any (email) marketing strategy:

The role of transactional email in a marketing strategy

Though transactional email has a somewhat dusted reputation. Nonetheless, it's an extremely useful tool to use in a marketing strategy. Think of this:

  1. Your customer is already engaged with your brand
  2. You’re not limited to “optimal sending times”
  3. Transactional emails are loaded with data & information
  4. They can turn offline sales into online engagement

All are good reasons to consider adding transactional email to your marketing mix. It allows you to both create an aligned customer experience, and enrich them with marketing content.

In transactional email, open rates of +80% are pretty typical. When used correctly, transactional email has massive potential for marketing growth and improvement!

Aligned Customer Experience

We often see transactional emails that have just been generated by ones CMS, ERP or a similar business tool that gave no love and care to it. Resulting in black and white, unresponsive emails. Shame! Emails like this are just as much a touchpoint in a customer journey as a website or marketing email. They deserve great design.

Moreover, standing out from the crowd in terms of email design makes your brand memorable. Earlier this year we wrote a blog on EmailCritic on how to turn boring transactional emails into engagement rockets.

Having an aligned customer experience means the customer will have the same great experience over and over, on every channel. Why waste that with terrible transactional emails? If people love your transactional emails, there's even room for marketing content:

Enriching your email with marketing content

Even though transactional and marketing email differ fundamentally, it doesn't mean they can't be combined. A transactional email can contain some marketing messages. This can either be content that adds value to the transactional information, a little cross- or upselling, reader activation, or feedback collection.

  • Value-adding content is information that your new customer probably didn’t know or read yet, but could very well find useful.
  • Cross-selling is the promotion of a product or service that is complementary to the earlier purchase.
  • Upselling is about marketing an improved version of a product or service.
  • Reader activation is using your current customers to spread the word about your brand. Think of referral programs and User Generated Content.
  • Asking feedback does not only increase engagement with your customers, it also helps you further improve your transactional email activities.

Things to keep in mind when sending transactional emails

Just like marketing emails, quality transactional emails [can] increase marketing KPIs. But to do that, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Make sure your transactional emails are responsive (at least on the most popular devices);
  2. Like marketing emails, keep testing your transactional emails if you want them to boost your KPIs;
  3. Use the inverted pyramid method to create effective transactional emails;
  4. Less is often more, so be thoughtful on the content you're sending. Include a small amount of marketing content, but always provide the important information first. We like to use the 80/20 ratio.

Excited to start with transactional email to boost your marketing KPI's?

Download our free whitepaper and discover how to make your transactional emails convert today. With expert advice from us and our friends at inboxAds. Learn to increase customer engagement and conversion, and even monetize content.

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