People don't read all the content you've stuffed in your transactional emails. Since these emails generally have one purpose, recipients skip all the other content. So make your emails as clear as possible by using the Inverted Pyramid framework. For years, journalists have used this to report news stories. [Surprise!] it works for transactional emails, too.
The premise of the inverted pyramid framework is to filter and order your email content. Your main message goes first, followed by some extra details and ending with side info. The inverted pyramid framework looks like this:
Over time, this filtering technique became the email marketer's trick for conversion. Place a gigantic header and a CTA right below to improve conversion and you're good!
For transactional emails, however, we take a more conservative approach. Large header images shouldn't divert your reader's attention from what the email actually is about.
As I mentioned before, a transactional email has one purpose: inform or fulfill a request. So the most important part of the email ibeforethe action before the email. Whether it's an order confirmation, a password reset request, or a monthly summary.
The example below shows a typical 'mistake' in transactional email copy:
Here you see that the order information shows side details about the order, only to display the purchased items later. Yet, the email should revolve around the purchased items instead. That's why we like this Asics example so much:
What I love about this email is how it manages expectations . It shows the purchased items and the status of the order is. Plus, the headline adjusts to the expected delivery date. That's all you need to know when you've ordered shoes and socks, right?
Another order confirmation that stands out in terms of pyramidal structure is this one from Etsy.
To get started with better transactional email design and copy, ask yourself:
Think of why you're sending the email in the first place. Overall, transactional emails are sent as a result of:
The first thing a recipient should read is why you're sending the email. Sending order confirmation emails? Your headline should be somewhat like "Thanks for shopping with us". Creativity is well appreciated, but (transactional) emails are read more often when someone knows what to expect.
Etsy (yes, again) shows how much they appreciate you for buying stuff:
What is the most important thing your recipient should do with the email? Do they need to absorb the information or click a button? This is the next section of a well written transactional email.
The most important information in an order confirmation, for example, is an overview of the purchased items. The most important action in a password reset email is clicking the button to reset a password.
Decide the next best action from a customer's perspective, not yours. You may want people to click your cross-sell offers, but they just want to have an overview of the items they bought. Or, like the Asics and Etsy examples, want to know when their items arrive.
The next part of a transactional email is the side information that might be valuable to the receiver. We've mentioned some cases already, but think of:
It's all information that doesn't (necessarily) suit the email's purpose, but either you or your customer finds a valuable addition to the email. Think of content, User Generated Content, cross- or upsell, or referral / review programs.
The final part you should worry about in a transactional email is how you're branding it. Are you keeping it plain and simple, like Stripe, or are you going all in on email design, like G2?
Brand your transactional emails clearly. The clearer the sender, the more likely the open. If people don't recognize you (or your emails), they could ignore, delete or report your emails. That's not what you want to happen to your transactional emails.
Picking a grotesque or minimalistic (or anywhere in between) design depends on the email you're sending. Email design can distract the focus of your receiver. Take Postmates for example. Their email design varies, but they're all still recognizable as Postmates'. Check out the difference between their welcome email, order confirmation and password reset.
Transactional emails can have various triggers. A password reset has a few, for example. Periodical resets for security reasons, creating a new password, or simply forgetting one. How can you deal with a variety in triggers?
As we see it, you can take three different approaches to handling emails with various triggers:
With the inverted pyramid in mind, let's take a look at how to create them.
The basis of the inverted pyramid, "why do we send this email?", is quite open to interpretation. For password resets, you could say the goal is to reset a password. Another approach is to say that the 'why' is because someone forgot their password. This approach leads to different answers to the same question.
We often see emails that say "Forgot your password? Don't worry, everyone does sometimes". Very soothing indeed, but not when you've requested a reset because of suspicious account activity. The email headline wouldn't make sense.
Yet, creating multiple emails for one specific action (resetting the password) is time consuming and can be hard to manage at scale. So what's the other option?
To keep the amount of emails you're sending managable, you might want to design just one transactional email per use case. For a password reset, that would come down to this:
Since some people (like me) frown their eyebrows over misplaced headlines, you want to keep your email copy to-the-point. No marketing hassle. The downside of having one generic email, however, is that there's limited room for creativity. So how do you keep email managable, but still diversify your messages?
To make sure you're not going to lose track of all your emails, but still be able to personalize, create a dynamic email. One email to rock them all. Dynamic emails allow you to change the message of the email based on the input you're giving. So let's say you have four different types of password reset triggers. You can use them all to trigger the same email.
Play with your headline. If someone clicked "Forgot password", the template will choose "Forgot something" as a headline. You can even change your header images based on triggers, like this example from Beekse Bergen:
Dynamic emails allow you to display content based on certain conditions ('if person X clicked button A, show content A'). Since not every transactional email service copes with dynamic content, take your time to discover what transactional email service fits your needs or compare providers.
The inverted pyramid framework helps you design transactional emails that are to-the-point, are well received by your customers, and will result in more engagement. Remember to always put your main message first. Transactional emails can be your best converting emails if you use them right, so start with the correct design and content placement.
With years of experience in the email (marketing) industry, Tom currently manages the marketing department at Flowmailer. In this role, he mainly writes about transactional email, email deliverability, and the API-first economy.