Featuring an average open rate that can be eight times higher and an audience that requires a broad opt-in policy, it’s no wonder that transactional emails have sparked your curiosity. You’re probably here because you’re looking for transactional email best practices—the rules on what you can—and can’t—do in a transactional email, and you’ve come to the right place.


Let’s dig in:


What Is a Transactional Email?

Let’s start with the groundwork. If you haven’t read Dave Cacioppo’s post on The Art of the Transactional Email yet, click on over there to get a detailed download. The short version, however, is that a transactional email is a message triggered by a specific behavioral action (or inaction), like a transaction receipt, a password reset, comment notifications, shipping confirmations, order confirmations, or otherwise. The email needs to be related to a transaction like those listed here, and it can occur before, during, or after the said transaction.


Here’s a stellar example of a shipping confirmation email from Amazon:

amazon transactional email


What’s the Difference between a Transactional Email and a Promotional Email?

According to the United States’ CAN-SPAM Act, transactional content “facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction.” The basic answer to this question boils down to intent—did you really send this email to inform the recipient about an update to their order or request? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably in the clear on sending that transactional email.


There are a few other key differences between a transactional email and a promotional email, including:

  • No opt in requirements on a transactional email (the transaction is the opt in)
  • Transactional emails are not covered by CAN-SPAM (but you should still keep CAN-SPAM in mind as a best practice)


Keep in mind that while you can place a bit of promotional content into a transactional email, it should be very obvious to your recipient that this is an email related to a transaction (and not promotion or blog content). Lyft handles this delicate balance in their ride receipts by including the important transactional data up top and a few subtle calls to action below the fold:


lyft transactional email


Transactional Email Best Practices

Just because you’re sending a receipt doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the tried and true benefits of email marketing. As you think about the types of transactional messages you want to send, start first by thinking about your brand. Many transactional emails in ecommerce are sent by third parties (think payment software, ecomm engines, CMS, etc.)—which lends itself to breakdown in brand messaging, appearance, and voice. Take a look at Sticker Mule’s transactional message below—while the email does include a helpful link or two, the email itself doesn’t match the fun, hip branding of the Sticker Mule site:

sticker mule transactional email


If you’re adding transactional emailing to your repertoire, check first to see if your marketing automation platform already offers transactional messaging (the emfluence Marketing Platform does)—it will be much easier to brand through your existing software than it will be to track down design options that are out of the box with a transactional engine.


Once you’re ready to design your first transactional email, take into consideration the following:

  • Be clear with your from names—and how often they repeat themselves.
    Use a unique from address (like support@ or passwordreset@) for each type of transaction, and cut down on repetition by minimizing the number of places a recipient will see your brand name in the preview pane (from name, subject line, and preheader is probably overkill!)
  • Avoid the “No Reply” email address—you want people to connect with you (but do make sure the address you use is monitored)
  • Try out Gmail Inbox Actions for password resets or shipping confirmations (which you can use for anything, but it makes transactional emails an easier experience for your recipients—learn more about this here)
  • Use your important real estate to quickly tell the recipient why they got this email—if it’s a receipt, tell them! If it’s an order shipment, tell them!
  • Monitor deliverability—yes, even on a transactional email. You want to know if your recipients aren’t receiving these messages.
  • Add links to your social media pages and ask for a “like” or “follow”
  • Include subtle calls to action that are related to your message—try a “shop similar items” or “leave a review” or “see how others are using this”


How are you using your transactional email space to promote your brand? Send us a note below, and if you need a little help designing out your campaigns, let us know!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Let's Get Started