Transactional email


I was talking with some people at the conference yesterday and we started discussing what makes an email transactional. I am reluctant to say the best definition we came up with was “I know it when I see it” but it was close. The interesting thing was that most of the participants agreed that we all used the term the same.
I thought I’d ask readers here: How do you define transactional email? I’m interested in this both from the perspective of a sender and from the perspective of a receiver.

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  • I’d call it mail that is generated as a result of a user action, in direct relation to that user action. Ideally this is an action on the part of the recipient but I can see situations where it could be another user.
    I’d go with examples such as opt-in messages, purchase confirmations, notices of the actions of a fellow user (xx posted on your wall).
    This could also extend into automated messages such as shipping notifications and alerts from a registrar that your domain is about to expire (assuming of course that the registrar in question is the one who you registered the domain with).
    If I had to make it a short explanation I’d say it’s an automated message, sent on a per-user basis, usually as the result of a direct action by the user or strongly associated with the user.

  • I agree with Mike on all but the opt-in message. My definition of transactional is basically the same as CAN-SPAM’s: anything that people can’t unsubscribe from. This would include administrative messages like shipping confirmations and receipts, anything where the marketer is providing information based on the recipient’s actions. That doesn’t mean, however, that transactional messages can not also include a marketing element, but the focus should be on the marketer responding to an action taken by the recipient. I’m on the fence on whether actions taken toward a recipient (ie, someone is now following you) count as you can unsubscribe from these alerts and to quote the dictionary, the strict definition of a “transaction” is an instance of buying or selling a good.
    It will probably change over time, but that is my definition of transactional emails today.
    -Kelly Lorenz

  • I agree with Mike and Kelly on their definitions, however I would disagree that these messages are always (or should only be) messages that users can’t unsubscribe from. We recommend that marketers include opt-out links as part of certain transactional messages, like welcome messages, which are triggered as the result of a user action (signing up).
    Welcome messages, while essential as part of any optimized email marketing program, can often receive a higher level of complaints, so to protect your sender reputation and maintain high inbox deliverability, it’s always a best practice to make it easier for subscribers to opt-out than complain and click the “This is spam” button.
    I would also agree that it’s a great idea to test the use of promotions in your transactional messages. The more targeted and relevant those promotions are (for example, if the customer bought a set of sheets, include a promotion for other bedding items like pillows, blankets and throws), the better. The more relevant your messaging (whether it’s content or promotions), regardless of the type of messaging you’re sending, the more active and engaged your subscribers will be.

  • I think transactional email is anything which serves a functional purpose which is useful to the receiver. Shipping information is the classic example, invitations to buy are not.

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