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What is Transactional Email? The Basics

Mailgun Team
5 min read

Transactional emails are something that anybody with an email address has received at least once in their life. However, not everyone understands what they are, how they are used, and how they should be structured within your email strategy. As an email service, we'd feel a little guilty if we didn't devote some time to helping out those who might not know the basics. 

So, let's get right to it.

What are Transactional Emails?

Transactional emails are emails that are triggered by a user's specific action within an application or website. Some examples of transactional emails are password resets, order confirmations, welcome emails, and email receipts. Those are just a few of the different types of transactional emails, but the core of transactional messages is that they are action triggered. To that degree, they are also automated emails, rather than being sent by a real person in real-time. 

What about marketing emails?

In the traditional sense, marketing emails do not have to be triggered by a user action. A few good examples of marketing emails would be a weekly newsletter, product update, or promotional emails. However, email marketing campaigns have taken a turn for a more automated approach as of late with different content drip strategies. 

Usually, these drip campaigns will have a high amount of personalization to drive clicks. 

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Transactional Emails and Deliverability

Your deliverability often relies on what type of email you are sending. Transactional emails tend to have very high engagement, meaning they have high open rates and click-through rates. These high engagements are primarily because they are triggered emails, and thus expected by the recipient shortly after the action has been triggered. For example, when you place an order on an eCommerce website, you expect an email receipt in your inbox shortly after you make the purchase. 

Poor deliverability can keep that receipt from landing in the inbox, and instead sending it to the spam folder. If you don't receive that confirmation email, you might suspect that the order didn't go through, making it imperative that those transactional emails land in the inbox.  Email deliverability is paramount for transactional messages, and there are several ways you can go about ensuring that they make it to the inbox: 

  • Segment your email sending - Separate your marketing messages from your transactional messages via subdomain segmentation. If you're sending a high volume of transactional messages, consider using a dedicated IP address for that portion of your traffic.

  • Follow CAN-SPAM - The CAN-SPAM act has very clear guidelines for our email messages should be formatted. From easy to find unsubscribe links to concise subject lines, CAN-SPAM should be your guiding light for basic email creation.

  • Responsive templates - Your transactional email templates should be responsive for all devices and easy to read for accessibility purposes. 

Picking a Transactional Email Service

Whether you're just starting your email sending for your application or are planning to migrate your entire email ecosystem, there are several factors you need to consider when selecting a new service provider. 

Having the ability to send how you want, whether that be via SMTP relay or Email APIs, should be the first qualifier for your email provider. From there, think about your sending needs. Do you need add-ons like an email validation tool, or would an HTML template editor serve you better? All of these factors rolled together with your budget will help you determine which provider best suits you.

Regardless of whether or not you plan on creating dozens of email campaigns or setting up simple notification emails, transactional emails are just one component of your overall email program and customer experience. Looking to start sending transactional messages? We can help with that:

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Last updated on February 21, 2020

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