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11 Best Practices for Transactional Email Marketing

When was the last time you looked at improving your password reset or order confirmation emails?

For most of us, the answer to this question is a big fat “never.”

When thinking about upping the email game, most people focus on polishing their marketing and promotional emails. These are the emails that bring the money, after all, right?

Well, maybe… 

What most of us overlook is that these are not the only emails our subscribers receive. 

More often than not, your audience interacts with your businesses via transactional emails. All the system-based emails that are vital for the smooth operation of your online business. 

You might have the most brilliantly crafted sales email, but your customers will never be able to complete the purchase if your confirmation email doesn’t land in their inbox or is not working properly.

Good transactional emails = good business operations.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the best practices when creating transactional emails, as well as tips on how to ensure that your transactional emails land in the inbox of your users when they need them.

But before we jump into the meaty part, let’s make sure we are on the same page when we talk about “transactional emails.”

Transactional emails vs. marketing emails

Unlike marketing emails, transactional emails are sent when someone performs a specific action or requests certain information. For example, after purchase or password reset request. Often, they’re also sent to alert the user, for instance, of someone trying to access their account. 

Because transactional emails are automated and have no commercial purpose, they do not require explicit consent or unsubscribe link. Also, contrary to marketing emails, they can be sent from a no-reply email — although we don’t recommend doing this (you’ll see why in a second).

One other thing that distinguishes transactional emails from a typical marketing email is that users expect to get them. Thus, transactional emails boast much higher open rates than a standard promotional email. 

That being said, just because most people expect and open them anyway doesn’t mean you don’t have to put any effort into transactional emails — quite the opposite. 

With that in mind, let’s see some of the best practices for transactional email marketing.

Learn how to create transactional emails that help your audience and strengthen their relationship with your brand. 

Sidenote: If you’re not familiar with the types of transactional emails, or want to learn more about the differences between transactional and marketing messages, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Transactional Emails first. 

1. Don’t use a no-reply email

What’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make when sending an email to someone?

Tell them that you don’t want them to reply to it. 

Yet, that’s what happens when you send your transactional emails from a no-reply email address. 

Sure, most of the time, we don’t expect users to reply to a transactional email. But there are a few benefits to getting replies to transactional emails: 

  • Replies increase your engagement (and, as a result, boost your deliverability)
  • Some people might reply to report something wrong with their email, helping you solve the issue.
  • Often, those who take the time to reply turn out to be loyal customers and a great source of feedback.

But, most importantly, as Win Goodbody puts it:

“Do not reply to this email” so often sounds like “Do not give us any more of your business.”

So, what to use instead of no-reply?

If you’re a small business, a company name (or your name if you’re a personal brand) is a good choice. And if you send many transactional emails, you can use a different sender name depending on the department or category. 

For example, billing@yourcompany or [email protected]. That way, users can easily search and categorize them in their inboxes and make it easier for you to identify responses and issues related to transactional operations. 

The below example should give you the idea:

Further reading: 4 Reasons to Avoid the No-reply Email.

2. Write straight to the point subject lines

The goal of your transactional email subject line is to tell the user what the email is about and why they should open it. 

Be direct about it. There’s no room (nor need) for anything too pushy or clickbaity. Give it to them straight.

Sending a password reset request? Just tell the recipient what it is:

Of course, not all emails are always expected when they’re received (think security alerts or blog comment notifications). 

In the following case, it’s even more important to tell the user why they need to open the email ASAP:

Got anything urgent? Tell them what’s going on and what they can do about it: 

The main goal of the subject line is to convey what that email is about in a straightforward way. Don’t make the user think. Make them act. 

3. Add a preheader (and make it interesting) 

What to do if you can’t fit all the relevant information in your subject line?

That’s where a preheader comes in.

A preheader is a part of the email visible next to the subject line in an email preview. It’s usually positioned to the right or below the subject line.

A great example of this is an email by Uber, where the preheader explains exactly what happened:

Ideally, you want your preheader to be specific and unique. You don’t want to pull the first line from your email. As you can see, Uber’s preheader is not even part of the visible body copy of the email:

If you don’t create a preheader, users can end up seeing weird symbols, code, image alt tags, or the text pulled from the beginning of the email. 

In Atlassian’s case, it led to some poor UX results: 

If you look at the entire email, the preheader area is the same as the text at the top of the email, and the duplicated Atlassian name came from the alt tag of the logo:

An interesting idea is to use the preheader to tell the reader why it’s important that they open the email:

You can even focus on the benefit of opening the email and taking action. In the Experfy’s example, completing a profile on a networking platform could help you land your dream job: 

Adding a preheader text in Encharge is quite easy. Create a new email using the Drag and drop email builder. Go to the Body section in the right sidebar, and type in the Preheader field under email settings.

4. Verify your emails to skyrocket your deliverability

Do you know what’s worse than a poorly written transactional email?

A transactional email that doesn’t get delivered (or that lands in spam)!

You want to ensure your emails always land in the inbox. But, how do you minimize the risk of encountering delivery issues?

Take care of your domain’s reputation.

First, never spam your audience with commercial emails. It’s OK to send an occasional newsletter that they expect. But if you overdo the promotional part, they’ll mark your emails as spam. This tarnishes your domain’s reputation and affects deliverability.

Next, you want to verify your domain with Encharge. While it’s not a must, it comes with several benefits like removing the 5 email addresses limit and the “via” notice. But, most importantly, it authenticates your domain with Encharge, drastically improving email deliverability

When you verify your domain with Encharge, the platform automatically takes care of the most critical email security practices:

  • Setting a custom return path. The path indicates where to send bounced emails. 
  • Signing your Emails with DKIM. The DomainKeys Identified Mail prevents recipients from spam, spoofing, and phishing. It does so by adding an encrypted signature to the header of all outgoing messages. The header then gets decoded by the email server to verify that the email wasn’t altered
  • Creating an SPF Record. The SPF defines which email servers are allowed to send emails for your domain. This helps the email service provider check if incoming messages that appear to be sent by you really were. 

Encharge does all of these automatically for you when you verify your domain name with the platform. No additional actions are needed on your end.

The only additional action that you can take is to create a DMARC policy. The policy is an extension of the above two security tools. First, it allows you to specify which of the tools above should be employed. It also tells email servers what to do should these email authentication methods fail. 

While authentication is not something your users see, it tells email providers that your domain is trustworthy. It also ensures that your emails are genuine and sent by you — which is essential if you want them to land in the inbox. 

5. Separate your transactional communication from your marketing efforts

In the previous point, we touched on the idea that your bulk promotional emails could affect the deliverability of your transactional messages.

This can happen if your marketing emails cross the line and make too many people mark them as spam. 

A good idea to prevent this is to separate your transactional communication from your email marketing campaigns. Ideally, you want to send both types of messages from different domains (or subdomains).

That way, should any of the domains get a negative sender reputation, it won’t affect the other one.

If you don’t want to use a different domain, you should at least use other “from” email addresses. That way, the user knows right away which emails belong to which category: 

Lastly, don’t forget to separate your transactional and promotional emails inside Encharge itself.

Encharge offers 2 default email categories: Marketing emails and Transactional emails. Make sure that you mark your transactional emails under the right category. To do that, check the category of the email, as you edit it:

6. Monitor your email deliverability

You can craft the best transactional email in the world, but all that work goes to waste if it doesn’t get delivered. 

To ensure your emails are hitting the inbox, you need to keep monitoring email deliverability. Ideally, you want to track the following metrics:

Bounce rate

This tells you the percentage of messages that got returned to the sender. There are two types of bounces: soft and hard. Soft bounces happen due to the recipient’s inbox or temporary server error. Hard bounces occur when the email doesn’t exist, or the server has blocked you. To ensure high deliverability, you want to unsubscribe all email addresses that cause a hard bounce. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about this in Encharge — the platform will automatically unsubscribe contacts with hard bounces.

Spam reports and spam inbox placement rates

Note that these two are entirely different:

The spam report is the percentage of people that manually report your emails as spam. Email marketing and marketing automation platforms like Encharge usually show that number. There are a lot of things that you can do to reduce your spam rates. For more information on spam reports and some best practices to avoid spam complaints, check out our help article on the topic.

The spam/inbox placement rate tells you the percentage of your emails that hit the inbox versus those caught by spam filters. If you see your email messages get moved to spam, this could be due to poor domain reputation, SPF or DKIM errors, or email spam trigger words

Occasionally, if you add emails to your list manually, it can also be caused by accidentally getting a spam trap address on your list.

Open rate

The open rate shows you the percentage of people who opened your emails. In short, you can improve it by testing different subject lines, pre-headers, and sending more relevant emails at the right time. 

Keep in mind that transactional emails’ open rate is much higher than marketing ones, at around 80% – 85%

Engagement rate

This goes beyond the open rate and shows you how many people engaged with your email somehow. 

If you’re using Encharge, you can track all the critical metrics on the Metrics page inside your account dashboard. 

Further reading: 11 Email Marketing Metrics You Must Track In 2022

7. Monitor spam complaints

We covered them above, but spam complaints require special attention.

Around 20% of all deliverability issues are caused by spam reports (also called spam complaints). 

This alone makes monitoring your spam complaints rate critical.

The metric shows you the percentage of people who marked your emails as spam. 

Ideally, you want it to be as close to 0 as possible. At Encharge, we don’t have a hard set rule for spam complaints, but generally, things start to get sticky if you receive more than or close to 10 spam reports for every 10,000 delivered emails.

While there are no explicit CAN-SPAM rules that apply to transactional messages, note all spam complaints affect your deliverability in a significant way. So, you must follow all transactional email best practices listed in this article. 

You can even make your transactional emails look similar to the commercial ones compliance-wise. For example, you could add a physical address so that the email is identical to one your audience is already used to.

Why is this important?

By sending people relevant transactional emails that they recognize, open, and take action on, you minimize the risk that they’ll treat them as spam.

Please note that if you’re using Encharge and your spam complaint rate gets too high, your account may be paused and reviewed by our customer success team. This is to ensure sky-high deliverability for all other users, including yourself :). 

8. Ensure your transactional emails look great on mobile

With 43% of all emails being opened on a smartphone, your transactional emails must be mobile-friendly. 

Here’s how to ensure they are:

First, all the other practices still apply. A clear subject line, a good pre-header, and customer-centric, helpful copy are all a must. 

Then, you want to ensure that your email can fit a smartphone screen. If it’s a text-based email, make sure that the text doesn’t get pushed outside of the screen (or covered by email app elements like the scrollbar):  

Speaking of text — because not all mobile devices accept HTML, you have to ensure that your email will look good without any HTML or images.

Next, because mobile phones are all about tapping, buttons work way better than links. If possible, consider adding a big button with a clear call to action right in the middle of the screen: 

And if you decide to add images, make sure that they align with your brand. Also, consider adding your logo at the very top. That way, the user can immediately recognize where that email is coming from. 

Of course, the images can’t be too big. Otherwise, they might load for too long or slow down the recipient’s device — neither of which helps the UX. 

Also, note that some email clients like Gmail may refuse to show large images, long GIFs (in terms of timing) and will also cut your email content if your email weights more than 102KB.

Gmail clips emails larger than 102KB.

The best thing about platforms like Encharge is that they allow you to edit your transactional emails without going to your developers. It’s pretty simple:

  1. Your developers connect your app to Encharge using the Transactional Emails API.
  2. You can edit the layout, design responsiveness, and content of the transactional emails right inside Encharge. No need to bother your engineering team, or mess with HTML code.

9. Time your emails

The timing of your transactional messages is critical. Most of the time, people expect to see them right after they perform a particular task. These include:

  • Email address confirmation emails
  • Welcome emails
  • Purchase confirmation emails
  • Password reset emails

If these emails come in late, it can frustrate the recipient and derail the whole conversion process. For example, if a confirmation email comes in too late, its recipient may never even bother to open it. 

Even worse — they might get angry for getting it so late and mark your email as spam. 

The other type of transactional emails where timing is critical is alerts and notifications. For example, a notification delivered on time reminds the user about something important they’re supposed to do.

In some instances, you can even send multiple alerts on different days. 

For example, a domain renewal notification sent over one month increases the chance that recipients see it and save their domain:

But how do you actually ensure the emails get triggered when needed? The key to doing that is proper notification management via the right workflows and rules inside your Encharge account. 

10. Ensure your transactional email helps the recipient

Every transactional email is sent with a specific reason. That’s why, whenever you craft one, ensure the email is helping the reader achieve something. 

It may be solving a problem, making the recipient aware of something important, or simply getting a convenient summary of their purchases. 

Sometimes, helping the user means informing them about important updates that affect their account or business:

Other times, it’s about ensuring they’ll be able to take the next step in their customer journey. For example, if you’re sending a confirmation email, is it clear what the user needs to do next? 

A great example of an email that ticks all the boxes is a password reset confirmation email by Atlassian: 

If the user asked to change the password, they’re free to ignore the email. But if they did not — they get step-by-step instructions on how to secure their account ASAP. 

Similarly, it’s good to include the next steps any time your users finalize a transaction,  be it registration or a purchase: 

You can even use the copy in your email to help the user make a decision. Doing this can quickly turn into a win-win situation. The recipient gets to overcome any doubts, and you get a new user:

Remember that transactional emails are not commercial, so you can’t pitch any products or services. But nothing is stopping you from listing the benefits of completing their registration or confirming their email: 

11. Personalize your emails

Personalization is usually discussed in relation to commercial emails (and its effect on their ROI). However, the right personalization is just as important for transactional emails. 

Of course, it’s not just about including the recipient’s name in the email. Even if it looks good and helps strengthen the relationship with the user:

Rather, personalization is all about being relevant. Why does this matter for transactional emails?

One of the main goals of transactional emails is to make people’s lives easier. That’s why, most of the time, the more relevant details you can include in an email, the better. 

In the below example, Google alerts the user of a new device sign-in. Including the device name gives the user the context necessary to make a decision.

If this was suspicious activity, they get a clear call to action and can check what’s going on right away.

Similarly, if you’re summarizing a purchase or reminding users about a renewal, it’s good to include all the details right in the email. After all, most people don’t remember all the details of their subscription. 

Note: when including date and time, make sure to adjust it to the recipient’s current timezone. 

Start sending great transactional emails (and get them delivered)

Transactional emails are vital in helping the recipient interact with your brand and perform critical operations in your business. While they’re not sales-oriented, they too help build a relationship with your audience and allow them to do some of the most important things across their customer lifecycle.

At Encharge, our goal is to help you build automation that ensures your transactional emails get delivered right when your subscribers expect them. Book a free call, and let’s discuss your email marketing and transactional email strategy. Let us help you find out what kind of automated email messages can help your business flourish

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