How to deliver the best transactional email experience

Šarūnas Ročevas Šarūnas Ročevas
· 15 min read · Tips and resources · February 9th, 2021
We’ve put together 12 transactional email best practices that will help you deliver the best possible experience for your recipients.

Raise your hand if you’ve had to refresh your inbox multiple times waiting to receive an account verification email or password reset email.

Waiting more than 5 minutes for a transactional email or, worse, receiving it the next day is unacceptable to most customers. You might have also received a transaction message that looked suspicious. Perhaps it was flagged by your ISP, had an unrecognizable email address, or a strange design.

These transactional email mistakes happen all too often!

Paying closer attention to how people experience your transactional emails will give you an edge over your competitors. Happy customers are more likely to interact with you again, recommend you to family and friends, and promote you on social media.

We’ve got 12 transactional email best practices that will help you deliver a top-notch experience.

First, let’s clarify transactional vs marketing emails

Marketing emails are sent to people who subscribe and opt-in to receive promotional emails. These emails are designed to promote products and services, share content, and provide updates. Businesses use these emails to maintain a relationship with their customers and prospects.

Consent from subscribers is required by law to receive marketing emails and you must allow them to opt-out by providing an unsubscribe link.

Transactional emails are triggered by the specific action of a recipient. They have higher open rates because they are related to a transaction. Consent is not required to receive these emails because they are directly related to helping move the transaction forward.

Types of transactional emails include order confirmations, password resets, account activations, abandoned carts, and welcome emails. These triggered emails that are sent via automation whenever a pre-defined condition is met.

Want to know more about transactional emails and pick up a useful glossary at the same time? Check out our Ultimate guide to transactional emails.

12 transactional email best practices that deliver

While transactional and marketing emails have different purposes and permissions, they both should contribute to providing a positive brand experience. Let’s take a look at the ways your transactional emails can help reinforce your brand.

1. Match your emails with your brand voice and design

Transactional emails that look like they’ve been quickly designed and written by the back office or fulfillment team can ruin your brand. Your emails should always match the voice, look and feel of your company.

As Sephora’s example shows, transactional emails don’t have to be boring! Give your customers a seamless buying experience by extending your brand from your marketing emails to your transactional emails.

This order confirmation email speaks to their target audience, projecting their unique voice and conversational style. Most importantly, it provides a satisfying finish to an e-commerce transaction.

Sephora order confirmation email

Next, Ninja Van is a leading express delivery service that features a cute ninja mascot in trainers! Everything from their vans—in bright red—to their emails consistently use their color scheme. All of these work together to create instant brand recognition, whether on the road or online.

Ninja Van pick up notification

Just like your marketing emails, your transactional emails can benefit from your brand identity as well. You shouldn’t treat them as an afterthought as they can play a part in boosting your marketing efforts and providing a delightful customer experience.

Need some inspiration for your transactional email designs? We showcase 14 examples that stand out from the crowd and deliver a great experience!

2. Use a recognizable and readable email address

While sorting through your inbox, you might have come across email addresses that you didn’t recognize. They might have cryptic “From” names, strange reply addresses or odd email sub-domains. They’re one click away from being deleted or marked as spam!

Recipients are looking out for your transactional emails so make it easier for them to spot you. Use a readable “From” name, a simple reply-to address, and set avatars so people can recognize your logo at first glance. You can do this using Gravatar.

This refund confirmation email from ASOS ticks all the right boxes. Their “From” name states the purpose upfront, there’s no ambiguity about who the sender is with their email address, and the subject line brings a smile to your face.

ASOS refund email

Transactional emails like these can help you sustain the after-sales support that customers have come to expect from your brand. Keep your email name and address simple and your customers will feel reassured that someone is taking care of them.

3. Avoid the use of “no-reply” addresses

The use of “no-reply” email addresses seems to be the norm rather than the exception. You can even find phrases in the email content like: “This is a system-generated email and replies to this address are not monitored.” What kind of message are you sending to customers?

Steam order confirmation email

Recipients are likely to have questions about the email’s contents. But they’re frustrated because they’re discouraged from replying to the email. Sometimes there’s no clear way to reach out for help or contact someone!

Don’t limit your transactional emails to just reporting a transaction. Keep your door open by allowing customers to reply to a real address or put a “contact us” link in the email. Higher engagement rates with your emails can give your email deliverability a boost as well.

Instead of using a no-reply email address, here are some alternatives to slamming the door into the faces of your recipients!

4. Be concise with your subject line and pre-header text

Unlike marketing emails, your transactional email subject and pre-header text should be concise and straight to the point. Make sure your subject line is relevant to the recipient. Do this by referring to the action they had just taken like the following two examples.

Garmin product registration subject line

Upon receiving a new smartwatch, your first step would be to register the product and download the app for it. Garmin thanks you for that with their subject line. It then goes further by subtly suggesting that you start using the watch and get the most out of it.

Foodpanda order confirmation subject line

Foodpanda is a popular food and grocery delivery app that provides quick service. Their order confirmation email acknowledges your order. Then their pre-header text cleverly reminds you to get ready for your rider who will be arriving shortly.

In summary, keep your subject line short and avoid inserting dates, months or your company name. The pre-header text should offer a tantalizing preview of the email’s content but keep it to less than 100 characters.

5. Keep promotional emails separate

Amazon knows a thing or two about transactional emails. Running such a large business means that they need to get their email marketing and transactional emails in order. Here, Amazon uses two separate email addresses for their promotional offer and the subsequent purchase of a digital book.

Promotional email

Amazon Kindle redemption offer

Transactional email

Amazon Kindle order purchase email

Keeping your marketing and promotional emails separate from your transactional emails is key to landing in the inbox. Each email address will enjoy a sending reputation tied to its IP address. Marketing emails may land in the junk or spam folders for various reasons but order confirmation emails, for example, should not.

Transactional messages aren’t limited to just confirming or acknowledging your interactions with a business. They can also perform a quasi-marketing role by updating you about items on your wish list. Nintendo offers a very tempting price drop in this email along with social media icons displayed prominently at the bottom.

Nintendo wish list alert email

Sharing social media links in a transactional email helps you to keep the customer engaged once the email is closed. Recipients may not be interested in what you’re offering for now, but they may follow you on social media for future announcements or upcoming events.

7. Ensure your email templates are responsive

When you’re sending thousands of transactional emails, how do you ensure that everyone can open and read them? Like marketing emails, you use responsive design for your email templates. Your emails will look good on small mobile devices to desktops.

Look at how Foodpanda’s email is perfectly sized to completely fill a mobile screen. The font size is large and legible for a small screen, you can digest all the information in a glance, and there’s no need to scroll down to see the call to action.

Foodpanda order confirmation on a mobile screen

Here’s the same order confirmation email in Gmail displayed on a laptop screen. The graphic has resized itself to fill the screen comfortably and more whitespace has been added around the email. You can still take in everything with one look.

Foodpanda order confirmation on a laptop screen

8. Include a plain text version of your email

While responsive design is about inclusivity, including a plain text version of your email is about accessibility. Some recipients may only have access to low-bandwidth networks. Others may be using a language translator, screen reader or a high contrast theme for legibility.

Pairing a plain text email with your HTML email will ensure the widest possible reach for your sendings. Just make sure your plain text version follows your HTML version closely so that your messaging doesn’t vary too much between them.

Amazon Fresh, the online grocery store of Amazon, illustrates this well with their plain text email. It uses ASCII characters to replicate the formatting of the HTML version. The only thing missing is a button for the CTA!

HTML version of order confirmation email

Amazon Fresh HTML email

Plain text version of order confirmation email

Amazon Fresh plain text email

9. Adopt email authentication and security practices

Customers expect to receive transactional emails immediately inside their inbox. What would they think if you told them to check their spam and junk folders for emails that may occasionally land there? Transactional emails, by nature, are important and they should reach the inbox every time.

You can improve your deliverability and protect your sending reputation by setting up your SPF, DKIM and DMARC records. All of these work together to prove who you really are, securely sign your emails, and prevent domain spoofing.

Domain settings

Secure your sending domain even further by setting up a custom return-path. This is an email address where bounced emails are sent. You can then take action to remove these emails from your list and preserve your sender reputation.

10. Allow people to manage their email preferences

While all transactional emails are important, some people may not want to receive every single notification or update. If you’re on a buying spree during a seasonal holiday, for example, your inbox will fill up with shopping cart and shipping confirmation notices very quickly!

Give recipients a way to manage their notifications and unsubscribe. This will help them keep their inbox clear of clutter, reserving it for the most relevant information. Plus, they’ll be less likely to mark your emails as spam.

AliExpress shows you how it's done by allowing you to manage the notification emails that you receive. Click on a link in their order confirmation email...

AiExpress shipping email

...and you’ll be brought to a web page where you can choose to opt-out of emails altogether.

AliExpress opt-out of emails page

11. Monitor your email activity regularly

Email marketers keep an eye on opens, clicks, bounces and spam complaints to optimize deliverability and conversion rates. You should do the same with email activity for transactional emails as they may not always land in the inbox every time.

Analytics page

Sometimes your emails may end up in the spam or junk folders—or not be delivered at all. Being blacklisted after hitting a spam trap, mixing marketing and transactional emails, or introducing spam-like words in your emails are all possible reasons.

Here are some best practices to avoid spam filters and improve your deliverability from our email verification partner, MailerCheck.

Then use real-time email analytics tools to keep track of key metrics. Minimizing soft and hard bounces, for example, improves your deliverability, protects your sender reputation, and contributes to healthy list growth. Learn what works and what needs optimization so you can keep improving your email performance.

12. Pick a reliable email service provider

How you write, design and send transactional emails can make a difference between a poor customer experience and a good one. Choose an email service provider that gives you the tools to create dynamic emails and a track record for getting emails delivered.

MailerSend dashboard

Here’s how MailerSend can help you develop best practices:

  • Collaborate with your teams to design responsive email templates that look good on any device. Take your pick of an intuitively-designed drag & drop builder, work with code in an HTML editor, or start writing away with a rich-text editor. Then create a plain text version of your email in an instant!

  • Leverage powerful sending infrastructure that gives you the flexibility of sending a few emails or scaling quickly to send a few million. The entire delivery process is automatically managed to give your emails the best chance of landing in the inbox.

  • Track and monitor your emails to find out what works best and what needs optimizing. A real-time email activity feed helps you troubleshoot sendings, while advanced email analytics show where you can improve deliverability and engagement.

  • Send transactional emails from your apps with a flexible email API or industry standard SMTP. Both allow you to quickly integrate email sending and safeguard your sending domain with SPF, DKIM and DMARC security protocols.

Give your customers the best experience now

You’ve seen how transactional emails can complement marketing emails by providing a consistent brand experience along the customer journey. In fact, making your transactional emails more like marketing emails can give you a competitive advantage!

Which best practice will you be using next for your transactional emails? Share in the comments!

Šarūnas Ročevas
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