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Optimize Your Transactional Emails, Grow Your Company’s Brand

We all know the difference: Company X delivers a receipt to your inbox for a purchase you made just moments ago, known as the transactional email. Another time, they’re delivering a sexy promotional email attempting to sell you more goods.

But what you probably didn’t know is that the transactional variety garners higher open rates (some as high as 60%) and click-thru rates (some as high as 20%) because they look, feel and are a different inbox experience than their counterpart, the marketing email message that on average has open rates of 30% and CTRs of just 6%.

The strength in transactional emails? It’s easy to explain. That’s why you need to be putting in more effort into optimizing them. They’re anticipated, quickly and frequently confirming a relationship you’ve established with a brand (a receipt from that purchase, an eBay outbid notification email, Facebook update about your friend’s most recent comment made on your wall, etc.)

Arguably only next to an email from an old friend — or from Mom — these are the most personal, relevant and anticipated messages to arrive in your inbox during the day and therefore present the greatest opportunity.

Designing and optimizing great transactional email experiences

Nothing spells out a great user experience better when surfing the web than confirmation. When you perform an action, your desire to have it affirmed on screen is very strong. Also, we’re quite unforgiving when we’re let down. Email is no different.

Subscribers essentially ‘vote’ on the experience you deliver them by sharing your content, opening and reading your messages, unsubscribing or worse yet, complaining to their ISP that you’re a spammer in their eye, regardless of whether it’s a legitimate claim or not.

So how can your organization deliver a great user experience to the inbox that can increase customer happiness, engagement, advocacy and loyalty?

First, let’s look at ways you can spruce up your transactional message opportunities:

  • Purchase confirmations
  • Shipping notices
  • New accounts notifications
  • Communication thread notifications
  • Help & support guidance
  • Expired subscriptions/memberships
  • Account balance information

So using one of those above, let’s jump in.

Here’s a rundown of tips gathered from many smart folks who have implemented great transactional user experiences across the web. Run this list against your current transactional email approach and see what you could optimize.

Be human

Don’t make me reply to, ironically, a ‘no-reply’ address. I strongly suggest putting a person’s name or even a department’s email address in its place. Plus it adds personality, which the world could always use more of.

Be straightforward

In your subject line, tell what is inside, rather than try and sell what’s inside. Be careful about being too cute or too creative. An easy example could be: Confirmation: Your order has been shipped.

Be proactive

Are there common post-sale support questions that are repeatedly asked? Does your product require training to use? How can you deliver next steps to your customer post-purchase to continue a positive customer experience?

Be short and clear

We’re all busy, so focus on making content scannable. Keep to short sentences and bullet points where possible. Stay factual and reiterate the most recent transaction.

Be gracious

It never hurts to express gratitude. Thank your customer, no matter how large or small for their purchase. You’ll create goodwill and strengthen a connection, encouraging the spread of positive experiences with your brand.

Be direct

In all communications, it never hurts to provide a next step to keep the relationship moving forward. Experiment with a call-to-action and let them know what you’d like them to do next.

Be personal

Be real. Greet folks by their name (“Hi Brett”), talk about what you know about them (don’t be creepy – just be real) and personalize wherever it makes sense.

Be open

Include a privacy statement to give your new friend a sense of assurance that you take the relationship and their privacy seriously. Review it and make sure it is timely and accurate.

Be thorough

Leave no stone unturned and clearly state all of the terms and conditions of their purchase. This should include any information regarding payment, exchanges, returns, shipping, etc.

Be found

Link me back to your website, encourage me to connect with you on Twitter or Facebook, or provide your sales & support phone numbers so we can stay in touch.

Be well designed

When you receive an email, it starts with “Who is this from?” (sender) and what is it about (subject line)? If you pass that first sniff test, then they’re likely to open your email. Reinforce that it is from you by tastefully incorporating your logo and a well design, pleasing to the eye email template. Studies have proven over and over again that tasteful design improves user experience.

Be well written

Never underestimate the power of the written word and meticulously edit to tell a story and communicate with crystal clarity. Don’t leave this as a “we need to write some quick copy” kind of an effort.

Be promoting

Promotional content in your transactional email is acceptable, if done in a tasteful way. Keep transactional content (the main purpose for the message), above the fold. Don’t be tempted to use it as a platform for a full on promotion. I’ve seen it suggested to incorporate no more than 20% of the message to further promotions. Experiment and find out what your audience responds to.

Be experimenting

With all of this above, it’s important that you actually try some of these suggestions even if you start one at a time. Sure, you could stick with what you’re doing and end up with the same-old results you’ve been getting, but what if you could be doing a lot more?

In the end, transactional email presents you with a small communications area of your company that will provide returns if you put in the effort. Studies have shown that well-designed experiences delivered to the inbox with this type of message can net great rewards. In future posts, we’ll look at some specific examples showing how brands are leveraging this little nugget.

Successfully delivering great email experiences to the inbox is part art and part science. It is our hope that combining great email experiences coupled with rock-solid email delivery will produce new and measurable business for you.

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