Why You Need Transactional Email

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Transactional email is all around us, but you quite possibly don’t recognize it as such. Also referred to as app-based email, it is the little mail you receive after performing a certain action, or an action is taken for you (more on that later).

Sounds easy right? At first it seems so, until you want to use it yourself. It’s a bit more complex than running it through your regular SMTP server, at least when you reach a certain scale. Facebook, for example, can be considered the unofficial king of transactional emails. Every action you perform on Facebook (liking, commenting and such) triggers a transactional email.

Last year I did an article on Email as a Service, which is basically the framework for transactional emails. But in that article I only discussed hów it can be done, not why you should use it. More recently, readers of the SitePoint Newsletter will have seen an item about Apostle.io, the latest startup from the SitePoint Group, that provides a user interface for managing transactional email.

So, let’s find out a bit more about transactional email.

Why should you use transactional emails?

There are a few reasons why you should include transactional email in your app. An app in this case can be an actual app on your phone, but some might say even WordPress is considered an app nowadays. A web store is a great example as well, since this is where transactional email can bring you more money. A few major reasons for using it are:

  • Engagement: Again using Facebook as an example, receiving a notice someone tagged you or left an interesting comment makes you visit Facebook again. Or at least keeps you reminded of Facebook. And forums have been running these type of mails for ages, with great success.
  • Commercial opportunities: The best example is the abandoned cart notification, reminding you of products you left in your shopping cart with a web store you visited. This specific example can be defined as a delayed transactional email, based on an action you performed in the past.
  • Regulatory or functional: The most basic of transactional email. Think of billing notices, confirmation of signup or purchase, password resets, shipping updates and so on. These emails are a direct result of your action, but very much transactional.

When you take a good look at your inbox you probably recognize many of these examples, even though you probably turned off a lot of them (Facebook…). But still, when building an app yourself it should include the functionality. To what degree is up to you, since you don’t want to become a spammer.

You are probably already used to putting in regulatory or functional emails. And maybe even some of the engagement emails. If you are running WordPress you will probably have the option for commenters to be notified of replies. But let me give you a few more examples of how powerful transactional email actually is.

Abandoned cart notification is just one (albeit, very good) example, but it doesn’t stop there. What about suggestions based on previous purchases? Or a notification of newly added products sent to those who qualify based on their customer profile. All of them are transactional email, based respectively on a last visit date (delayed transaction) and the adding of new products (direct transaction).

Or what about enticing visitors to come back to your site, by asking them to come back to your site if they haven’t visited for a few weeks? Twitter does this, based on your last login. Again, a delayed transaction. And then of course there’s the follow-up email you send customers a few days after their purchase, with a brief questionnaire. Just letting them know you still remember them, and again a perfect example of a delayed transactional email.

Using transactional email

I hope I have convinced you by now why you should use transactional email. But doing it is one thing, actually using it is even more important. Because there’s a fine line between becoming a spammer or being regarded as company that sends useful emails, even if it is a lot. And the perfect way of measuring success is by analyzing what the receiver is doing with it. Did he come back to the site? Did she purchase what you recommended? Or did your email just go straight to the trash bin? Did your email even make it all the way to their inbox?

All of these questions can be answered by adding in a layer between your app and the actual sending. For your first few hundreds emails you could use your own STMP server, but that won’t tap you into what’s happening with your emails. And besides that, after your site grows, soon your provider will be on the line letting you know that’s not what you should be using their email server for. You you will be needing a specialist provider to handle this task.

A whole market has evolved around the concept of transactional email. These providers are bringing in the technical expertise, with enough server capacity to handle millions of emails a day. And, maybe even more importantly, they present to you a way to actually learn from your emails. By grouping your emails in relevant categories you can analyze which emails are bringing in the bacon, or are key traffic drivers for your site. It gives you the opportunity to improve your emails, and may help you decide to cancel a certain trigger.

Suppose the open rate of your abandoned cart notifications is only 5%. This likely means the subject of your email isn’t really effective, and is probably considered as something the spam filter should have stopped. Tweaking your template is the solution, and analysis over time gives you insight into whether you are doing the right things. Or what about a low click rate? This means people are opening your email, but aren’t that interested in what you have to say. Maybe they don’t want to come back to your site, even if you remind them a few weeks after their last visit. You can again tweak your template, but if your click rate stays low you should probably cancel this trigger to prevent becoming considered annoying.

You’ve seen me mention “tweaking your template” a few times. Having a consistent brand experience in all of your communication is important, if you want people to recognise it’s you. But most default themes of popular apps are just that, default themes. Nothing special, usually boring and too commonly used to be really effective.

But, integration shouldn’t take you too long, especially if you want to go full on and use tens of different transactional emails. Apostle.io is one provider that knows this, and offers easy integration, as well as the necessary analytics. There are, of course, other providers as well, but on the Apostle.io site you will find a perfect example of how easy it should be to add the layers mentioned earlier.

I hope you are by now excited about the concept of transactional email, and that I have inspired you to be creative. Keep analyzing the impact of your emails and you can’t go wrong on this one.

Jacco BlankenspoorJacco Blankenspoor
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Jacco Blankenspoor is a website developer from the Netherlands, and is currently just building lots of different websites. When he is not working on HIPAAHQ.com you might catch him grinding coffee.

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