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Satish Kumar in Transactional Emails

Best Practices To Handle Transactional Email

Emails have empowered the practice of connecting with people. In the business world, we use two primary email types. We have the bulk promotional emails and the personalized transactional emails. Usually, marketing emails are newsletters or the same messages that are sent to many people at a specific time. On the other hand, transactional emails are sent to a person or a small group of people who share common characteristics regarding the actions they took.

The difference between the two types of emails is the context in which they are triggered. Normally the recipient expects transactional emails. It includes emails that contain receipts, notifications, and emails for resetting the password. Since the recipients expect such emails, they often have higher open rates and engagement when compared to marketing emails.

Think of transactional email as one of your software’s interface. Therefore, you should give it all the attention that you would give to any other designing process of customer interactions.

In this blog, you will learn some vital techniques that ensure that you will send valuable transactional emails to your clients. Think of your transactional email as one of your software’s interface. Thus, give it all the attention that you would give to another designing process of your customer interactions.

So, what exactly can you do to come up with a valuable transactional email for your customers? Before we go to that, let’s look at the first thing your client sees when they get your email.

Meta Information

The content of an email is very important without a doubt. Nevertheless, the second most important thing is the meta information and tactics. It will decide whether the recipient will open the email and read what you have to say. Email clients will always handle previews and display the information of the sender. Therefore, ensure that in that limited space, you have communicated the most vital and relevant information to the client.

Always give attention to the content in the initial part of the email’s notification as it is shown in the preview.

All these mistakes may seem very small, but they multiply every time you send such emails. Remember, that you will be sending the same email many times, and in no time it will be a nuisance to your clients. However, you can fix all these mistakes. All you have to do is to make good choices. Let us look at some of the ways to eliminate mistakes and give your customers the best experience from every mail sent to them.

The From Address & Reply-To Address

The recipient will first see sender of the email. Hence you have to format your “from” address neatly. It is always a great idea to use the identity of the application to send the email. For instance, we do not use the parent company’s name “Data Aegis” or the Co-Founder “Ankit Prakash” but our name “Aritic Mail.” There are times when we use “Aritic Support” or “Aritic Mail Billing.” This is vital when the company is bigger and has all these departments up and running effectively. If not, “Aritic Mail” will be enough.

There are some instances when you may feel compelled to use the formal name of the company or the name of an individual who works there. This should be for very few cases. Some people may also claim that every email sent should have the “from” address of a person within the company so that the clients can feel connected to the company and to personalize the email. While this is true to a certain extent, you should remember that the client does not know the sender in person. Also, if the replies do not go to the sender directly, a disconnect may be created, and a client will know it. Maybe not immediately but eventually.

Other than the name, the “from” address is equally as important. The worst mistake a company can make is using a “no reply” email address. It sends a signal that you are not interested in hearing what they have to say. Some signs indicate that replies from clients to an email address help in improving the deliverability aspect of emails as they represent an increase in engagement from the clients. It also shows the quality of the email is relatively good. Therefore, every time you discourage replies, you are directly affecting the overall engagement with the clients and this will affect the deliverability.

Ensure that the reply channels are open and that every reply is sent to an inbox that is under monitoring. If not, you can also decide to incorporate something like Aritic Mail’s inbound email parsing that is automated to parse and handle all the replies to a notification.

You should also know that every “from” address is a provision for people to use in filtering and organizing their emails. Take note of this when sending the transactional email. Therefore, when you send receipts and invoices emails from “billing@example.com,” notifications for accounts from “account@example.com,” and notifications for comments from “comments@example.com,” provide them with an inbuilt hook that will help them with the organization of the emails in their inboxes. In case you want the “from” address to differ from the “reply” address, use the “reply-to” header value so that the replies can go to a different location. This way, every reply will be directed to an inbox that is monitored like the support email.

The following are some examples that Aritic Mail account emails can use. They will give a better understanding.

  • “Aritic Mail <support@aritic.com>” for account-related emails, this would be the best way to do things.
  • “Data Aegis <support@aritic.com>” this will not be a good choice for Aritic Mail because not so many people know “Data Aegis” which is the parent company.
  • “Ankit Prakash <support@aritic.com>” can be a good choice, but it is a limited choice if Ankit Prakash will be receiving the replies. In a lot of instances, it creates a hard time for the client to relate to the product via the email.
  • “Ankit from Aritic Mail<suport@aritic.com>” when used judiciously, it can be a great choice because it creates a perfect balance between personalization and ensuring to use the product name.

When dealing with comment notifications or emails that are not related to the account, the product name will always be the best choice.

  • “Aritic Mail<notifications@aritic.com>”
  • “Aritic Mail<alerts@aritic.com>”

While looking through my email, I found few non-examples for names that are used by some well-known companies. Some of the emails that showed up in my inbox is as shown below.

  • “noreply”
  • “NoReply”
  • “info”
  • “support”
  • “billing”
  • “sales”
  • “alert”
  • “Alerts”
  • “service”
  • “member”
  • “service@paypal.com”
  • “marketing@fwsymphony.org.” (Yes, with the trailing ‘.’)
  • “auto-confirm@amazon.com” and “order-update@amazon.com”

The above emails are sent from legacy systems or tools that are not easily configured. These names look terrible as it does not represent the sender. You should be extremely mindful of the sender name and the email address you use. It should be capable of conveying the right message to the recipients.

Setting up avatars of your generic email addresses will greatly depend on the service that you use. Default avatars can be set up for the email address of the application. This way, the user of other applications will see the application avatar that you setup rather than the original default avatar for the email client. There are times when this will mean that you have to set up a social profile. There are also times when you will need to configure your account or set up a Gravatar account for the mail addresses used in sending emails to clients. Take note that you will always need to check the avatar account to ensure that it still does great work in representing you.

Subject And Pre-Header

Framing subject lines can be difficult because email clients will display limited character. The length of the subject should have fifty characters or less. When working with transactional emails, always go for the short and direct subject line and not cute and catchy, please! The former will outdo the latter. However, this does not mean that the subject line should lack personality. Learn to give priority to what is short and meaningful. If you can come up with a subject line without compromising the core of the subject, you can explore your options. Make sure all the meaningful information comes first should you use long subject lines.

The goal is to communicate all the vital information in the email’s subject line. To an extent where the recipient does not have to open the email to know what it contains. This is next to impossible though. In as much as this may limit their engagement rates, it will give the recipients a great experience making the whole process customer based.  For instance, the subject of a shipping notification can read, “Your order is shipping Monday, July 21st.” It gives all the information, and when the recipient opens the email, it will provide more details. However, the subject line would have covered everything vital. The only negative side to this option is that the engagement of the recipient will be less which ultimately affects deliverability.

Another consideration that you can have is to create subjects that make filtering of emails by the client easier. For instance, emails that come from “notification @example.com,” make it difficult for the recipient to filter the mail based on the “from” address. Therefore, they will have to use keywords found in the subject or body of the email. At such times, always ensure that you have included keywords that are relevant to them to ease the process.

If you find it impossible to fit all the crucial information in the subject line, then push some information to the pre-header. A pre-header is a way to make it easier for the sender to communicate the crucial content at the beginning of the email.

If pre-header is not used properly, then the preview becomes useless because no vital information is provided to the reader.

TO, CC, BCC

While you may want to add all your recipients in the “To” field of the email, depending on the context of the email, it makes more sense to include only primary recipients. You can add the other recipients to the “Cc” field of the mail. Just as we discussed above concerning the “subject” and ‘from” addresses, the “To” and “Cc” fields can be used by a recipient while organizing their emails.

Some people will want to put more emphasis on the emails with specific “to” addresses that also have their address included. On the other hand, when their email addresses are on the “Cc” fields, they will consider them less important. Therefore, while sending emails, consider where you position a recipient’s address. This will help them further filter their emails.

Email Authentication And Markup

All transactional emails are crucial to any organization. Therefore, never overlook anything that will help improve the emails delivery rates or that which protect your brand from any security threats and issues. At this point, DMARC, DKIM, and SPF will become very relevant. When you have these three set up, you will be sending trust signals to the email inbox providers. You will also be securing your domain from people who spoof emails and create a better reputation for your domain.

Even Gmail, have started using SPF and DKIM to inform what kind of avatar to display for certain addresses. When the SPF or DKIM is not set up for the domain, then it will not have profile pictures, and question marks will be displayed instead.

The domain you use to send emails is considered to be as vital as authentication. Inbox providers are increasingly becoming sophisticated. Because of this, they are tying the reputation of a provider to the domain and not just IP addresses. The sole reason behind this is because replacing an IP address is very easy but replacing a domain is not easy. This practice also means that the transactional emails, as well as the marketing emails, will have the same reputation since they will have the same domain origin.

Recently, we helped a customer who was seeing delivery issues with their transactional emails. The transactional emails were suffering because that had a low-quality reputation. This is because they were using the same domain for the transactional and marketing emails and the marketing emails brought about the bad reputation.

Setup Gmail Inbox Actions

While going through your emails, you may have noticed that some emails from Gmail have button links or meta-data display such as flight information or reservation of restaurants. It is great at making the emails useful. These are what we call the Gmail Inbox Actions. You can use these inbox actions only with transactional emails. They are excellent in helping the recipient to go through the emails in the inbox a lot faster.

The Gmail Inbox Actions will always improve the experience of the recipient when dealing with transactional emails.

Gmail has wonderfully embraced the Inbox Actions, and they are based on open standards. The application that you use can also set these up. All that is required is for the SPF and DKIM to be set up. (We highly recommend that you use SPF, DKIM, and DMARC as well as a customized Return-Path.) Other than set up, also include meta-data markup to your email’s content and get whitelisted by Gmail. All this might take about a week.

Also, you can set up a one-click RSVP’s, create simple, direct links that will provide detailed information, or create a one-click action that will help to add an item to your wish list and also have highlights that show orders, flights, and other kinds of reservations on the recipient’s box.

Design Content, And Formatting

Accepting Replies From Customers

The process of designing emails is not easy because of the testing difficulty. The team will not always interact with them on a regular basis since they are power users. In general, emails are limiting. Hence, working with it becomes boring and tedious for designers. This makes transactional emails an afterthought for software, which actually should not be the case.

Emails create a touch-point for everyone who uses your software. By sending welcoming emails, you can create a great first impression. The rest of the notifications sent are annoying, overwhelming, or sometimes helpful to the recipient. Usually, an email creates a different medium. Therefore, it is crucial that a flawless transition process is in place between the emails and the interface of the application.

When you gracefully handle replies from your recipients, your application will be able to have email first-class citizens. When you are dealing with account-related emails, you should route the replies to the support team. While dealing with activity or event notification emails such as comments, your application needs to be set up in such a way that it can accept inbound replies from the customers and the application processes them.

Everything about Mobile

Every application is different, and hence you should review the stats that you have. Many of your customers open their emails from their mobile devices. Therefore, the transactional emails that you send should also accommodate the clients that are using their phones. It is great to note that a lot of popular mobile email clients in today’s world will always support queries. Modify your emails so that they can have a great outlook on mobile phones.

Personalization Of All Things

The best thing about transactional emails is the ability to customize them to suit every recipient. All you have to do is acquire information about who they are and use it to customize the email. This process can be as easy as only addressing them with their real names whenever appropriate. This can be as follows, “Thanks, Annie!” (including the user’s name as well). This will add a personal touch to the email and make the client feel special.

In yet another scenario, when you have information about the time zone of the place where the client resides, you can adjust the time stamp on the notification to match their time. Also, instead of sending blank activity summaries to clients when they have not yet logged in or taken any action, send them an email asking if you can help. When you have a deeper understanding of your clients, and you take advantage of it, they find emails to be more useful.

Always Include Well Formatted Plain Text Versions

When dealing with transactional emails, always have a plain text version. This is good for the delivery of the email and the accessibility. As you construct the text version, always remember that it is important that ensure that the content of your plain text does not differ much from HTML content. When the plaintext is equivalent to the HTML version, false positives are reduced in spam filters.

As you take time in constructing the plaintext that is equivalent to your emails, ensure that it is excellently formatted to eliminate any difficulty in reading. Below are a few tips that will help you to format the text of the emails properly but they should be used discretely.

  • Every link that is important should be on its own line and should be short. When they are too long and result in wrapping into the next line, they break and cause unforeseen damages.
  • If you want to separate headings by creating horizontal dividers, then use hyphens or equal signs.
  • Always ensure that the content is broken into paragraphs. This enhances the readability of the email.

Take Great Care of Dates And Time

Emails must contain the date and time. In software, you can include shorthand versions of time. However, they will never work effectively with emails. In your web application, when you say, “a few moments ago,” or “today” may work just fine. But with emails, it may cause a problem because people read their emails at different times. This means that if I receive an email today and open it tomorrow, “a few moments ago” will not be precise.

For promotional emails concerning short-term sales, it is very vital. While you can use relative periods such as “this week only” in promotional emails, you must also include an absolute version. For instance, it can be, “until Monday, July 21st night”.

Ensure That The Recipient Can Identify The Source For Receiving The Mail

It is obvious that the recipient may know the reason behind transactional emails. Even so, not all emails will be entirely obvious to your recipients. It is also applicable to situations where the company’s name stated on the invoice, and the product name does not match.

In case of major account emails, if there is a slight chance that the recipient may fail to identify the context of the email then put relevant information that will ensure they do not get confused by the email.  For every possible question that they may have, ensure you have provided an answer proactively. Some of the questions they may have are as follows. “Where did this email come from?”, “What product is it related to?”, “What company is sending the email?”, “Why was I sent this email?”, “Who signed up for the account?”

Are there any services that you signed up for and forgot about them only to receive an email later letting you know that your “Widget ABC” account will be closed because it is inactive? Better still, you may have created a random trial account for some random application, and you receive a notification that the privacy policy for the account has been updated. When you get such emails, the first thing that pops up in your mind is, “What is this Widget ABC that they are talking about?” For anyone sending such emails, it is possible that they forget that some recipients forgot about the business.  Therefore, ensure that one re-introduces the company or the product. Thye can also include a relevant link that the recipient can use to reacquaint themselves.

The other common example that creates a lot of confusion is the invitation emails to applications. These emails are like phishing scams. When a person gets an invitation to use an application that they do not know, they will automatically doubt the legitimacy of the email. Hence include information about the person who invited them, the functions that the application does, and any other information that may help them get a better understanding of the application.

Ensure It Is Easy Unsubscribe Or Manage Notifications

While transactional emails do not need links for unsubscribing, it can be useful for the recipients. Make it easy for them to manage notifications and also to easily unsubscribe from other bugging notifications. For instance, you can enable a one-click unsubscribing from the onboarding lifecycle emails rather than having an “unsubscribe” link published on the email’s receipt.

The process becomes hectic and nearly impossible if there are numerous categories in the product. For example, you may have onboarding emails (that are not necessary but are helpful), promotional newsletters and account notifications. Therefore, what you will need is a one-click unsubscribe link that has precise texts such as “unsubscribe from onboarding emails” or “unsubscribe from emails that are promotional.” However, you do not want to make it possible for anyone to unsubscribe from the billing notifications too!

When you do not want your clients to unsubscribe from your emails, and thus you do not include “unsubscribe” link, you should offer an alternative. Create a convenient link that will help the clients manage their notifications. Create an option for unsubscribing without one needing to log in. However, this will need additional engineering.

Use Frequency And Context To Adjust The Email Design

You need to alter the design of the email based on the frequency and the context. When the users get many notifications in a single day, the header and footer should not include heavy branding and additional links. In general, your recipient only wants to know the content of the email and not the branding or copyright. Therefore, remove it or downplay it so that your recipient’s experience is more streamlined.

For account-related transactional emails, you may want to include the branding and corporate information as part of the footer. Here, you should adjust the footer’s content based on the email’s context. For example, a receipt that has corporate information should also have space in the footer to include reasons why the person received the email and a link that can help them manage notifications.

While designing notifications that are frequent, design them such that they can be sent as batch notification. This lessens the burden of the recipient. For instance, if you are to send 10 emails in 5 minutes and each email is a new comments notification, you can gather all of these notifications in 5-minute windows and send them as one email. The email should reference all the ten individual comment notification. This makes it easy for the recipient as they receive fewer emails in a day.

Monitoring Of The Delivery And Open Rates

It is very easy to monitor the results of an email marketing campaign. It is not so common to do the same with transactional emails. However, they are also liable to face problems. Many cases report that an email ends up in the spam folder because of including company’s phone numbers.

This means that it is possible for the subset of an email to have content that may affect the delivery. Unless the customer realizes that some of their emails are missing and notify you, you incur a great loss when you lose emails. Therefore, make it a point always to review your delivery status as often as you can for every transactional email sent. This ensures that the emails do not face such delivery issues.

When you work with Aritic Mail, there is a provision for you to tag all your emails. This way, in Aritic Mail, you will be able to review all the emails relating to password resetting or receipt emails at any time to keep track of their delivery and the open rates.  If any abnormalities are present, you can get more information to see if there are any changes recently and also the source of the problem.

With Aritic Mail, you will be able to filter the reports over time. This way, you can check how every email is performing and if there are any problems.

Conclusion

Transactional email is a bit complex, and many teams consider it tedious and not a first-class citizen. Therefore, when you give more importance to the transactional emails in a bid to give the recipients the best experience, you will stand out from everyone else. You will also be able to build brand loyalty and improve the deliverability of the emails as the clients’ interaction with the email increases.

Checklist

From and reply-to addresses

  • Use a product or company name that the recipients are familiar with for the “from” name.
  • The names should be concise to prevent previews from cutting them off.
  • For the “from” address, do not use a ‘no-reply’ address.
  • The “From” values should use relatable names and email addresses.
  • For easier filtering of emails by the recipient, use different notification types.
  • You have to set up avatars with Google and Gravatar for the “from” addresses.
  • Always check that the avatar is not outdated and still represents you or your business effectively.

Subject and pre-header

  • The subject should communicate all key information.
  • Length of the subject should be fifty characters or less.
  • Do not include date and sender on the subject as they are space wasters.
  • “[Product Name]” should be avoided and any other similar construction. They will waste your space. The “from” information signals this. If you have to use them to help the client in filtering the mail, use them at the end. This way, they will not interfere with anything.
  • The subjects should have easy and relevant keywords to help in the organization of the inbox.
  • If any useful information does not fit in the subject, put it in the pre-header.

Recipients

  • Always include primary recipients on the “to” section and the secondary ones on the “Cc” section for more filtering options.

Email authentication

  • Always set up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.
  • Set up a customized Return-Path.
  • For the transactional emails and marketing emails, always use separate domains or sub-domains. This prevents one type of email from suffering bad reputation because of the other.

Setup Gmail inbox Actions

  • See whether the email for the event benefits from RSVP Action.
  • Check whether the email for a product service benefits from the Review Action.
  • See if the email for a single interaction stands to benefit from One-Click Action.
  • Check whether the email’s primary content relates to a single URL to benefit from a Go-To-Action.

Accepting customer’s replies

  • Always use a “from” address that is valid or “reply-to” to direct replies to the monitored inbox.
  • Where applicable, set up inbound processing. It will automatically handle the replies from customers and process them into the application.

Mobile

  • Test the email on the mobile device that the audience uses extensively.
  • Ensure that the emails look amazing on smaller screens by using media queries.

Personalization of everything

  • When possible, address the recipient with their real names.
  • Ensure the email confirms to the user’s context. For example, do not send empty activity summaries.
  • Have the dates and time customized to their time zones.

Always include plain text versions after formatting

  • The plain text equivalent should be present.
  • Put the links in their own lines.
  • Headers should always include dividers.
  • Use paragraphs to break the text.

Take care of dates and times

  • Use Absolute dates and times.
  • When dates and times are redundant with the timestamp of the email, reconsider their necessity.

Notify the reason for receiving the mail to the recipient

  • All infrequent account-based emails should have vital information.
  • For recipients who may have forgotten about the company, reintroduce the company and product.
  • If an action was taken on behalf of the recipient, include the information of the individual.

Ensure it is easy to unsubscribe as well as manage notifications

  • The non-essential emails can include a one-click unsubscribing option.
  • You can include a convenient link for managing notifications as per the recipient’s needs.

Use frequency and context to adjust the email design

  • If the recipient of the email can identify the email and it is frequent notification, streamline the design of the email to ensure the content will stand out.
  • Make the footer and header adjustable to include crucial information or links to help the recipient.
  • Design the frequent emails and send it as a batch email.

Monitoring the delivery and open rates

  • Give attention to all groups of emails relating to their delivery and open rates.
  • Check the open and bounce rates more frequently to see whether any updates implemented has affected their delivery or open rates.
  • Improve the email subjects and iterate them using the open rates.
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