May 27, 2019

Let’s be frank. There’s a difference between transactional and triggered email.


There are plenty of misconceptions and half-accuracies in email marketing. To my eye, the biggest yet easiest to clear up is the hazy line between transactional email and triggered email. Many like to use these terms interchangeably, but that’s just not accurate! They are two very different things.

Why yes, I’d love to explain, thank you for asking.


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First and foremost, not all one-to-one email is transactional in nature. Sure, all of these emails are personalized to the recipient in some way, but transactional email should fit a specific profile.

Most importantly, you should classify email as transactional only if it is so critical in nature that it should rarely be subject to filtering. Mailbox providers (MBPs) are highly sympathetic to errant filtering when it comes to transactional messages. There is almost always a mitigation plan or path for things like receipts or order confirmations that get bounced as spam. However, if you approach an MBP with a complaint about transaction mail filtering and you aren’t truly talking about transactional mail, well… That’s not wise.

This brings us to triggered mail. Yes, there is a difference. You’re sending triggered mail if instead of meeting the criteria above, it looks more like this:

To be very fair to marketers sending triggered mail who feel it’s different than mass marketing email (sometimes called “batch-and-blast”), you’re not wrong. It is much better than sending the same message to a large group of people with no attempt to personalize the message for engagement.

However, it’s not necessarily correct to label it transactional in nature because rather than concerning a must-know piece of information, these types of triggered email’s main goal is to drive people back to your site to actually make a purchase. That’s marketing email, and that’s why this type of message should be sent on the same IP as any other marketing email you may be deploying.

Why is it important to segment out truly transactional email from anything marketing-related, including triggered email? Because misclassifying large amounts of marketing email can tank your sending reputation, leaving you very few options to get important emails (like receipts) to your recipients.

Take this example: Perhaps you send Tom an email with the subject line of, “About your order.” Then, when he clicks through, thinking someone ordered something with his account, the email really says, “We think you forgot to check out! You left these in your cart, and while you’re here, look at all these other cool things you should spend money on!”

Bad move. Tom might mark that email as spam, he might unsubscribe, and/or he might delete those emails on sight next time. Over time, the engagement on these triggered emails could go from low to negative. If you continue to send this kind of mail on the same IP from which you’re sending order confirmations or password resets, blacklisting will keep your critical transactional mail from reaching people who need it.

Make sense? For some, it might be a tough pill to swallow but trust when I say, it will be a safer and more effective way to manage your reputation, your transactional mail, and your triggered mail streams. Be honest with the intention of your email, and…


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Author: Luke Martinez

Luke is a deliverability expert with a passion for getting email to the inbox. With more than four years at SendGrid prior to joining 250ok, his intimate understanding of the email ecosystem, email protocols, and marketing best practices allows him to provide data and insights that drive engagement and results from email programs both large and small.

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