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Transactional emails: More important than you think.

How much time do you spend improving the copy in your transactional emails from your company? My guess is not much…

You know which emails are transactional, right? Receipts, Password Resets, Signup Confirmation Emails.

You’ve probably got a spreadsheet somewhere in your company that lists every one of these transactional emails you send.

Jakob Nielsen, the renowned usability expert did a study on transactional emails back in 2008. Here’s what he said:

Unfortunately, most companies don’t seem to view email creation as a user interface design activity, possibly because messages are often text-only, and thus don’t seem “designy.”

Judging by many of the messages we tested, email design often seems to be a side effect of the software implementation and consists of copy written by the programmer late at night. Alternatively (and even worse), some messages are hard-hitting, written by aggressive sales people without a true understanding of Internet marketing’s emphasis on relationship building”
Jakob Nielsen

Does that sound like you? Late night, written by a dev sounds like every company I’ve been a part of before!

What you can do today to improve your transactional emails?

1. First, let people know when to expect an email

For example, If someone just purchased something, you can tell them on your site that the confirmation is in their email like Amazon does:

Amazon email confirmation

2. Make sure people recognize emails from you

When someone goes to their inbox, you want them to immediately know what emails from you look like by the from address and subject

Not having a “from” name increases the likelihood you’ll be automatically sent to spam, and if a user doesn’t recognize the sender, they’re more likely to manually send you to spam.

A few examples of from names I like:

  • “Colin from” <>
  • “37Signals” <>
  • “David Tisch via Skillshare” <>

3. Have clear, explicit subject lines

Your goal with transactional email isn’t to intrigue the reader. Your goal is to inform. So there’s no need to trick people into opening your email with subjects like:

“You’ll never believe how much we charged you this month!”

Here are some good clear examples from my inbox:

  • Reset password for your Visual Website Optimizer account
  • Receipt from Cards Against Humanity for $25.00
  • Reservation Confirmed – Seamless Transition

4. Get to the point

If you’re sending a receipt, like the one below from Apple, you don’t want to lead with the other things you can buy. Clearly define what the email is about, and what the additional marketing content is.

Apple does this well by putting recommendations in a grey sidebar with a clear title.

itunes receipt

Rule of thumb: Be very careful about what additional content you add. If it may confuse users about the subject of the email, don’t add it.

5. Lastly, think about your sign-off

Your sign-off is an incredibly easy way to make a more personal connection with people. Don’t be afraid to use personal, informal sign-offs.

A few examples:





Enjoy your week!


And my favorite… Ron Burgundy (from the movie, “Anchorman”)

Stay classy San Diego

So whatcha waiting for? Review a few of your transactional emails and see if you can make some of these simple improvements.