An outline of marketing and transactional email for your website or application

Email is an important part of any website or application, most will have a requirement to send some sort of email to marketing to new users and communicate to existing users.

While this subject covers many areas of the development process including content writing, design, marketing, software development, this is meant as a high level outline for stakeholders to consider when developing a website or application.

There are different types of emails a website or application can send. Each type has it's own requirements which can be broken into content, design, legal/regulatory, and technology.

When building a website or application consideration should be given to what type of emails are required and how they should be implemented during the scoping and design phases.

Email Types

Emails for any website or application can be broken into two categories Marketing and Transactional.


Marketing emails are those with a commercial intent to send a message to a single person or group of people. Marketing emails are newsletters, product updates, event invites, promotional and sales emails.

Marketing emails are usually subject to regulations due to privacy protection and spam issues, e.g for countries in the EU some of the regulations are:

  • The recipient has to sign up to your email list
  • The email clearly identifies the sender and contact information
  • There is an option to unsubscribe from future mails
  • Sign up forms must GDPR compliant


A transactional email is a one to one email that is usually automated and is sent as a result of some interaction by the user with your website or application. An example would be a password reset email, order confirmation, invoices, receipts.

In general, as a transactional email is as a result of an action by the user, it is not subject to the same rules as marketing emails. As long as there is a legitimate interest in sending the email it may comply with GDPR without any further actions required by the user, website or application.

Transactional emails may sometimes contain marketing messages. These marketing messages may change the meaning of the email and thus bring it under the same regulations and GDPR compliance as a regular marketing message.

Email technologies

For both email types there are different technologies used for creating and sending emails.

For marketing emails, a list or lists of email addresses of those who have consented to receive the marketing email is maintained.

Recipients are added to the list by signing up via a form, or added to a list via acquired consent. Acquired consent can be like a check box on the registration form for a website or a paper based application form.

This list is either stored in a your own software e.g. Wordpress or your CRM, or a third party provider like Salesforce, Mail Chimp, Campaign Monitor.

Marketing email campaigns are designed and written through the software or third party provider. When a campaign is sent the software or third party provider may provide reports on number sent, number of emails opened, clicks on links within emails.

Transactional emails are built into your software and are triggered by a user of your software. Your software may be an off the shelf package like WordPress or E-Commerce package, a third party system you use like Shopify, or your bespoke piece of software.

When a user triggers the action the email is sent to the user. For example completing a purchase of a product, the transactional order receipt is sent.

Design and Content

When developing a website or application an often overlooked aspect is the design and content that goes into the emails, especially the transactional type.

Most software will use default email templates with generic styling and content . Considering transactional emails have 8 times more opens and clicks than any other type of email and generate 6 times more revenue it is a missed opportunity for additional brand re-enforcement and revenue.

When building out a new website or application allocate time and budget for implementing design and content into your email templates.

Sending emails

As Spam is still a major issue, email service providers like Google, corporate IT and anti spam management services for other providers set a high bar for mail deliverablity to their users, especially when it comes to marketing and transactional emails.

There maybe some use cases where using your own email platforms for sending marketing and transactional emails are suitable. In the majority of cases using a third party email service or platform is the best option. Assuming the content in the email doesn't fall foul of spam measuring tools, these third party systems work to keep delivery rates high.

For sending marking and transaction emails it is best to use two different methods or providers for sending the emails. As marketing emails are more likely to be labeled as spam, these will then affect your transactional emails sending them to the users spam folder. Keeping them seperate will mean they are treated differently by the email providers.

In most situations marketing email functionality is provided by a third party platform like MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Salesforce or similar. In these cases they will send the emails on your behalf.

If you manage your own list and send via your website or software you should consider using a third party service, like Mailgun, Postmark, Send Grid, rather than relying on your own email service provider like Gmail or a corporate mail service.

When using a third party service provider, ensure your providers product matches what type of emails you are sending. Some providers will only handle marketing or transactional emails not both, other providers will do both.

Third party providers and platforms usually offer a number of metrics for reporting including tracking delivery and open rates and clicks on links.

List of Email Marketing Platforms

There are many other Marketing Platforms available.

List of Email Service Provider

There are many other email service providers available.