Webinar: Q & A With Danny and Tim

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Last week, SendGrid’s email experts Danny Randa and Tim Falls examined the landscape of transactional email and presented some tips on how to take advantage of this often overlooked communication channel. There were so many great questions during the webinar that we weren’t able to get to all of them. In an effort to keep the conversation going, Danny and Tim took some time to respond to these questions here.

If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording here.

Without following CAN-SPAM, what sort of open rate is normal to expect?

With transactional emails, the CAN-SPAM regulations can be removed from the equation. Normal open rates for transactional email can vary, depending on the exact purpose of a specific email – e.g. purchase receipts will likely earn much higher open rates than firmed/ follower notifications. When analyzing your transactional email open rates, you should aim to achieve a 30-50% open rate. Depending on the exact nature of each category of email your app is sending you may see rates lower or higher than this. For really important emails, you could see open rates as high as 80-90% for really important emails, or as low 10-20% for less important messages that may be filtered and/or deleted before ever being opened.

What’s the increase in deliverability from newsletter to transactional? Percentage?

Once again, this is difficult to put a hard number on. If you are following best practices and sending relevant, valuable content, both types of emails can achieve high deliverability. However, you’re likely to see much higher rates of unsubscribes and spam reports on newsletters, even if you have a strong opt-in policy/process. So, even the best newsletters are more likely to run into deliverability problems than transactional emails simply because they are more susceptible to user behavior that will negatively affect their sender reputation.

As someone who uses email to market our products, my concern is that a company like Facebook will partner directly with companies and pass messages through the Facebook system and bypass the email inbox. Should this idea bother me? What are your thoughts?

I don’t see this as a strong possibility or a likely threat, especially in the near term (i.e. the next 5-10 years). This really just comes back to the argument as to whether or not email is dead, and it’s not. Social networks and their built-in messaging will certainly have their place in online communications, but the effect on email usage will be be negligible. A good thing to keep in mind when thinking about the answer to this: Facebook uses email heavily to market it’s own products, advertising, etc. They also use transactional email to bring users back to the web app. Go look at your Facebook notification settings – there are an astounding number of check boxes that allow users to configure which “events” will trigger an email notification. They don’t even have a “never send me an email” checkbox/option. Why is this? Because they want to send you emails! They make it difficult to opt-out globally because they don’t want you to do it. Facebook loves email and couldn’t live without it.

Similarly, Twitter is becoming increasingly dependent on email. They just acquired a young, fast growing startup called “Summify” and rolled their team and technology into the release of the Twitter digest emails, which show users popular stories and tweets from the people that they follow. Of course, they also have all the transactional notification emails to alert you of new followers, mentions, replies, favorites, etc. Fortunately, the settings to control all of these notifications within Twitter are much easier to navigate than Facebook’s – mostly due to the fact that there are far fewer events that can trigger an email within Twitter compared to Facebook.

How do you manage all of the out of office/auto reply bounces? 

If you get auto-replies, such as the “out of the office” reply when you send a transactional email, then you should just let that message be. These are called “soft bounces”, and they’ll eventually get the email when they get back to their inbox. If you notice that you get this reply repeatedly when sending to a particular email address,it’s probably a good idea to remove them from your list, or place them on a suppression list, so as to not send to them anymore. Some people recommend allowing 3-5 soft bounces before removing someone from your list.

How do you feel about HTML versus plain text emails for transactional emails?

In most cases, you’d ideally include both variations (i.e. send multi-part mime emails). Plain text emails should be the priority if you are only going to send one version. Keep in mind that most people do not have their mail client set up to display all images. Assume that they won’t enable images, and design your emails with this assumption firmly in place. Also remember that CSS can be a little tricky, so if you are going to use CSS make sure it is in-line. You can create your transactional emails in such a way that your customer will see buttons and colors and such in plain-text versions – you just have to do some homework and be smart about your design. Look at some examples from other companies that are doing this well. SendGrid’s activation emails use this tactic.

If you are including HTML, take advantage of its capabilities and create an awesome experience for those customers who do enable images by default or on a per-message basis.

The deliverability guide you have mentioned doesn’t go into exactly what a good ratio for words to images is. Does SendGrid provide any kind of support or access to a test bed for standard SPAM nets to see possible scores. Is there a way to see what the potential is for this email to be caught?

Great question! We recommend IsNotSpam and ProgrammersHeaven as great tools to double check the potential of an email to be caught be a spam filter. At SendGrid, we do have a spam checker app that uses SpamAssassin to assign a score to emails that you request for us to send through your account. You can configure the app to prevent emails from being sent that do not meet the minimum spam score that you specify. The drawback to this method is that it doesn’t work for simply running your email through the test before actually attempting to send to your customer, but we are hoping to see some improvements to this feature in the not-too-distant future.

How many emails can you send at one time before they will be labeled spam?

Sending a high volume of emails will not necessarily result in any emails being flagged as spam. By following best practices outlined on our blog, whitepapers, and webinars, you can achieve very high deliverability rates consistently. Companies like Pinterest and foursquare send tons of transactional email and see great deliverability because they do it right.


As SendGrid's Senior Marketing Analyst, Danny is responsible for keeping the marketing team focused on making data-driven decisions to help make sure we are providing value for our customers and prospects. While he may spend his days knee deep in spreadsheets now, Danny spent most of the last 10 years managing email campaigns, website optimization, and PPC campaigns for B2B companies.

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