The following is the third installment in Matt Harris’ Dead-End Emails guest post series. Read his first (Just Say “NO” to Dead-End Emails) and second (Turn Dead-End Emails into Great Experiences) posts and learn more about sendwithus at the bottom of this post.

Last time, I wrote about how one company identified a dead-end email that was really hurting their users’ experience. I showed how they improved engagement by focusing on a missed opportunity. In this post, I want to show examples of what dead-end emails can look like, and contrast them with examples of some amazing transactional emails.


Payment Receipt Showdown

With, we were looking at a payment receipt email, so it’s only fair if we start looking at those. Compare the two emails below, and ask yourself, which provides a better user experience? (Click to see the full size comparison,

It’s important to note that these are both payment receipts from well-established online businesses. On the left is a plaintext receipt, confirming an order, with zero call-to-action (CTA). In fact, if we focus in on the “line items” of the receipt, you’ll see the table is actually broken and it’s very difficult to understand what’s going on.

This is a terrible user experience. It’s difficult to make sense of the information, and there’s no opportunity for further engagement. It’s a classic dead-end email.

Let’s compare this to’s payment receipt:

At the very top of their payment receipt are the three most likely actions I want to take when viewing this email. The rest of the airbnb email is full of well-formatted information relevant to my payment. I would challenge airbnb to really take this email to the next level and include a CTA further down the email, perhaps with a Google Maps link, or A/B test the top-level actions to increase engagement further.

Notify me, maybe?

Next up, let’s take a look at notification emails. These are transactional emails sent to a user when an event happens that they want to know about, or their interaction is required. Notification emails should never be a dead-end! Their sole purpose is to facilitate and promote user engagement. It’s important to always provide clear, simple instructions, and present your customers with actionable next steps. Consider the emails below (click for full sized image,

On the left, we have a notification email from online e-tailer Frank & Oak. This email was sent to inform subscribers that they still have available credit. Let’s be honest, this email is gorgeous. The copy is great, and it feels very personalized. So what’s the problem?

There’s no CTA! The purpose of the email is to invite users to take action on their account, but there’s no easy way to do that. As a result, many users end up doing nothing, and the email is a dead-end.

The email on the right is sent by LinkedIn whenever someone wants to connect with you. Let’s take a look at the instructions and call-to-actions in the LinkedIn email:

LinkedIn provides just enough information for me to either “Accept” this connection instantly, or go check out the person’s profile before I make a decision. The two calls-to-action are extremely obvious and clear, and I know from experience that my click-through rate on this email is nearly 100%.

I think these two notification emails really highlight why notifications emails matter, and why you can’t afford to have them be dead-ends. Without a clear CTA that makes sense to your customer, you are providing a substandard user experience.

Finally, Welcome Emails

So far, I’ve talked about payment receipts and notification emails. Another kind of email that every application sends is the “Welcome” email. These emails are incredibly critical to user experience, and can be a big problem if left as a dead-end.

See below for some example welcome emails (click to see full comparison,

On the left, we have a welcome email from the travel portal, and on the right the welcome email from the startup Unibox ( Let’s dig into the Unibox email first.

This email is beautiful with very clear branding and a call-to-action that is impossible to miss. There are some minor formatting issues in this email, but they’re easy to overlook because the purpose of the email is clearly laid out–I know exactly what I need to do, click the blue bar! If the Unibox guys can clean up the formatting, this email would land in the top 10 welcome emails we’ve ever seen at sendwithus.

Let’s contrast it to the welcome email from

If you’re looking at the full size comparison, I want to emphasize that I have images enabled. There is no branding in that email. Technically, this email isn’t a dead-end (it has a call-to-action). The problem is that it doesn’t have clear, simple instructions or an obvious next step. In fact, this email has 18 distinct links that all look very similar. We call this “call-to-action overload!”

My recommendation to Expedia is to focus on a maximum of 3 very clear, obvious actions you want your customer to accomplish. Any more and you run the risk of creating a very confusing user experience. It can be difficult to identify these actions early on, so it’s worthwhile to run an A/B test on your welcome email, and see which actions users are most likely to take.

End of the Showdown

In the examples above, I’ve tried to show how both the design and intention of your transactional email can impact whether or not they create a dead-end. I’ve emphasized how important it is to understand your customers’ behaviour and to be creative in adding a CTA to your email. One of the most important steps in transforming your dead-end email is to test everything. As mentioned in some of my analysis, it is incredibly valuable to test multiple actions in dead-end transactional email. Your customers’ behaviour may surprise you, and it can give you a unique insight into what your customers want out of your email.

If you’re not sure if you have a dead-end email on your hands, feel free to post in the comments, or catch me on twitter (@mrmch), I’d be happy to help out.

Matt is the co-founder of, a platform that gives marketers control of their transactional email. As co-founder, Matt enjoys tweaking email templates and rock climbing. He’s been building web applications for the last decade and recently made the jump into marketing.