The following is a guest post from Matt Harris, Co-founder at sendwithus. Read more about Matt and sendwithus at the bottom of this post.

In the land of email marketing, strategic marketers know how important it is to have a strong call to action (CTA). Whether you are sending a monthly newsletter or a transactional welcome email to new customers, it’s incredibly important that every email you send has a clear action that motivates user engagement.

At sendwithus, we refer to a transactional email that has no CTA (or next step) as a dead-end email. Typical examples include an order receipt, shipping confirmation, event notification, or a daily rollup email. You can identify a dead-end email by looking for transactional email with a high open rate, but no obvious CTA. In many cases a dead-end transactional email will be plain text, and may not even contain any contact information for your company.

Most of the transactional email sent by web applications today are dead-ends. These emails are missed opportunities. Why not take every possible chance to build a relationship with your customers or encourage better user engagement?

Transactional Email Matters

Our friends at SendGrid tell us that transactional email is critical for application-based businesses, and we strongly agree. When you compare engagement rates for a marketing campaign vs. a transactional email, the transactional email will always win – often with 2-4 times higher open and click rates. This is because transactional email is both expected and personalized. Transactional email is critical to how users engage with your business. It’s how you notify a customer that an action on your site is required, that a payment was received, or that there is some new information available just for them.

So if transactional email is so valuable for customer engagement, why are most of them dead-ends?

Beyond the Welcome Email

Your business probably sends a “welcome” email to new customers when they sign up. It welcomes a customer to your business, highlights some features, and likely includes a CTA to activate a new account or to update important information. This first touchpoint is crucial to customer engagement. Since your customer is likely to open this email, this is an excellent opportunity to motivate other types of engagement such as encouraging further social media participation or activating a coupon.

But all transactional email matters, not just “Welcome” or “Signup” emails, and chances are high that your application sends a lot of other emails you’ve never thought about. Emails like an order receipt or payment confirmation are often thought of as purely informational, but due to their personalized and timely nature, these emails can have very high engagement rates.

In fact, receipts or invoices issued after payment are often opened multiple times, by multiple users. Experian Marketing Services spotlights receipt emails in their report on email marketing trends for the first quarter of 2013 and found that:

  • Receipts provide an opportunity to further engage customers with your brand and extend the relationship.
  • Early trends for receipts show higher open rates and revenue per email than bulk promotional mailings.
  • Receipts with up-sell and cross-sell features have the highest click and transaction rates.

If your company accepts payments, smart marketers must take that opportunity to increase customer engagement. Allow your marketing team and leaders to use their creativity and find innovative messaging that can be embedded in your automated receipts.

For some real life examples, take a look at a few of SendGrid’s recent blog posts about Lands’ End, Uncommon Goods, and Zulily—all of these companies have taken advantage of the CAN-SPAM Act’s acceptance of marketing messaging in up to 1/3 of a company’s transactional email. These companies have taken this prime opportunity to cross-promote similar products to those included in their customers’ order confirmations. By highlighting additional opportunities to engage, they’ve avoided the dreaded dead-end curse and helped solidify repeat business and loyalty from their customers.

So whether your automated emails are triggered by new sign ups, updating a credit card, redeeming a coupon, or providing feedback, every growth-focused marketer should seize those emails as high-value opportunities to build customer relations and drive user engagement. Don’t overlook transactional emails or let your emails die in customer inboxes. We strongly encourage all marketers to take a close look at their transactional emails and make sure they’re making the most of them. Let “Dead-End Emails” rest in peace.

Have a good example of a dead-end email you’ve received? Share it in the comments below, or email! We’re always on the lookout for great examples we can learn from. is a platform for marketers to control and optimize 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.

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