Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

How to keep App-generated Email from Being Marked Spam

The most concise definition of Transactional Email I could find (after a 7 second Google search) is:

Email primarily containing information about current or prior business dealings, such as confirmation of a sale, a registration number, an invoice, or an opt-in or opt-out confirmation. Contrast this with “marketing email.”


Transactional emails are those created by the application – based off of a template setup by a human, of course – and this differs from marketing emails – like newsletters and auto-responders – that you’d send with tools like Sendloop or GetResponse.

For SaaS & Web App vendors, transactional email often contains project status updates, analysis results, login credentials, etc. and can be sent on-demand or scheduled to send weekly, daily, or even multiple times per day.

As a SaaS vendor, you know these emails are super important for you to communicate with your customers and drive further engagement with your app.

What you may not know – or hadn’t thought about before – is that they are good for two other SUPER IMPORTANT things:

  1. Get ’em back into the app (often) – Here’s a super-ninja secret for you… don’t tell ’em everything in the email and make the main Call-to-Action (CTA) a link into the app to see and/or take action on the reason for sending the email. For example, an analysis report… don’t send it in the email, give a synopsis and link to the report in the app.
  2. Market to them – yes, even in Transactional Messages, according to the CAN-SPAM act in the United States, a Transactional Message can contain marketing/sales language or creatives if the primary purpose of the email is to communicate the “relationship” information. So when sending the analysis report synopsis to your Free Trial users, remember to include a CTA at the bottom of the email that presents an offer to become a paying customer, too.

This post was inspired by the following tweet where Stu expressed frustration with his Transactional Email messages getting marked as spam:

My response was a bit terse so I thought I’d expand on it a bit.

First, read my post called 5 Rules for SaaS Email Marketing and Transactional Messages as it will lay the foundation for creating an email infrastructure designed for success.


Here’s how to keep your Transactional Email from being marked spam

Okay, before going any further, I have to say there are some prerequisites for the following to make a difference; you have to get your email delivered. 37 Signals built their own infrastructure and got 99.3% delivery, but most sane SaaS & Web App companies leverage a credible email delivery service like one of these:

Here’s why it’s so important…

For instance, a company that came to me for help improving their Free Trial conversion rates had only 50% deliverability (and thus far fewer than 50% of their Free Trial signups activated!) and it was due 100% to them sending through their own poorly managed SMTP server; that changed overnight by moving to a qualified transactional email service provider.

Okay, so assuming your messages are actually making it to the recipients’ email system, it is very likely your Transactional Email messages are being marked as spam because your customers/users don’t want or need them. That might mean that you’re sending emails about things that – quite simply – they don’t care about, don’t need, didn’t expect, or frankly don’t want.

So, know why you’re sending the emails. The is always the first question I’d ask in this situation; why are you sending the messages you’re sending? What is the customer story-driven hypothesis that you’re testing? Getting them marked as spam is probably a good indication that you should mark that hypothesis as false and pivot.

A good place to start is to assume your customers/users just don’t want the emails you are sending. So, ask them what they want and how frequently they want them. Yes, some will lie to you or say “I hate all email, ever… everything email is spam and I love Inbox Zero”… cool. Cool. Don’t listen to people like that. Listen to the normal people – paying customers. Use good Customer Development techniques here and create emails that your customers / users actually want.

Let ’em know they’ll get emails from you. Don’t hide it or surprise them. If you fail to let them know they’ll get emails from you, best case, some won’t get the emails because their system will mark them as spam for them. Worst case, the customer won’t expect it and mark them as spam themselves. Not properly managing expectations of users and customers is the #1 failure of just about every SaaS or Web App company in the world.

This goes far beyond just email, too. But in this context, just tell ’em they’ll get emails from you daily (or whatever) and that those will contain something awesome for them. Make them look forward to those emails. But just telling them they’ll get email from you might keep your messages out of the spam trap.

Give them control. While I want everyone to get the Transactional Emails generated by my awesome app, it’s true that I’d rather have a few customers / users turn off their daily notifications than have them mark them as spam and bring down my sender score. If I’ve done my job, the vast majority will still want – and look forward to – the frequent updates because they’re super valuable.

But let’s be clear, those who opt-out of the “daily update” style Transactional Email messages will still need to receive receipts/invoices, security, credential resets, etc. so as they’re “opting-out” of those other messages, make it clear that they’ll still get some email from you, though infrequently.

Let’s Grow Your SaaS Company

For immediate consultation and advice on effective growth strategies and tactics for your SaaS company, schedule a 60-minute meeting with me via Clarity. If you feel a more involved engagement is required for me to help you, email me with the specifics of your situation (as much detail as you’re comfortable giving) and we’ll setup a meeting to work through the particulars.

– Lincoln

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