There are two main types of email, commercial and transactional. Commercial email is marketing and promotional email, and that includes sharing content from your website (e.g in a newsletter). Transactional email is strictly to be used as part of a user's transaction, such as sending a receipt or a download link.
A lot of email providers are US based and are therefore Governed by the US’ CAN-SPAM Act. This act stipulates that subscribers need to be able to opt out of commercial email. Therefore, there must be an opt out link for commercial email. There is no such restriction on transactional email.
Transactional vs Commercial email
Commercial emails are emails that subscribers have opted in to receive. They are sent to users at times that the sender determines and not necessarily in response to a user interaction.
Here is the definition of commercial email from the CAN-SPAM regulation:
Commercial content – which advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose;
Transactional emails are sent to people as part of their interaction with a website or web application. If you purchase a digital product, such as an ebook, on a website and the product is emailed to you, that is transactional. You may also get sent a receipt as part of that transaction. The receipt would be considered a transactional email. Similarly, if you request a passport reset on a website that you are a member of, the email you receive in response is transactional. The email is triggered by something that you request.
Transactional email can also include legal notifications and service outage notifications.
Here is the definition of transactional email from the CAN-SPAM regulation:
Transactional or relationship content – which facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates to a customer about an ongoing transaction; and
CAN-SPAM Act & GDPR
Most email providers use the US CAN-SPAM act for rules around sending commercial and transactional email. There are stiff penalties if you send transactional email that should be commercial. In the EU, GDPR will unify data protection regulations and govern what we can and can not do with emails. Under GDPR, personal data must be protected, whether it is used for commercial or transactional emails.
Commercial & Transactional email providers
Many web sites and applications will use different providers for commercial and transactional emails. Popular commercial email providers include MailChimp, Active Campaign, Campaign Monitor and Drip. Popular transactional email providers include Mandrill (now a MailChimp add on), SendGrid, Mailgun and Postmark.
Using Drip for transactional email
If you are using Drip for your commercial email, you can send transactional email via Drip as well. Drip facilitates the sending of transactional emails in broadcast emails, campaigns, workflows and rules.
Drip Broadcast Email
To send a transactional broadcast email, create a new broadcast in the standard way.
After you have created your broadcast email (such as above), click next. You will then be taken to the email settings form.
In the settings form, look for Primary Purpose. Change from Commercial to Transactional.
You will then get a popup to ensure you really want to change it to Transactional.
This popup exists because of the stiff penalties that US authorities can apply if you send transactional email that should actually be considered commercial. So make sure you really are sending transactional email!
If you do not want the unsubscribe link to be sent as part of the transactional email, you’ll need to remove it from the Footer Content.
In Drip campaigns, each email within the campaign needs to be set to transactional separately.
- Open the email in the campaign
- Click on the Settings link
- Click on Viewing General Settings and change it to Footer Settings
- Change the Primary Purpose from Commercial to Transactional/Relationship
- Remove the unsubscribe link from the footer content
Drip Automation Workflows and Rules
In Drip Workflows and Rules, emails are sent using the Send a one-off email action. You can set these emails to be transactional.
An example of a one off email in a Drip workflow:
- Click on the Settings link
- Change What is the primary purpose of this campaign? to Transactional/relationship
- Accept the Are you sure? popup
- Remove the unsubscribe link from the HTML footer
If you are using Drip for your commercial email, you may decide to use it for transactional email as well, instead of using a separate provider. Fortunately Drip supports transactional email in broadcast emails, campaigns, workflows and rules.