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Though it may not be a layman’s term, everyone who has an active email account has probably received transactional email at some point.

Transactional email refers to an email generated by some action involving the user; it does not necessarily refer to any sort of financial transaction. This could include an action directly on the part of the user, an action targeting the user, or sometimes even a lack of action by the user. Below are a few examples of transactional email instances.

Direct User Action

The most common example of this type of transactional email is the email delivered when a user signs up for an account on a website. In this case, the “transaction” is the act of the user signing up for the site. The welcome email is sent as a result of this transaction.

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A sample transactional welcome email.

Actions Targeting Users

These types of transactional emails are sent when the user receives, for example, a comment on a social networking site. An automated email is sent to the user to notify him or her that the comment has been posted. This is not a direct user action; rather, someone else’s action is the trigger. (Note: Gmail will generally place these emails in the “Social” tab of the updated inbox.)

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Sample passive user-action transactional emails.

User Inaction

Examples of transactional emails received due to user inaction are the “Come back/We miss you” emails sent as part of email win-back campaigns. The user in this case has subscribed to a mailing list, but has either not responded in some time to any emails sent, or has never responded at all.

Other Examples and Synonyms

As previously stated, transactional email refers to essentially all triggered and automated emails to users who have subscribed to services or mailing lists on a website. Other commonly encountered examples of transactional emails include:

Transactional emails can also be referred to as “triggered,” “automated/automatic,” and “real-time.” These all mean essentially the same thing; the different terms are simply used by different companies according to their needs and the services they provide.

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