Every now and then, you might come across a technical term that’s not that self-explanatory. One such term is a ‘transactional email’. Although few people outside of the email business actually know what that stands for, it’s one of the most important aspects of every business that generates its revenue on the Internet.

Back Then

More than 40 years have passed since Ray Tomlinson, a US programmer and the inventor of the email address format (user@domain.com), sent the first email message between two computers. However, it was not until the early 90s that transactional emails really kicked off, after the appearance of the World Wide Web.

Up to that point, emails were only a substitute for a post office, allowing ordinary people or coworkers to send messages to each other’s computers. But when companies realized that they could sell services online, transactional emails became a crucial part of the entire process.


So what exactly are transactional emails? Well, they’re those emails always generated by user actions, usually clicking a button or a link on a web page. That actions sends a signal to the web server that runs the entire website and tells it to send an email to one user or another.

In that manner, everything from account confirmation emails to purchase receipts emails and profile notifications can be labeled as transactional emails. Even in the early days, they quickly became a very important part of the e-commerce area as they provided a direct communication bridge between the buyer and the seller, one that, among other things, strengthened the mutual trust between the two parties.

In fact, transactional emails became so important that an entire online industry was built with a single goal in mind: hitting the user’s Inbox by proving the legitimacy of the sender. Unfortunately, the rise of the email medium also made way for spammers (people that send emails to users that have not requested them) and phishers (people that claim to be part of a legitimate company and ask for personal details such as credit card data).

Thus, services such as SendGrid emerged. Its purpose is to provide a platform through which only legitimate companies can send as many emails as they can afford each month. SendGrid, among others, takes care of complicated things such as the DKIM and the SPF signatures, telling Gmail and other recipient ISPs that “yes, this email really comes from @company.com, your user requested it and it should go into the Inbox folder”.

Looking Forward

People and companies all over the world are working day and night to combat spammers and phishers and to avoid affecting legitimate businesses in the processes. So, new authentication technologies such as the DMARC and IPv6 will play very significant role in the years to come.

Moreover, ISPs such as Gmail are constantly improving their email clients in order to provide a better company – user experience, including the possibility to interact with an external online service directly within the content of an email it sent. Other new email apps like Mail Pilot and .Mail are trying to turn your Inbox into some sort of to-do list, while Inky wants to auto-prioritize your emails.

No matter what path technology will take, transactional emails have worked so well in the past 20 years that its highly unlikely that they’ll be replaced with something else any time soon.