Let’s be honest, doing a Google search on the distinctions between transactional and marketing emails can provide hazy definitions, leaving you uncertain about whether to send transactional emails as opposed to typical marketing emails.

The fact that email-sending rules differ greatly between nations and that any advice offered on emailing may be appropriate in one area but may land you in legal hot water in another contributes to the imprecise descriptions. Thus, how can we distinguish between transactional and marketing emails? Let’s start.

Transactional Emails

A transactional email is a message sent after a user interacts with a website or another digital element. This kind of email is frequently in response to something the receiver does.

Occasionally, such as when a password has to be reset, they are sent in answer to an actual email request. Elsewhere, the request is assumed. Envision a client to place a purchase via your website. The client most likely didn’t tick the box requesting to get purchase confirmation messages or receipts by email, but in the event that they don’t, they’ll probably get in touch with you to confirm that you got their order.


  • Password changes.
  • Legal notices.
  • Acceptable use policy updates.
  • Electronic receipts.
  • Delivery confirmations.


User activities serve as triggers and not their explicit consent.

Whitelisting of sending IP addresses used for transactional email is not required.

While not strictly necessary, feedback loops are a good practice.

Using responsive design when creating transactional emails promotes multi-platform readability.

Enhancing deliverability and providing transparency to the message and sender are achieved through clear branding in the sender’s address and subject line.

Commercial Emails

These emails are sent to a list of recipients who have opted in to receive them. Commercial email is any type of email sent by a company to its leads or customers for marketing purposes. The goal of commercial emails is to keep recipients engaged and to get them to take action such as reading an article, following the brand on social media, or buying something from its store.

Because of its promotional nature, commercial email must adhere to local and international regulations in regard to the sending of email marketing campaigns. Commercial email can only be sent after a recipient has opted in to receive it.


Sales promotions.

Third-party offers.

Event invitations.


Product updates and announcements.


Double opt-in subscription processes form the basis of good commercial email practices.

Whitelisting of IPs used for sending commercial emails is required.

Subscribe to all offered ISP lists to stay updated on email best practices.

Consider responsive email design for improved multi-platform rendering.

To increase user engagement, use commercial subject lines and a clearly identified “From” address.

Something to consider first

Whether you send transactional or commercial emails, making sure your message reaches inbox, gets read, and leaves an impact is crucial. What’s the difference? Transactional emails are sent to a recipient in response to a specific user action. Commercial emails are advertisements sent to a user in an effort to raise awareness, promote engagement, or close a deal.

Ensure your messages reach your recipients and stay out of the spam folder whether you’re sending a transactional or marketing email by following some simple best practices.


Some businesses assume that if an email is about a transaction that’s already occurred—or if it has nothing to do with a sale at all—it’s a lower priority. But that’s not the case. Every transactional email you send is part of the larger conversation with your customers, which means that they need to be informative, engaging, and personalized, just like your regular marketing emails.