Let’s Categorize Your Emails – What You Can Send and Why

On November 15, 2019
8min read
Zakhar Yung Technical Content Writer @Mailtrap

Email marketing is a strategy of promoting products or services via sending emails to prospects and current users. The very first commercial email was sent in 1978 by Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp. He used the Arpanet (the Internet did not exist yet) to deliver the email to 400 contacts. So, we can consider this to be the first email campaign, which brought an outperforming outcome – around $14 million in sales. However, what Thuerk did back then would have been taken for spam in modern practice, since the email was unwanted by almost all the recipients. Anyway, it worked and ushered in a powerful tool for marketers. What’s the power of emails? They can be different and you can use different types of emails for versatile occasions. For example, you can use different visual assets, even incorporate videos in email marketing campaigns. In this article, we’ll check them out in detail.

How many email types can you Google – 5, 7, 10, or more? 

Let’s say you’re willing to ask Google how many types of emails in business exist. We did it for you and collected the search results by the increasing number of email types:

5 Types7 Types10 Types13 Types15 Types
read moreread moreread moreread moreread more
1. Newsletter
2. Lead nurturing
4. Milestone
5. Survey
1. Newsletter
2. Standalone
3. Lead nurturing
4. Transactional
5. Milestone
6. Plain-text
7. Mobile optimized
1. Newsletter
2. Special offer emails
3. Milestone
4. Review request
5. Welcome
6. Curated content
7. New product announcement
8. Abandoned cart
9. Progress
10. Confirmation 
1. Welcome
2. Offer
3. Survey
4. Request
5. Newsletter
6. Free Gift
7. Value
8. We’re Hiring
9. New Product
10. Reorder
11. Abandoned Cart
13. Anniversary 
1. Welcome
2. Expectations
3. Tools
4. Helping
5. The Getting to Know You
6. Favor
7. Unexpected Freebie
8. Exclusive Content
9. Content
10. Archive
11. Curated
12. Newsletter
13. Buzz-Building
14. Testimonial
15. Favorite Things 

15 is not the final number – you can stumble upon 16, 17, and even 19 during your search, but should you? The problem of all these lists is that you don’t get an explicit categorization of emails. We can equally well specify each occasion for an email campaign and define it as a separate email type. However, this is not what the article is about. The approach we use is more sustainable and based on every email marketer’s sacred text – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Categorization of emails and GDPR compliance

GDPR regulates personal data protection. That’s why you’re unlikely to find anything explicit about email marketing. However, emails are troves of data that are more-or-less personal, such as email addresses, user names, contact details, and so on. Why and what you should take care of in this regard, you can find in the blog post about GDPR email compliance.

The truth is that all automated emails can be divided into two types:

  • Transactional emails (mostly those that are triggered by user-app interactions)
  • Marketing emails (those that promote something)

In view of this, the GDPR has two main missions:

  • to shield customers from flows of marketing emails they did not consent to.
  • to regulate that transactional emails are not used for marketing purposes.

Now, we let’s expand those categories of emails to discover their numerous subtypes.

Transactional emails

The first (and last) email each of your users receive is a transactional one. Transactional emails do not promote anything. Their value is to provide product/service-centered information. For example, transactional emails notify you about password change, payment status, and much more. They are considered must-read and have a stable high open-rate. That’s why there is a lure to stuff transactional emails with marketing content. But beware – GDPR is keeping an eye out! By using a dedicated transactional email service, you can create professional emails built with transactional email best practices and manage things more easily by keeping them separate from your marketing emails. 

For every person who writes one, there are many types of transactional email. We’ve broken them down into four groups:

  • User account emails
  • Billing-related emails
  • Notification emails
  • Emails on orders and purchases

Now let’s check out real-life examples of all email types within the above groups.

User account emails

Welcome emails

Welcome emails establish your relationship with the user. Their open-rates are as high as the Burj Khalifa and they should make your branding clear. For example, that’s how Mailtrap welcomes its users:

Confirm subscription (aka double opt-in emails)

Emails that ask you to confirm subscription do not annoy users. Instead, they show that you care about their security.

Password reset

Password reset is an integral feature of most digital products. An email to reset the password should be clear and comply with the product’s branding style.

Privacy Policy update

The privacy policy outlines the principles of personal data protection. If you update this document, you should inform your users without undue delay.

Account security alert

Account security alerts inform users about any suspicious activity to prevent possible damage. 

Free trial ending

A free trial allows you to introduce the value of your product to potential customers. If they like it, they’ll jump in. Regardless, you should notify customers about the free trial expiration to stir them into action.

Subscription cancellation/renewal

The cancellation email confirms a customer’s request to cancel a subscription. For example, as follows:

At the same time, you can use this email immediately to get your churned user back. Just add a reactivation button, like Hulu did:

Invoice emails

Your customers are people and people are used to forgetting things. That’s why invoice emails are meant to gently remind customers about payment due. You can also use invoicing software from Billdu to automate the invoicing process and send emails.

Receipt emails

Receipt emails are strictly informative. They provide financial data (receipt) for customers, so they can keep their records in order. A good practice is to attach PDF receipts to those emails. 

Dunning emails

Dunning emails are reminders about failed payments or credit card expiration. They also offer suggestions about what should be done to fix the issue.

Refund emails

A refund email notifies the customer about a successful refund.

Payment method emails

Customers need to make sure that their financial details are stored safely. That’s what payment method updates are used for.

Notification emails

Invitation emails

Let’s say that your friend or teammate has invited you to join a project based on a particular app. There’s no need for him/her to share a referral link with you manually. An invitation email will do this automatically. Invitation emails invite users to files, projects, events, and so on.

Message/comment received emails

This is simple: you get a message via an app, which sends you a notification. The same flow is used to notify users about comments, mentions, and other in-app activities.

Event-reminder emails

Let’s say that you scheduled an off-hour for your product due to maintenance. Or perhaps your users need to be notified of an upcoming event. That’s the mission of event-reminder emails.

Emails on orders and purchases

Shopping cart abandonment emails

What caused a user to abandon his or her shopping cart? You can either think over the reasons or simply remind the customer that this happened. Statistically, cart abandonment emails have a 45% open rate. Of them, only 11% convert into purchases, which is better than nothing.

Order confirmation/cancellation emails

Today, emails that confirm a financial transaction are often taken for granted. Order confirmation emails usually contain such details as order number, price, shipping address, and so on. If an order was canceled, make sure to notify a user, as well.

Shipping confirmation emails

These emails contain details about how users can track their orders. If users are satisfied with the way you inform them, they are likely to make another purchase from you.

Delivery confirmation emails

Some do not separate delivery confirmation emails from those about shipping details. However, emails about delivery play a special role – they trigger the user’s excitement about receiving their purchase. You can use this to your benefit. How? Place a link to your brand’s social profile, invite them to share feedback, and so on. This can be really fun and fruitful – use your imagination!

Customer feedback emails

Customers trust online reviews and feedback, so make sure to offer opportunities for customers to respond this way. One of the best options is sending a customer feedback email. You can use a variety of tools to create custom ratings and review templates that maximize conversions in this format. Here is the list of the best customer feedback tools you can consider for sending feedback emails.

Marketing emails

Any email that contains marketing-oriented content is a marketing email. A user account email with a discount offer inside is no longer a transactional email. Marketing emails must have an opt-out option. If they don’t, they are not GDPR compliant. So, if your marketing emails don’t allow users to opt out, be careful about your data protection authority, which will have grounds to fine you.

Here are the types of marketing emails you can encounter:


A newsletter is a scheduled email about the product/service or related scope. Newsletters may contain different types of content that your subscribers are interested in:

  • summaries of recent or popular blog posts
  • promotional videos
  • product/service updates 
  • product/service-related tips
  • and much more data to keep users engaged

For example, the following newsletter by Cook Smarts contains menu updates and kitchen tips, all in one go:

Standalone or dedicated emails

Newsletters provide a digest of content and may contain many CTA links. In most cases, a subscriber clicks one and forgets about the others. A standalone email is dedicated to a single topic and has only one call-to-action such as “Buy a premium plan,” “Read this blog post,” and so on. In this case, the subscribers’ attention is focused on the action you want them to perform.

Lead nurturing emails

The idea of lead nurturing is to win over your subscribers and convert them into customers. Lead nurturing emails are used for this purpose. They provide subscribers with viable content that is meant to inspire them to take a desired action. Lead nurturing emails come in a series, since you can’t build customer relationships with a one-off email. 

What kind of content do these emails include? Anything that delivers value to subscribers and addresses their interests in an engaging way. As an example, check out the following lead nurturing email by Skillshare:

Product announcement emails

When you launch a new service or release a new feature of an existing product, this has to be announced. Your subscribers want to be the first to know this news, so don’t let them down. Check out the following example, where the Mailtrap team announced the Bcc testing feature:

Survey emails aka customer development emails

How confident are you about what inputs your subscribers want to receive? If your confidence needs some validation, use a survey email. It’s a regular email through which you ask subscribers to answer a few questions. Survey emails let you set up a dialogue with users, rather than lead a one-way conversation. Airtable Importer employed survey emails in the following way:

“We Are Hiring” emails

You may wonder what value these emails can bring to those subscribers who are not seeking work. The value is simply that you’re asking them, which shows that you count on them. From a marketing standpoint, “We Are Hiring” emails make your subscribers trust you more. Take a look at how the guys from Railsware ask their subscribers for recruiting assistance:

Sponsorship emails

The aforementioned marketing emails are meant for the recipients you already have in your email database. But you can go beyond this scope with sponsorship emails. The idea is that you buy a place in a newsletter or a standalone email from another company. It’s actually not even necessary to pay for sponsorship emails. If you act as a sponsor of some event, the organizer may promote your product/service in its marketing emails. Sponsorship emails let you gain new leads and reach a different audience. For example, the following email was sent by Yoga on the Field. However, Saint Thomas Health OnDemand grasps the readers’ focus the most.

To wrap up

If you count all types of emails we described above, you’ll get 27! And you know, the figure may actually be higher. Every project and every company may have a specific strategy that requires its own particular type. So, don’t worry if your approach doesn’t fit any of those molds. Just make sure that it works.

Article by Zakhar Yung Technical Content Writer @Mailtrap