Maybe you never noticed, but your WordPress website sends you emails. Don't believe me? Here's what I mean:

Example of transactional email in WordPress

and also:

Email notification from a comment

In both cases, it was my website alerting me about something: my daily backup was done (email sent by the plugin I'm using on my website) and someone posted a comment on one of my blog posts.

These are a special kind of emails: they're called transactional emails.

But what are they? And why do you need to know more about them?

Let's dive in!

What are transactional emails?

Transactional emails are email notifications that trigger when a specific action takes place. These emails are vital tools within the communications flow between the site/store owner and their users.

Transactional emails can range from new orders and checkouts to new customers signing up for your newsletter. Here are some practical examples:

Examples of transactional emails

  • Order confirmation
  • Delivery confirmation and shipping confirmation
  • Cart abandonment (which will become tricky after GDPR, but that's another story)
  • Customer feedback
  • Notification emails
  • Double Opt-In emails

Examples of transactional emails occurring with WordPress websites

  1. When you receive a message about the successful auto-update of your site
  2. When someone successfully publishes a comment on your blog
  3. When a new user gets created
  4. Password reset
  5. Any other plugin notifications (like when a new subscriber joins your newsletter)
  6. One of your forms is filled

Why WordPress can't handle transactional emails properly (and why you need to consider a transactional email provider)

Transactional emails are extremely important for any WordPress-related business because they allow the site owners, along with their developers, to be in touch with their consumers and know about everything that happens in there. As WordPress developer and Codeable expert Francesco Carlucci points out:

Every website needs this kind of emails because your website is building an experience both for the users and for the people who manage it. So we need email notifications for important events. There is a problem, though, with this notification system: sometimes transactional emails go in the spam folder, mainly due to the way PHP handles them.

Just to be super clear: WordPress uses PHP mail() function to send out emails, so this could be an issue you'll be facing sooner or later. Without going into many technical details, you should know that most of hosting providers have limitations on the number of emails you can send in a single batch and, at the end of the day, they’re not engineered to handle them properly.

Because of this, WordPress alone doesn't ensure a high-deliverability of your transactional emails.

Without a transactional email service provider, the volume and nature of this key type of emails often end up in the spam folder and that's a huge issue for your product, brand, and overall business.

Yep, directly to their spam folder... and that's something you don't want to happen with your emails, right?

For example, your users might fail to get their order confirmation, a new important notification from your website, a password reset which would unstick them and let them keep buying from your store.

But it's not just an issue for your users, it's also a problem for you managing your website: the more of your emails will get into the spam folder, the worse your IP reputation gets.

Why it's not advisable to use your hosting provider to send transactional emails

Most of the hosting providers allow you to set up email addresses and send them from their servers. The problem here is the number and frequency of the emails, especially transactional emails, that you'll need to send out.

You don't want your domain name/IP address labeled as a SPAM address.

That'd be a big fat issue to address. Recovering from such a nightmarish situation is a time-consuming task.

Transactional email providers have a wide variety of benefits besides allowing access to a huge tranche of notifications and information to keep your users updated or your developers promptly alerted. The most important one is that they allow you to send tons of emails in bulk to your intended recipients and at the same time. This here alone should be enough to make you consider a transactional email provider.

On top of that, a transactional email provider can also help you keep a log of any notifications sent which will help your developers look into it with more data. As Francesco highlights:

Let's think of a common scenario: a user bought from you something but he says he hasn't received an email confirmation and he's not sure whether the purchase went well. By checking our transactional email provider dashboard, we can see if the email confirmation was sent, delivered, and even opened at a specific time. More interesting, we could see and let our user know whether that email went to his spam folder.

That's just an example but it could be the case for an important update you're sending out, a password reset email, and other important messages triggered by an action performed by your users.

Some of the best options of transactional email providers to use with your WordPress website

There are hosts of transactional email providers that you could choose from, but there a few that are on top of the ladder and are recommended by industry experts.

WordPress doesn't come with its own transactional email option (as we saw) but, of the most popular third-party providers listed below, SendWP is the one transactional email solution built exclusively for and designed by developers in the WordPress community.

Top 4 free transactional email providers for WordPress

  • SendWP: you can send unlimited email for just $9/mo. Here’s their plugin.
  • SendGrid: you could send up to 12k emails per month for free. Here's their plugin.
  • Mailgun: you could send up to 10k emails per month for free. Here's their plugin.
  • SparkPost: you could send up to 10k emails per month for free. Here's their plugin.

These 4 are the most notable current solutions and they offer free extensive packages for each month. Furthermore, they have their readily designed WordPress plugins which aren't that difficult to set up, if you're just a bit technical, as Francesco points out:

Implementing a third-party email provider in your WordPress or WooCommerce site is a matter of signing up, generating your credentials, and add them to their plugin. Also, these solutions provide solid documentation that can help you or your developers even further.

Wrapping up

Since WordPress is a Content Management System, it wasn't designed to send emails because that is not its core purpose. Same story applies to WooCommerce stores, which are using the same wp_mail() function to handle transactional emails.

Therefore, transactional email providers are needed to plug this loophole because they'll enable you to manage and send large volumes of emails and notifications to your users in a robust and convenient way. All without compromising your IP address and domain name reputation.

This blog post features Francesco Carlucci, a technology expert and software developer helping companies to reach their goals since 2007. He specializes in enterprise-level WordPress development, custom integrations, e-commerce, and performance-oriented solutions. When he is not writing code, you can probably find him writing blog posts for internet entrepreneurs.