Practical Ecommerce

Google ‘Email Markup’ Helps Transactional Emails Stand Out

An informed customer is often a happy customer. Online shoppers expect to hear from merchants when an order is received and shipped. And most merchants dutifully send adequate order confirmation and shipping notification emails. However, for mid-sized or larger stores, adding a bit of structured data markup could improve those emails for some shoppers.

Email Markup is a structured data format meant to enhance how certain kinds of emails are displayed. When properly registered and implemented, marked up email messages will show additional information to users in Google apps like Inbox or even Calendar.

In the ecommerce context, this means that order confirmation and shipping notices may get special treatment in the email inbox, perhaps improving the shopper’s experience.

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Email Markup for Order Confirmations

Search engine optimizers are familiar with structured data and its benefits for SEO. The process for adding Email Markup to an HTML email message is the same as adding structured data to a website.

Even the formats are the same. For structured data SEO, one uses either microdata or JSON for Linking Data (JSON-LD). These are the formats to use for Email Markup, too. Simply add the markup to the head portion of an HTML email message.

Here is an example with JSON-LD. We begin with an HTML script tag of the “application/ld-json” type.

<script type="application/id+json">
     ....
</script>

Next we add several key value pairs or properties that share information with the system reading the structured data.

<script type="application/ld+json">
    {
        "@context": "http://schema.org",
        "@type": "Order",
        "merchant": {
            "@type": "Organization",
            "name": "SomeRetailer.com"
        },
        "orderNumber": "159847-sh-1971",
        "orderStatus": "http://schema.org/OrderProcessing",
        "priceCurrency": "USD",
        "price": "59.99",
        "acceptedOffer": {
            "@type": "Offer",
            "itemOffered": {
                "@type": "Product",
                "name": "Some Amazing Item"
             },
            "price": "59.99",
            "priceCurrency": "USD",
            "eligibleQuantity": {
                "@type": "QuantitativeValue",
                "value": "1"
             }
        }
    }
</script>

Even without being familiar with JSON for the meaning of every property, it should be fairly easy to understand that someone has purchased “Some Amazing Item” from “SomeRetailer.com” for $59.99.

All of these properties are required for Email Markup to work for an order confirmation.

  • merchant – May have a @type of Organization or Person and must include a name.
  • orderNumber – Is a seller-specific identification.
  • priceCurrency – Uses the three-letter ISO 4217 format.
  • AcceptedOffer – Has values for the product purchased, price, category, product rating, SKU, and more. The product purchased, its price, currency, and quantity are required.

In addition to these, Email Markup supports several optional and recommended properties for order confirmation emails, so that it is possible to include fairly detailed billing information. These properties can further improve the shopping experience. For example, it may be possible for an Android phone user to ask Google Now to display all purchases from, say, SomeRetailer.com and receive a list of order confirmations in the same way they might see the search engine results.

Email Markup for Shipping Notices

In a similar way, we can also mark up a shipping notification, again adding either microdata for JSON-LD to an HTML email or, perhaps more accurately, an HTML email template, since we will not be coding each individual email, but rather setting up transactional email templates. Here is a JSON-LD example.

<script type="application/ld+json">
    {
        "@context": "http://schema.org",
        "@type": "ParcelDelivery",
        "deliveryAddress": {
            "@type": "PostalAddress",
            "streetAddress": "757 Westwood Plaza",
            "addressLocality": "Los Angeles",
            "addressRegion": "CA",
            "addressCountry": "US",
            "postalCode": "90095"
        },
        "expectedArrivalUntil": "2016-11-12T12:00:00-09:00",
        "carrier": {
            "@type": "Organization",
            "name": "FedEx"
        },
        "itemShipped": {
            "@type": "Product",
            "name": "Hearing Aid"
        },
        "partOfOrder": {
            "@type": "Order",
            "orderNumber": "159487-sh-1971",
            "merchant": {
                "@type": "Organization",
                "name": "SomeRetailer.com"
            }
        }
}
</script>
Notice that an Amazon shopper using Google's Inbox app can click and track a package without even opening the email message.

Notice that an Amazon shopper using Google’s Inbox app can click and track a package without even opening the email message.

This example shows just the required properties, but as with the order Email Markup, there are many additional properties you could add to further improve the shopper’s experience. A couple of the optional properties that you will not want to miss are trackingNumber and trackingUrl.

  • trackingNumber – Specifies the carrier’s tracking number.
  • trackingUrl – Provides the link to the carrier’s order tracking page specific to the shipment; it will create a track package link in Google Inbox or Gmail.

Which Shoppers Will See Your Improved Messages?

Not everyone you send a transactional email to will enjoy Email Markup’s benefit.

Email Markup works best with Google’s Inbox application. While other Google applications like Gmail, Now, and Answers will use Email Markup information, it is those customers on Google Inbox that will benefit the most from your Email Markup efforts.

By some estimates, Gmail has about 1 billion active users. Some percentage of these users is probably using Inbox for their email app. So it is a large potential audience. One way to predict how Email Markup could impact your customers would be to estimate how many of your shoppers use Gmail.

Registration Required

Email Markup will only work for registered senders. Although you can easily test Email Markup by sending a message to yourself, from, for example, myaddress@gmail.com to myaddress@gmail.com, Email Markup will not work for your ecommerce transactional emails until you have registered and been accepted.

Google has several requirements that you must meet before your customers benefit from highlighted messages.

  • Your messages must be authenticated with either the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) or Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) protocol. (This is true for many email providers.)
  • The “From:” email address must match the top-level domain from your SPF check or DKIM signature.
  • Your messages must be sent from a static email address.
  • You need to have a history of sending a few hundred emails a day to Gmail addresses.
  • You need a very low spam complaint rate.
  • Your Email Markup must be done correctly.
Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Elizabeth Hollingsworth October 29, 2016 Reply

    This is an intriguing and new idea, Armando. It sounds like a fabulous opportunity once I have several hundred transactional emails per day to my customers with Gmail!