Get Your Emails Working For You with Webhooks

Are you stuck manually processing emails like it’s the Stone Age? Do you crave instant notifications and automations tied to your inboxes? Well, propel your email capabilities into the future with webhooks!
Webhooks provide a simple yet powerful way to instantly react to email events. As soon as an email gets sent, opened, clicked, or bounced, your app can be notified to trigger workflows, send data to other platforms, and more.

Imagine CRM records updating automatically when support tickets are received. Transactional order confirmations firing off instantly after an online purchase. Slack notifications pinging in real time when a hot lead engages with your cold outreach.

Webhooks make it possible to connect your email channels to the rest of your digital ecosystem for seamless, event-driven automation. Read on to learn how!

Page Contents

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work?

Webhooks are a powerful yet simple technology that can help you automate workflows and build integrations between different software platforms. If you want real-time notifications and actions triggered by events like emails, webhooks are an excellent approach. But what exactly are webhooks, and how do they work their magic? Let’s break it down.

Defining Webhooks

A webhook is an HTTP callback that sends data about an event to a different web application in real time. The key idea is that one app can notify another instantly when something important happens.

For example, an e-commerce site could use a webhook to notify an inventory management app whenever a product is purchased. Or a form builder like TypeForm could use a webhook to send submission data to your CRM whenever someone fills out a form.

The app sending the webhook is called the publisher, while the receiver is the subscriber. The publisher doesn’t need to know anything about the subscriber – it just makes the HTTP request whenever the defined event occurs. This creates a unidirectional flow of real-time data.

Webhook Architecture

Under the hood, webhooks work using a simple publish-subscribe design pattern:

  • The publisher app detects when a webhook-enabled event happens, like an email send or form submission.
  • The publisher encodes event data into a payload (usually JSON) and makes an HTTP request to the subscriber’s webhook URL.
  • The subscriber app receives the webhook payload and parses it to extract relevant event data.
  • The subscriber app then performs any actions it’s programmed to, like updating a database or posting to Slack.
  • After sending the webhook, the publisher doesn’t need to do anything else – it’s a fire-and-forget system. The subscriber handles all processing of the event data.

This setup allows different apps to communicate directly without needing to know much about each other. The publisher just needs the subscriber’s webhook URL, while the subscriber needs to understand the event payload format to handle it properly.

How Webhooks Work

When implementing webhooks, there are a few key steps:

  1. Subscriber Registration: The subscriber app registers a public HTTPS URL as its webhook endpoint. This URL will receive payloads.
  2. Publisher Configuration: The publisher app is configured with the subscriber’s webhook URL and rules for which events should trigger it.
  3. Event Detection: When the defined event occurs, the publisher application detects it and prepares a payload.
  4. Building Payload: The publisher constructs a JSON payload containing data about the event, like a customer ID or email contents.
  5. Sending HTTP Request: The publisher makes an HTTP POST request to the subscriber’s webhook URL, passing the payload as JSON.
  6. Payload Processing: The subscriber app receives the request, parses the JSON, and acts on the event data – maybe by hitting an API or storing info in a database.
  7. Return 200 OK: The subscriber sends a 200 OK HTTP response to acknowledge receipt of the webhook.

This sequence allows apps to link up lightweight, real-time messaging on the backend. Once configured, webhooks handle transmitting event data automatically so you don’t have to build a custom solution.

Webhooks vs API Polling

Many apps also provide APIs that allow retrieving data through regular requests. So why use webhooks instead of just polling those APIs? Here are the key differences:

  • Real-time notifications: Webhooks push new data instantly. Polling requires constantly checking for changes.
  • Efficiency: Webhooks only send data when needed. Frequent polling can waste resources.
  • Flexibility: Webhooks work across languages and platforms. APIs require specific client libraries.
  • Scalability: Webhooks easily handle more traffic since each app only sends requests when required.
  • Granularity: Webhooks can trigger on precise events. API polling may involve fetching large datasets.

While API polling can work for lower frequency needs, webhooks are ideal for responding to events in real time across different systems. The publish-subscribe model lets apps break free of constant client-server polling.

Now that you understand the power of webhooks, let’s look at how you can use them to supercharge your email automation and workflows.

Benefits of Using Webhooks for Email

Email remains one of the main ways businesses communicate with customers. But managing email marketing, support, and other workflows can be challenging without the right automation tools. That’s where webhooks come in handy! Here are some of the top benefits of using webhooks for your email activities:

Real-Time Email Notifications

One of the biggest advantages of webhooks is enabling real-time notifications about email events. Instead of having to manually check analytics or API responses, you can get an instant ping whenever an important email action happens, such as:

  • A new email comes in to your support inbox
  • Someone subscribes to your newsletter
  • An outgoing email successfully sends
  • A customer opens your latest promotional email
  • Someone clicks a link in your email

This real-time data allows you to react to email events faster. For example, you could:

  • Send automated follow-up emails when someone clicks a link
  • Update your CRM in real-time when support tickets come in
  • Display real-time email stats on a dashboard rather than refreshing reports

No more waiting around for batched email data – webhooks give you instant access so you can engage customers in the moment.

Flexible Integration Options

Another benefit of webhooks is how flexibly they allow integrating email with other apps and services.

Pretty much any platform with an API can consume email webhooks. For example, you could have email events in your ESP trigger actions in:

  • CRM Platforms: Create new leads when someone subscribes to a list.
  • Support Desks: Open a ticket when a new support email comes in.
  • Marketing Automation: Enroll contacts in nurture campaigns after they click a link.
  • Databases: Append email tracking data to your customer records.
  • Business Intelligence: Feed email stats into your reporting dashboards.

The possibilities are endless! Webhooks provide a simple way to connect your email activities into the rest of your tech stack.

And thanks to webhooks using a standard HTTP protocol, you don’t have to worry about incompatible technologies getting in the way. As long as a platform can receive HTTP requests, it can handle email webhooks.

Improved Email Deliverability

When it comes to sending emails, webhooks can also help improve your deliverability rates.

By listening for bounce and spam complaint webhook events, you can keep your lists clean and avoid issues that might otherwise land your emails in the spam folder. Whenever someone churns or their email goes invalid, you can immediately remove them from your outbound lists to preserve sender reputation.

Webhooks also enable setting up instant inbox testing workflows. For example, you could send a test email to a new subscriber, then use engagement webhooks to confirm the address is valid before fully adding them to your master list.

Plus, with open and click tracking webhooks, you can see in real-time how your emails are performing after you send them. If a campaign starts triggering high spam complaints or low open rates, you could pause sending before more contacts are impacted.

Granular Email Tracking

Webhooks unlock granular tracking of exactly how recipients engage with your emails after they’re sent:

  • Opens: See who opened which email campaigns, and when.
  • Clicks: Track clicks on individual links to understand interest.
  • Activity timestamps: Get granular insights into engagement over time.
  • Spam complaints: Identify bad addresses lowering deliverability.
  • Bounce categories: Troubleshoot issues causing bounces.
  • Unsubscribes: Keep lists clean by honoring opt-outs.

This fine-grained data can fuel detailed analytics on your email program’s health and outreach effectiveness. Rather than waiting for batched stats, webhooks enable leveraging engagement data immediately to optimize your approach.

The Power of Real-Time Insights

Taken together, these benefits allow you to streamline email workflows, instantly respond to customer actions, integrate tools, and make data-driven decisions – unlocking a whole new level of efficiency and automation.

Whether you want to control your environment, offer better experiences, or gain performance insights, webhooks help maximize the value of your email channels. The timeliness of webhooks provides capabilities simply not possible when relying on manual or batched data access.

Now let’s explore some of the common email events that can be configured to trigger webhooks.

Common Email Events that Trigger Webhooks

One of the great things about webhooks is that you can configure them to fire on many different email-related events. This lets you build detailed workflows and automation around your subscribers and their behaviors. Here are some of the most popular email events you can use to trigger webhooks:

Inbound Email Receipt

Setting up a webhook for inbound or received emails allows responding the moment a message comes into an account. This is commonly used for:

  • Support inboxes – Create support tickets or notify staff when inquiries are received.
  • Sales inboxes – Enter new leads into your CRM upon receiving contact emails.
  • Routing rulesForward emails automatically based on sender or content.

For example, you could have new orders submitted via email trigger an invoice generation workflow. Or spam detection could move unwanted messages to a quarantine folder.

Webhooks give you real-time control when email lands in your inboxes. No more waiting for someone to manually check and process messages.

New Subscriber

One of the most common uses of webhooks is to react when someone subscribes to an email list. This event is useful for:

  • Welcoming subscribers – Send confirmation emails or get them into an onboarding flow.
  • Expanding contact profiles – Update your CRM with new subscriber email and attributes.
  • Hygiene checks – Run validation on new emails before fully adding to list.

You could even trigger multi-channel things like adding them to an SMS list, enrolling them in a course, or creating social media accounts.

Email Send

The sent email event occurs whenever an outbound message is successfully dispatched by your email service. This can be used for:

  • Tracking deliveries – Log times and volumes of all your sent email.
  • Following up automaticallySend follow-up emails a few days after the initial message.
  • Handling failures – Get notified if an entire send batch is aborted due to errors.

For example, if you’re sending a series of lifecycle emails, previous sends can trigger the next one in the sequence to go out.

Email Open

The open event indicates when a recipient opens your email – great for understanding engagement. You can leverage it to:

Marketers often use opens to determine their best lists, contact segments, and messages. Just beware – open tracking is disabled on some mobile clients.

Link Click

It’s also common to use the link clicked event to see who’s tapping your call-to-actions. This enables:

  • Following up on interest – Send additional content they might like.
  • Understanding intent – See which links resonate most with your audience.
  • Tracking conversions – Know when someone hits your product page or signup form.

For example, clicking a “Download eBook” link could instantly send them the PDF while also triggering a workflow to nurture that lead.

Email Bounce or Spam Complaint

Getting notifications when an email bounces or is marked as spam is important for maintaining sender reputation. Use these events to:

  • Remove bad addresses – Keep your lists clean and performing.
  • Investigate issues – Determine what went wrong and fix if needed.
  • Improve relevancy – Detect spam traps and unsuitable subscribers.

You can even set up workflows to automatically retry sends a few times before permanently removing bounced addresses.

Unsubscribe Action

Respecting unsubscribe requests is essential for email marketing. This event allows:

  • Honoring opt-outs – Immediately remove contacts from lists.
  • Following up – Send a workflow checking in on why they unsubscribed.
  • Prioritizing engagement – Focus on more interested segments of your audience.

It’s smart to configure an unsubscribe webhook that removes contacts from any relevant systems to avoid continuing to contact them.

Custom Event Hooks

Many email services also provide webhooks for custom events you can define yourself. For example:

  • SendGrid allows triggering webhooks when a contact hits a specified spam report threshold.
  • Mailgun supports webhooks on adding attachments and storing message content.
  • Postmark enables a custom “notification” event type with a JSON payload.

Check your email service’s webhook docs to see what unique events they offer.

Building Powerful Email Workflows

Chaining multiple event webhooks together enables building detailed email workflows like:

  • New subscriber > Send welcome email > Wait for open event > Send content download
  • Email received > Scan for keywords > Assign support ticket > Notify team on Slack
  • Email delivered > Wait interval > Send follow-up if no open event

Your possibilities are endless! Webhooks unlock automation across subscribers’ entire lifecycle and journey.

Designing Intelligent Workflows

When designing your workflows, consider:

  • User experience: Don’t over-automate – give contacts control with opt-out links.
  • Relevance: Customize follow-ups based on customer data and interests.
  • Timing: Experiment with different intervals between triggered actions.
  • Optimization: Adjust based on performance data like open and clickthrough rates.

Leveraging Real-Time Behavior Data

Email webhooks provide a flexible framework to monitor customer actions and instantly respond or update systems. Instead of waiting on batched reports, you get granular event data immediately.

This real-time feed enables personalization and automation that wasn’t possible with scheduled jobs or manual processing. As soon as someone engages with your email, you can deliver tailored follow-ups to capitalize on interest for leads and sales.

Now let’s dive into configuring webhooks technically on your own email platforms and workflows.

Setting Up Webhooks for Email

Now that you know what email webhooks can do, let’s look at how to actually implement them. Getting webhooks running requires a few technical steps:

Find Email Platforms that Support Webhooks

The first step is making sure your email service and other apps you want to integrate support webhooks. Here are some popular platforms with webhook capabilities:

  • Email Service Providers – SendGrid, Mailgun, Postmark, Mandrill, SparkPost, Mailjet, SendInBlue, Mailchimp
  • CRM Software – HubSpot, Salesforce, Zoho, Pipedrive
  • Support Tools – Zendesk, Freshdesk, Help Scout
  • Marketing Automation – Marketo, Pardot, ActiveCampaign
  • Cloud Storage – AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud Storage

Most well-known tools in the customer engagement space offer webhooks, but always check documentation to confirm capabilities.

Create a Webhook Endpoint to Receive Payloads

Once you’ve chosen webhook-enabled email and business systems, next you need somewhere to actually receive the webhook payloads when triggered.

You have two main options:

  1. Develop your own endpoint – Write a script or app to handle webhooks. You’ll need a server or platform to host it.
  2. Use a middleware service – Tools like Zapier, Integromat, or IFTTT can give you a URL to process webhooks to various destinations without writing code.

If going the custom route, webhooks will hit an endpoint on your server. Commonly this is a basic PHP, Node, Python, C#, Ruby, or Go script that can accept the inbound HTTP POST request and handle the JSON body.

On the middleware side, you provide the service with a destination like Slack or S3, and they generate a URL to channel webhook data there after formatting it.

Configure Webhook Rules and Triggers

Once you have an endpoint, log into your email platform’s dashboard or API and configure webhooks with:

  • Callback URL – The destination to receive payloads.
  • Events – The email actions that should trigger the webhook.
  • Filters – Only fire for matching criteria like specific lists or sender domains.
  • Payloads – Customize included data like contact variables.

Double check that the events and payload format match what your endpoint expects before activating your webhook. Try triggering some test events and inspecting the webhooks closely.

Handle Authentication and Security

Since webhooks involve communicating directly between apps, it’s important to secure them:

  • HTTPS – Always use HTTPS for webhook endpoints and transport.
  • Authentication – Add unique tokens or API keys to verify requests.
  • Validation – Check the request source IP and structure.
  • Idempotency – Ensure event handling is idempotent in case of duplicates.

Take care to properly authorize and validate in your endpoint code. Refer to your email provider’s webhook docs for the security mechanisms they recommend.

You can also use middleware services like Zapier that handle much of the nitty-gritty validation and retries for you automatically. But cutting out a middleman does allow more customization and control if you need it.

Activate and Test

Once configured, activate your webhook and try triggering test email actions like sends and opens. Observe the payloads coming into your endpoint and make sure they match expectations.

Monitor for any errors or timeouts and tweak settings like authentication and retries if needed. Proper logging and alerting also helps identify issues quickly.

With your endpoint receiving webhooks successfully, now you can focus on the fun part – building out workflows and apps that react to email events in real-time!

Let’s explore what you can do once those payloads start streaming in.

Receiving and Processing Email Webhook Data

Once your email webhooks are configured and firing on events, it’s time to actually do something useful with the incoming payload data. Here’s how to handle those real-time webhook requests.

Webhook Payload Contents

The payload delivered to your webhook endpoint will contain a JSON object with details about the email event that occurred.

For example, a Mailgun webhook might include:

  "event": "opened",
  "timestamp": 1529007497,
  "subject": "My email subject",
  "email": "[email protected]",
  "recipient": "[email protected]",
  "city": "Denver",
  "region": "Colorado",
  "client-name": "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/67.0.3396.99 Safari/537.36",
  "client-os": "Windows 10",
  "device-type": "desktop"

The exact properties will vary between email services – refer to their webhook documentation. But you’ll get all the data you need about the event like timestamps, emails, and metadata.

Parsing Email Webhook Payloads

Your webhook endpoint now needs to extract the payload contents to use within your app or workflow.

Any language can parse the JSON – for example:

# Python 
import json

data = json.loads(
event = data['event']
email = data['email']
// Node.js
const payload = JSON.parse(request.body);
const event = payload.event;
const email =;
// PHP
$data = json_decode(file_get_contents('php://input'), true);
$event = $data['event'];
$email = $data['email']; 

The code would live within your endpoint script that responds to the HTTP webhook request.

Storing Webhook Data

Once extracted, the payload data can be used in any way your app needs. Common uses are:

  • Insert events into a database for analytics and reporting.
  • Append event metadata to customer CRM profiles.
  • Log alerts and metrics using a monitoring system.
  • Post event summaries into team chat apps.
  • Sync data to data warehouses like Snowflake for BI.

Plan where and how long to retain the event information based on your use cases. Use an idempotent event write pattern to avoid duplicates.

Triggering Actions Based on Webhook Data

The main goal is usually to trigger some action when your endpoint receives the webhook. For example:

  • Create a support ticket when an inbound email hits the help inbox.
  • Add customer to an onboarding workflow after subscribing.
  • Hit an API to update reporting dashboards with email stats.
  • Move abused sender addresses to an email blacklist automatically.

Workflows are only limited by your imagination – the webhook opens the door to creative automation across apps!

Think through what events are most meaningful to respond to instantly in your customer journeys and technical ecosystem. Maintaining context around flows kicked off by webhooks also avoids confusing customers when actions happen automatically in the background.

With your email webhooks configured, data processed, and actions designed, you are primed to supercharge real-time workflows!

Real-World Applications of Email Webhooks

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s explore some real-world examples of how businesses are using email webhooks today to solve communication and coordination challenges.

Sending Transactional Emails

Transactional emails like receipts, alerts, notifications, and one-time passwords remain critical for customer engagement. Webhooks help automate sending these one-off messages when certain events occur.

For instance, an e-commerce site could trigger order confirmation emails via webhook when a purchase is made. Or an HR system could send offer letters whenever a new hire form is approved. Transactional emails stay timely and relevant when sent instantly in response to actions.

Tools like Postmark, SendGrid, and Mailgun make it easy to configure webhooks from your app to their delivery infrastructure for high-volume email sending.

Updating CRM Records

Many companies use webhooks to keep customer records in their CRM up-to-date in real-time as email engagement occurs.

For example, hubspot and Salesforce support webhooks so that any time someone opens an email or clicks a link in a campaign, the CRM contact profile can be appended instantly with the action data.

Keeping CRM contact data like open and click tracking events, subscription status, recent emails sent, and other attributes synced via webhooks helps drive personalized follow-ups and reporting.

Running Automated Workflows

Email lends itself well to triggering multi-step automated workflows thanks to webhooks firing on subscriber and prospect actions.

For instance, someone filling out a resource request form could kick off a sequence like:

  1. Form submit event -> Add as lead in CRM
  2. Send resource via email
  3. Wait for email open event
  4. Schedule sales rep follow-up task

Complex journeys with emails, wait timers, CRM updates, chat conversations, and more can be built visually with no code in tools like Zapier.

Email removes the need for manual intervention at each stage by driving the sequence forward automatically using webhook data.

Building Email Dashboards

Many marketers rely on webhooks to feed subscriber engagement data into real-time dashboards for monitoring email campaign performance.

Tools like Zapier and Integromat can transform webhook events into graphical charts and stats updated in a live dashboard as your emails get delivered, opened, and clicked.

Seeing metrics like unsubscribe rates, spam complaints, top performing segments, and engagement over time right as the data comes in gives much greater visibility than waiting on batched reports.

More Possibilities

Whether it’s automating workflows, integrating tools, tracking customer actions, or driving analytics – webhooks add speed and connectivity to your email channels.

As your needs grow, webhooks provide flexibility to build custom solutions not possible with pre-packaged plugins and extensions. The power of programmable HTTP requests unlocks many creative applications.

When implementing your own scenarios, follow best practices to ensure reliable and secure webhook flows.

Best Practices for Email Webhooks

Webhooks provide a flexible and powerful mechanism for automating workflows and integrating apps using email. But with great power comes great responsibility!
To ensure your email webhooks are reliable, secure, and scalable, follow these best practices:

Use Secure Connections

Always use HTTPS for your webhook endpoints rather than plain HTTP. This encrypts the requests in transit and verifies the identity of your server using SSL certificates.

For starters:

  • Enable HTTPS on your server with a valid SSL certificate from a trusted authority. Self-signed certs don’t provide verification.
  • Redirect any HTTP requests to HTTPS in your endpoint code. Return statuses like 200 OK will be over HTTP otherwise.
  • Verify the webhook URL uses HTTPS in your email app dashboard and API configuration calls.

Encryption ensures your event data remains protected from prying eyes.

Implement Idempotency

Idempotency guarantees event handling is processed only once, even if a webhook is delivered multiple times. This prevents duplicate outcomes like double emails or redundant API calls.

Common techniques include:

  • Uniquely identify events using identifiers like message_id in payloads. Check for duplicates against a cache or database before processing.
  • Make resulting actions idempotent on subsequent handling even if a duplicate slips through. Like avoiding re-adding the same CRM record.
  • Return HTTP status 200 OK for duplicate callbacks rather than reprocessing.
  • Add unique job IDs or transaction IDs to outcomes like emails sent or tickets created as a safety net.

Idempotency gives peace of mind if webhooks ever get delivered twice unintentionally.

Add Authentication

To verify incoming webhook requests are legitimate, authentication is a must. This prevents spoofing of events by malicious actors.

Options like basic auth, API keys, JWT tokens, or webhook signatures allow confirming the calls originated from your email provider before handling.

Compare against your original credential or signature rather than just validating fields like URLs and SSL alone.

Validate Payloads

Do rigorous validation checks on your payloads beyond just authentication to avoid processing bogus data:

  • Check the request IP matches your email provider.
  • Verify the payload structure and JSON types match expected schema.
  • Ensure mandatory properties like identifiers and timestamps are present.
  • Validate field contents like emails being valid formatting.
  • Only process known event types and discard anything unspecified.

Protection ensures bad data can’t sneak in and wreak havoc. Include logging to identify rejection reasons.

Handle Errors Gracefully

Despite best efforts, errors can occur – networks hiccup, servers time out, data gets mangled. Code defensively:

  • Wrap processing logic in robust exception handling like retrying failures.
  • Support webhook redelivery if your endpoint returned anything but 2xx status.
  • Queue jobs locally before firing if your processing app goes down.
  • Alert developers of spikes in errors or anomalous payloads requiring intervention.
  • Implement circuit breaker logic that disables webhooks if too many errors pile up until you can investigate.

Careful error handling ensures reliability if the unexpected crops up. Monitor closely.

Set Proper Delivery Timeouts

The timeout window where your endpoint must return 2xx status affects reliability:

  • Too short and valid requests will get marked as failed frequently.
  • Too long and you won’t discover outages quickly while requests back up.
  • Find the right balance for your infrastructure. 10-15 seconds is typical.

Adjust timeouts in your email app’s webhook settings if requests keep getting redelivered improperly. Timeouts restart if retries occur.

Include Identifiers

Some kind of identifier associated with each webhook firing helps tremendously with:

  • Debugging issues when requests go awry.
  • Correlating events to their resulting outcomes across apps.
  • Spotting duplicate or missing events relative to expected sequences.
  • Tracing events end-to-end through sequentially named IDs.

Use built-in IDs from payloads or inject your own unique values.

Test Rigorously

Subject your webhook implementations to rigorous testing before launch:

  • Unit test endpoint code for expected inputs and behaviors.
  • Manually trigger your configured email events and validate responses.
  • Stress test load with a high volume of calls and exceptions.
  • Test redundancy and recoverability by simulating outages.
  • Break input data in various ways to confirm robustness.
  • Try replay attacks, malformed auth, wrong IPs, etc to validate defenses.

Thorough testing from simple to extreme circumstances helps identify weaknesses early. Automate where possible.

Monitor Closely

Stay on top of issues once in production using close monitoring and observability:

  • Watch for changes in HTTP status code patterns and payload signatures.
  • Alert on spikes in latency, errors, traffic drops, or anomalies.
  • Log key metrics like request volumes, response times, error rates.
  • Support tracing and visibility across app boundaries.

Proper monitoring allows quickly detecting and investigating operational issues and outages. Take advantage of email provider logs when possible.

Plan for Scale

While webhooks simplify workflows, they also shift load:

  • Are your APIs and databases sized for the event volumes?
  • Can your queue and process events fast enough during traffic spikes?
  • Adjust polling intervals or shard webhook endpoints if nearing limits.
  • Monitor for saturation and throttling that impacts SLAs.
  • Batch data as an efficiency workaround if needed.

Plan ahead – each webhook event can trigger multiple downstream app calls and computations.

By following these best practices, you can feel confident relying on webhooks for core email workflows and automation, while avoiding pitfalls.

Alternative Approaches to Email Automation

While webhooks provide a powerful foundation for automation, they aren’t the only way to integrate and monitor email programmatically. Here are a few other popular techniques:

Polling Email Accounts

Rather than push-based webhooks, you can take a polling approach to checking email status:

  • Periodically connect to email providers via POP3 or IMAP to fetch new messages from inboxes.
  • Call APIs on a schedule to retrieve aggregate event data like open and click rates.
  • Continuously iterate through items using a cursor rather than downloading entire accounts.
  • Control polling frequency – more often is more real-time but creates more load.

Key drawback is latency between an email event occurring and your system discovering it by polling. You also must handle duplicate checking and storage yourself.

Polling can be easier to implement but scales poorly compared to webhooks for large volumes.

IMAP/SMTP Integrations

Many languages provide IMAP and SMTP libraries that integrate directly with email providers:

  • IMAP handles retrieving messages from inboxes using established protocols.
  • SMTP enables sending outbound mail through standard transports.
  • Packages like imaplib for Python or imap-simple for Node.js simplify connecting.

Benefits include direct database-like access and avoiding third-party dependencies.

Challenges can include handling connection robustness, platform inconsistencies, securing credentials and data, and limited event metadata.

Email Plugins and Extensions

Third-party extensions create shortcuts for common workflows:

  • Browser extensions like Gmail Sidebar for CRM data.
  • Email client plugins adding buttons to message bodies.
  • Office suite addons providing email management panes.
  • Native integrations between platforms like Gmail + Google Drive.
  • Embedded apps giving contextual experiences around emails.

The main limitation is relying on the extension vendor’s feature set rather than having full programmatic access.

Leveraging Shared Standards

Each approach has pros and cons. A standards-based strategy using webhook events piped into established enterprise messaging formats like Apache Kafka or RabbitMQ can provide flexibility across channels.

Many libraries exist for integrating with these widely adopted queuing and streaming platforms. You can feed in email webhook data as producers and consume flows on the backend in a scalable, language-agnostic way.

No one size fits all – evaluate options against your use cases, resources, and constraints. Often a hybrid model combining webhooks, APIs, libraries, and integration layers offers versatility.

Prioritizing Real-Time Data

The overarching trend is access to real-time event data, rather than waiting on daily or hourly batches. Webhooks provide a powerful primitive for instant notifications by default.

As vendors expand APIs and organizations move to streaming architectures, fresh data becomes readily accessible to drive workflows and decisions, not just reporting.

Plan integrations with an eye towards how realizing value from emails as soon as they’re sent and opened can impact customer experiences, sales velocity, and operational metrics.

The future is data in motion.


Let’s recap what we’ve learned about email webhooks and take a peek at what the future may hold for email automation.

Summary of Webhooks for Email

Webhooks provide a simple yet immensely powerful way to instantly react to email events and seamlessly integrate platforms.

We covered the fundamentals of how webhooks work, including the publish-subscribe model and HTTP delivery of event payloads.

Email webhooks open up real-time workflows, removal of manual processes, granular tracking, and unified data across channels.

Common email-related triggers range from inbound receipt to opens, clicks, spam reports, and unsubscribes. Webhook payloads contain metadata like timestamps, emails, and message IDs to drive logic.

Configuration requires deciding on an endpoint like a server script or middleware tool to receive callbacks. Your endpoint needs to parse payloads, handle security and idempotency, and trigger any follow-up activities.

Use cases span transactional sends, CRM updates, automated journeys, analytics dashboards, and beyond – webhooks are limited only by your imagination.

Following best practices ensures your solutions remain reliable, scalable, and secure.

Webhooks have graduated from a niche concept to a mainstream architectural pattern thanks to the flexibility they provide in linking systems. Their lightweight publish-subscribe nature is a perfect fit for email’s event-driven communication model.

The Future of Email Automation

Looking ahead, here are several trends that will shape the future of leveraging email programmatically:

  • Deeper integrations – Pre-built connectors and no-code tools like Zapier will continue empowering non-developers to stitch complex workflows across platforms.
  • Expanded events – As engagement becomes multi-channel, webhooks will evolve to include cross-network identity profiles and journeys.
  • Streaming architectures – Message queuing and reactive systems will supersede polling for throughput and real-time data exchange.
  • Predictive engagement – ML will help tailor outreach timing, content, and channel based on interaction propensity models.
  • Conversational experiences – Advances in AI and asynchronous messaging support more natural dialogs with customers.
  • DECLINE OF EMAIL – As communication fragments across channels, organizations will pursue engagement strategies centered around identity.
  • Personalization at scale – Leveraging CRM data, behavioral analytics, and preference management in real time for 1:1 relevance.
  • Hybrid deployment – Multi-tenant SaaS, containers, serverless, APIs, and headless CMS will changeemail delivery tech stacks.
  • Coordinated campaigns – Orchestrating end-to-end journeys tying together advertising, email, mobile, direct mail, and more.

Webhooks will continue playing an integral role tying these innovations together behind the scenes – especially as more apps become event-driven.

Start Automating Today

The possibilities are endless when you begin connecting platforms through email. Choose tools catered to your technical stack and skills, then start small.

As your needs grow, webhooks provide a scalable foundation for production grade automation you control.

Now that you know what’s possible, it’s time to put webhooks to work for you!


The main points to remember about using webhooks for email automation:

  • Webhooks provide real-time email notifications by calling URLs with event data payloads.
  • They enable creating workflows and integrating apps based on subscriber engagement.
  • Common email events to trigger webhooks include opens, clicks, bounces, inbound messages, and unsubscribes.
  • Configuring webhooks requires setting up a callback URL in your app and webhook rules in your email service.
  • Handle security by using HTTPS, authentication, idempotency, and payload validation in your webhook endpoint.
  • Webhook payloads contain JSON metadata to parse like email addresses, timestamps, and message IDs.
  • Use event data to drive actions like sending transactional emails, updating CRMs, notifications, and workflows.
  • Follow best practices around security, reliability, and scalability when handling callbacks.
  • Alternative options include polling APIs, using IMAP/SMTP, or installing extensions – but webhooks excel at real-time automation.
  • With creative thinking, you can build a wide range of solutions from granular analytics to personalized engagement using email webhooks.

The potential to streamline workflows and create unique integrations makes webhooks a must-know technique for getting the most value from your email channels.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using webhooks for email:

Frequently Asked Questions

What email providers support webhooks?
Most major ESPs like SendGrid, Mailgun, Mandrill, Postmark, and SparkPost support webhooks. On the marketing side, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and Campaign Monitor have them. For email clients, Gmail, Outlook, and G Suite allow webhooks via add-ons.

What can I use for my webhook endpoint?

You can use a server you control, a service like Zapier or Integromat, an AWS Lambda function, or a platform like Cloudflare Workers. As long as it supports HTTPS and your code, it will work.

How do I secure my webhook endpoint?

Use HTTPS, handle authentication (like tokens or API keys), validate the source IP and payload structure, make event processing idempotent, and avoid directly executing the payload as code.

What format is the webhook payload?

Payloads are usually JSON, containing event details like email address, timestamps, message IDs, and metadata. But check your email provider’s docs for the exact structure.

Can I create multiple webhooks?

Yes, most ESPs allow creating different webhooks for various events and use cases. You can also direct webhooks to route data across multiple endpoints.

How quickly do webhooks get triggered?

Webhooks fire instantly on event detection, usually within seconds. Much faster than polling-based alternatives that rely on intervals.

What happens if my endpoint is down?

The email provider will continue retrying your webhook URL with some backoff. But fallback to polling APIs if you need 100% certainty around uptime.

How do I handle duplicates?

Make your event processing idempotent, use unique identifiers, cache known events, and return 200 OK on duplicates rather than reprocessing.

Can webhooks scale to high volumes?

Yes, by load balancing across endpoints, scaling underlying services, and using queueing, webhooks can handle large traffic spikes. Monitor closely.

What alternatives are there besides webhooks?

Polling email APIs, using IMAP and SMTP libraries directly, browser extensions and email client plugins. Webhooks shine when immediate processing is required.