Dear E-mail Diva: E-mail Tools & DIY

Dear E-mail Diva,

I have my own e-mail and try to watch my competitor's e-mails, but I don't always have the time to do good competitive analysis. I can monitor competitors' Web sites and use Alexa and Google trends for some Web site intelligence, but are there tools or methods for monitoring what the competition is doing with e-mail?

Mike Petit

Miami, FL

Dear Mike,

Did Bill McCloskey put you up to this? Okay, seriously, Email Data Source has the only tool I know of that will do just what you're asking. It's called Email Analyst and is a searchable database of millions of e-mails. You can look for a specific competitor by name or search by keyword or category. Big benefits over a home-grown solution (signing up for everything you can with a designated mailbox) are that you can easily look at trends over time and surmise not only what the competition is doing but what's working for them. You can also look what allied industries are doing. The E-mail Diva found little of value from competitors in the motorcycle category, for example, but a wealth of information from automotive companies who have more sophisticated programs. Email Data Source can no doubt give you more benefits of their tool and possibly recommend an agency with a license that will perform an audit for you.

Good luck!

The E-mail Diva

Dear E-mail Diva,

Are there tools that a small business owner can use (and afford) to help evaluate and improve e-mail messages before sending? I know big e-mail marketers can evaluate their e-mail for its likelihood of getting caught in spam filters, but is there a practical and affordable tool for small business?

Alice Constantine

Duluth, MN

Dear E-mail Diva,

I've begun using Yahoo's new Beta recently, and I notice some e-newsletters that formerly were beautifully formatted suddenly are darn near unreadable. This got me worried that my own carefully designed e-mail marketing messages may be getting screwed up in some of the many e-mail readers my recipients might use. Are there best practices for designing an e-mail newsletter that will be properly formatted on any reader? Or tools that one can use to test how an e-mail message might appear in different tools (short of signing up for accounts on dozens of different free e-mail sites)?

Dan Morgan

Austin, TX

Dear Dan and Alice,

While the E-mail Diva is not in the business of promoting companies--just ask the many people who write with great ideas for profiling their latest product or service in this column--but when one knows a good solution, one must share. As mentioned previously, Lyris and Pivotal Veracity both have tools for these applications. Many E-mail Service Providers have spam scoring and e-mail client rendering baked into their solutions (and are welcome to mention it in the blog). While the E-mail Diva does not know of a set of published e-mail coding best practices (if you do, please blog), they are known and in constant development by those who design and test e-mail for a living. There is both art and science to it, so if your e-mail program is a valuable contribution to your business, work with those who know and are continually adding to their body of knowledge--not a Web designer who occasionally stoops to do e-mail.

If you are more of the DIY type, you can check your HTML code free at http://validator.w3.org and check your spam score free at http://www.lyris.com/resources/contentchecker. And yes, you can open many e-mail accounts and view them on Macs and PCs with operating systems new and old.

Remember that spam scoring is not an absolute--it is a formula that yields a score indicating the likelihood an e-mail is spam. Many believe using the word "free" in the subject line is the kiss of death, but it's just one factor in the spam score. "Free gift with purchase" will give you a lower score than "FREE MORTGAGE RATE QUOTE!!!," for example. Is it worth it to include "free"? Direct response theory says you can't do better than "free." Test subject lines with and without it and see which delivers the best opens, clicks, and conversions.

Good luck!

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at emaildiva@kd-i.com. All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.