One of the most polarizing and controversial aspects of corporate email is the signature. Email signatures provide far more than a neat and simple way to close a message. They can provide critical information, support the corporate identity, provide communications with a more professional experience, encourage more engagement with the recipient, and help to deliver key messages. Doing email signatures the right way can be a challenge for many companies, so here are some tips to help you with email signature etiquette and effectiveness.
Let’s start with a list of things you really want to do with email signatures and make them worthwhile.
1. The long and the short of it
Not every message will require the same signature. At the very least, consider using a “full” signature for new correspondence that you initiate with someone, and a “short” signature that includes only the most salient details which you use for replies. This becomes especially important with long running conversations.
2. Give me a break
If you are going to use an automated signature, make sure you add one or two blank lines at the beginning and end, or perhaps a solid line above your signature to provide a visual cue where the message stops and the signature starts. This will also help when someone is parsing an email thread to spot where you start and stop.
3. For richer or for ASCII
Rich text and HTML signatures look great when you can view them, but some users will only be using text. Have a look at your signature and make sure it looks the way you want whether in rich or plaintext modes.
To support a more professional appearance, you should consider guidelines that create consistent signatures for all users. At the very least, establish a policy about what should and should not appear in a signature, so that users are providing only what they should. Additionally, the font and size used in the signature should match those used in the body of the email.
Try to avoid a closing in your signature, like “best regards” or “thank you” or “sincerely” as those terms will never fit 100% with any email, and can leave the reader confused about the meaning. Below the break, put your first name, and then the rest of the signature underneath, and then manually close the email with whatever makes sense in the context of the message.
Your signature should include your full name, especially if your email address is not your full name.
7. Email address
Yes, they have your email address in the actual email, but it should still appear in the signature line for a couple of reasons. Users may want to copy and paste your signature block into their contact list, or they may want to have all your pertinent details together. Relying upon them to go up to the “from:” line and copy out your email from your display name is just not right.
8. Telephone number
Very often a long email thread can be closed off with a phone call. But the number you can to call can’t be seen anywhere in the contact card or in the signature. Not posting a phone number in your personal email makes sense but business email signatures must include your phone number. If you don’t want people calling you all the time, set up voicemail. If you don’t want to be called on your cell, give your desk number and have the calls forwarded to your cell when you’re out.
9. Optional details
These will vary from user to user and need to need, but you might want to include things like your title, your focus or specialty, call out changes to things like your phone number, reminders of upcoming time away, etc. If you do business with people around the world, add in the time zone so people know when to call you.
10. Corporate branding
Your email signature should be a representation of your corporate brand, so it should include the company logo and tag line. Your corporate branding team should establish what is and is not appropriate in terms of size, placement, colors, etc. and provide smaller size graphics for use in email signatures to support both the branding and the consistency.
And when it comes to graphics, make sure they are small but also in the email and not links to images that must be downloaded separately. Most email clients will block downloads by default, leading to a signature that looks broken to most recipients. If you don’t want to embed the graphics, skip them completely. If you do want to embed the graphics, use smaller files and formats like <10KB PNGs, not 2MB BMPs.
12. Enticements to engage
If you use social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, consider having small graphics with links to your profiles or your company’s page in your signature. It is a great way to encourage further engagement online.
Every business email system seems to want to paste a boilerplate disclaimer to the bottom of every email sent. “Warning, this message will self-destruct” or “if you are not the intended recipient, you must go out of your way to do X, Y, and Z” or “the opinions expressed do not necessarily…” When disclaimers are required then they are required for everyone, should say exactly the same thing, and be appended to every message.
14. Avoid galvanizing quotes
There are two things you should never discuss with business partners; religion, and politics. Including something in your signature related to either is a sure way to put someone off or offend them. Unless you’re quoting your company slogan, do not use quotes in business email.
15. Don’t use your email signature an advert
It’s one thing to put the company logo and tag line in your signature; it’s entirely something else to include a paragraph on your sales and upcoming promotions and click here now to save 20% etc. If you are emailing a customer information and you want to include product or specials, do that in the body of the email. Leave the signature for content you want to send to everyone.
16. Don’t use an email signature that runs on for half a page
Less is more, remember that. You don’t have to put each element within your signature on its own separate line, and you definitely don’t need a half a dozen CR-LFs spread throughout your signature. As a general rule, if your signature is longer than the email itself, you’re doing it wrong.
17. Don’t use fancy graphics when characters will do
This is particularly important when some recipients will be viewing it in plain text. If you want to separate data on the same line, use a hyphen, pipe, or asterisk rather than a graphical bullet. It will look just as good, keep the message size smaller, and work well for plain text viewing.
18. Don’t require downloads to display any graphics
Most email clients will block automatically downloading content from external sources. This protects the reader’s privacy and also could help prevent malware. If you are going to put graphics in your signature, embed them or many of your recipients will just see broken images.
19. Don’t use fixed width elements
Mobile devices have a limited screen width, and mobile clients can automatically reflow text in email to make it readable on a phone or smaller tablet. But if you put a full width graphic in your signature (or in the body of an email) then it breaks many phones’ ability to reflow text to make it easier to read. Otherwise, your message will be ignored or deleted.
20. Don’t think everyone uses the same email client as you do
Outlook is probably the most widely used email client for business communications, but it is definitely not the only one. In addition to various third-party email clients available to Windows, Linux, and Mac users, many may only be using a browser and web mail, or a mobile client on their tablet or phone. Try to view how emails with your signature render on as many devices as you can to make sure you didn’t put something in that looks bad on other clients.
21. Don’t count on your users to get this right
This is probably the most important tip of all. No matter how many times you tell your users to use a disclaimer, odds are that some messages are going out without a disclaimer if you count on them to do it themselves. Your outbound mail filtering package should be used to append signatures on each email sent to an outside party. That way, you know for sure that all your outbound email meets the compliance needs of your company and you don’t have to worry about whether the user is on their desktop using Outlook, online using webmail, or on the go using their phone.
Check out GFI MailEssentials, which offers fantastic anti-spam, anti-phishing, and anti-malware protection, in addition to the controls messaging sysadmins need like centralized email disclaimer management. Your lawyers will thank you, and your users won’t have to worry about disclaimers, or spam, or phishing, or malware.