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Signing Off! Email Signatures the Right Way

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, June 02, 2015

signatureIn this high-tech age, something as simple as an email signature should be a breeze to create on your computer. Think again! Although all email clients support these signatures, each interprets it differently. This causes the HTML email signature to be one of the most unpredictable beasts in the digital world.

Should I Use an Email Signature?

Some feel that adding an email signature to professional or business emails may be a waste of time and space, but it can actually be quite beneficial. Plus, it doesn't have to be complicated. The benefits of an email signature are twofold:

  1. An email signature makes it easier for a potential or existing client to find or share your contact information.
  2. Email signatures help to keep your visual brand consistent across the most commonly accessed form of communication.

What Should I Include in My Email Signature?

The anatomy of an email signature will be different for everybody, as there are any number of components that you can choose to include. Look through your inbox at the email signatures you encounter and you'll undoubtedly find: 

  • The Basics: This includes the person's name, company or organization, and professional title or position, as well as contact info (phone, fax, email address, physical address).
    TIP: Be sure to include the contact information that is most relevant to your clients and contacts. This will vary depending upon the nature of your business and clientele.
  • Graphics: Many signatures will have a logo related to the company or business. Some independent sales or service professionals may also choose to include their photo.
    TIP: Using a professional headshot can help to give a more personalized look and feel. It is also a great way to build trust and enhance recognition.
  • Social Media Links: Social networks that are relevant to the business are often publicized in email signatures.
    TIP: Choose just 1-3 sites that you use to communicate with your audience often.
  • Confidentiality Notice / Disclaimer: Sometimes these statements will need to be included with an email signature. They are most common in financial, medical, legal, and insurance industries.
    TIP: If you're not required to have one, don't. I don't think anybody likes scrolling through all of that!
  • Supporting Information: A tagline; a quotation that represents the business' purpose or vision; logos of any awards, accolades, or professional certifications.
    TIP: These can be good to subtly enhance your branding, but don't go overboard!

Takeaway: Keep in mind that it is not necessary to use all of the information listed above, and you really shouldn't. The usage of the information will depend on the type of business that you have and what your marketing/branding goals are. The key to a successful email signature is the idea that less is more. This will help to make a positive and lasting impression.

Challenges of an Email Signature:

The challenges of developing a professional email signature boil down to the fact that there are different email clients (each with various personal settings), different operating systems (e.g. Windows vs Apple), and different devices (mobile vs desktop). All of these factors affect the reliability of your email signature being displayed as you expect.

Email signatures typically behave very predictably when transmitted between similar environments, such as an email message being sent between two iPhones. But, you can't control how somebody opens your email. For instance, your email may travel from Gmail to iPhone to Outlook before it comes back to your Gmail account — and in a case like that, it will likely come back looking different from when you first sent it. While your email signature may look perfect to you when you are composing your email, it is impossible to control what happens after you hit “Send”. This is a big reason why email signatures should be kept as simple as possible.

Be prepared to compromise, and recalibrate your expectations to understand that there is no "perfect" email signature. It is simply the nature of email. If this fact causes you a great deal of distress, you will want to stick with a very bare-bones text-only signature.

Email Signature Factors that May Require You to Compromise:

Email signatures can be tricky due to 1) differences in HTML rendering and 2) unpredictable image handling. Understanding that these factors can and will affect your email presentation should entice you to take the necessary steps to optimize the signature as much as possible.

HTML rendering differences:

An email signature is written in HTML code just like a website. Unfortunately, email clients are notoriously less reliable in rendering HTML than browsers do of your website. Different email clients may render HTML in a slightly different way.

This is not generally a show-stopping issue, but for those that are expecting pixel-perfect results every time, note that font replacements or differences in line spacing are likely in store for your email signature.

Dealing with Images:

There is no magic formula to get images to behave perfectly 100% of the time. And you are often at the mercy of the user, who must agree to "show images" which are initially blocked by default. While you may find you can copy and paste images into your email, the most reliable way is to link to your image where it is hosted on your web server. This preferred method will minimize the chances of them showing up as attachments.

Images that have traveled through space and time and back sometimes lose the ability to display. Images that don't display will simply show the file name where the image should be. With multiple images in a single email signature, you don't want it to be littered with <myimage1.gif>, which makes it look like it is full of mistakes. This is common with social media icons. In this case, you may want to forego using the icons at all and simply use text links like so: Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

Some believe that an email signature, to be consistent and worry-free across all situations, should just forego including images at all. This prevents unnecessary attachments and ensures you can better control how it looks. This decision boils down to your own personal/corporate preference.

Don't Start Composing that Email Signature Just Yet...

Whether this is your first email signature rodeo or you are a seasoned pro, there are several points to consider the next time you create a new one.

  • Email signatures provide a subtle way to reinforce branding but should not overtake the primary communication purpose of email itself.
  • Consider the user-experience of your email recipients. Be sure not to overwhelm them with too much information that they don't care about.
  • Manage your own expectations — don't expect perfection, because it simply is not possible.

If the task seems too daunting, or you want to make sure it's done right, you can always hire a professional to design and implement your email signature. Many graphic or web designers are well-equipped to handle the task with relative ease, and most importantly, will help you avoid the most common mistakes made with email signatures.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 12 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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