The Email Signature: From Efficient to Overkill

84 Comments

Dave Clarke
Communications Strategist
Churnless — “Work Worth Doing.”
XXX.8X9.X50X

That’s my email signature. Name, title, company/slogan, mobile. I’d like to think that it’s pretty basic. It’s not overloaded with content, but it’s sufficient in communicating who I am, what I do, where I do it and how you can hear my voice if you so desire.

My personal preferences aside, the sig is an interesting element of email communication and etiquette. Too often, we see email signatures so jammed with information that our eyes just glaze over: Name, title, division, company, email address, office number, cell number, fax number, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn links (complete with icons), trite words of wisdom about not printing this email or a variation on carpe diem … the list goes on.

So let’s figure out what’s helpful, what’s overkill and how the email signature can be refined:

Name. This is a pretty essential piece. There’s not much to say here, but I do have one suggestion: The name in your sig should reflect what you prefer to go by. I say this from personal experience. My actual name is Francis David Clarke.  Naturally, I’m not going to go by Francis. And David is just so, well, I don’t know — it’s just not me. The point is, I go by Dave and, therefore, my signature reads Dave. Whatever you’d like people to address you as, that’s what should be in your sig.

Title. Your title is helpful if it succinctly communicates what you do. I like to think that the shorter it is, the better.  When you start getting into the lengthy “Senior Director, Vice President of Inter-Department Collaboration” territory, reader apathy begins to set in. All I know is that the person is probably important (which may be the point, of course). But I could also perceive that as, “Well, this guy sure thinks he’s important.”

I understand that sometimes you can’t do anything about your title — this is particularly true within large companies. But it might be worth economizing where possible.

Company. Like your name, this is pretty standard. One idea worth mentioning is to be sure that you spell your company as it’s known. Why? Beyond the obvious, for search purposes. There’s a big difference when I search “LendingTree” versus “Lending Tree.” One turns up emails related to the company, the other turns up threads related to Christmas tree donations. (Not an actual conversation topic in my inbox, but you get my point.)

Website. You should probably include this, especially if you’re a writer, blogger, photographer, Etsy retailer, designer or in any other job where you need to showcase your product or drive traffic somewhere. For neatness, it’s best to hyperlink your company’s name, particularly if you want to drive people to a specific department or area of your site.

Slogan. Personally, I dig this if, and only if, it’s concise. (Of course, I may be biased — see “Work Worth Doing.”) I’d say it comes down to word count. I’d suggest no more than five words. You certainly wouldn’t want to include your company’s mission or vision statement — that just gets verbose.

Phone Numbers. Personally — and I think this might hold true to the web worker community at large — I feel including only your mobile number is sufficient. Who among us is ever more than 20 feet away from his or her mobile? It’s the number by which you’re most accessible. And it’s also the number by which you can be the most inaccessible for those “there’s no way I’m talking to her right now” moments.

Email Address. This is overkill. Think about it. You’re emailing someone and, generally, you’re seeking some sort of reply. The fact that the recipient received your email guarantees that they have your email address. Nix the email address from your sig — it’s redundant.

Fax Number. I suppose people still use these, but the infrequency at which we fax (primarily due to cheap scanners) means that the fax number can be dropped from the email signature. If someone really needs to fax you something, they’ll ask for the number.

Mailing Address. This really depends on your line of work. If your job involves physical product that requires shipping, delivery, returns, etc., then by all means, include your address. Same goes if you’re in billing. If not, and you only occasionally need to share your address, you can leave it out.

Social Network Links. This one’s interesting. We’ve all seen email sigs that include Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn icons. And we’ve also seen those that have just the links (twitter.com/thedaveclarke, linkedin.com/in/daveclarke4, etc.).  If you’re going to include these elements, here are a couple suggestions:

  • Only include two social methods of contact. Listing every social network in which you participate reads, “See! Look how social I am! I do everything!” This, by default, shows that you’re on those networks for the wrong reasons and all of them are probably void of content. So if you’re heavy on the social media side of things, go with Facebook and Twitter. More business-oriented? LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Go with links instead of icons. More often than not, the icons won’t display properly in someone’s inbox. They’ll have to “Always display images from rhonda@cupcakesonline.net,” and mobile viewing has its image issues. While it may look sharp in your email, there’s no guarantee others will see the same thing.

Quotes, Suggestions. First, it’s important to point out that these are different from slogans. A slogan reflects a company brand. What we’re talking about here are those inspirational quotes and smarmy admonishments at the bottom of an email. They’re usually pertaining to things like passion, teamwork or recycling. These one-liners — while they can be witty, deep and/or moving — don’t really have a place in professional email communication. Leave them out.

Rich Text Signatures. Gmail recently started supporting rich text signatures. The idea is to allow more customization (think links, color, images, etc.). While this is a great way to template a dynamic signature, don’t go overboard. As we’ve discussed above, your sig file isn’t a resume: Smart, useful, easy content is all you need.

So in the spirit of brevity, let’s wrap it up. Drop your two cents in the comments if you have thoughts on the above or to point out anything I’ve missed.

Dave Clarke is the Communications Strategist at Churnless, a digital strategy and production company that helps businesses satisfy, delight and keep their customers. Follow Dave on Twitter: @thedaveclarke.

Photo by Flickr user Muffet, licensed under CC 2.0

84 Comments

George

Great read and advise! Only exception I would take is with email addresses. If you want your address immortalized in a thread, include your email in your sig. Once an email is sent via Reply To or Forward (but not Reply All), if the sender originally showed your name in the TO or CC line but you’re not a recipient of this new email, then your email address is lost. You’ll be seen in the content as name only.

etiquette bitch

I completely disagree with adding the Slogan (tmi, boring, irrelevant, waste of real estate) and eliminating the email address. Just because someone received an email from you doesn’t mean they can necc. see your email address. I’ve run into all sorts of problems with this — esp. on MS Outlook. Plus, if your email is fwd’d to someone who needs to get in touch with you, they may not see the full email address in the fwd.

Jeff Dickey

I think it’s very dependent on what you do and what you use email for. For a lot of the people I deal with, email sigs are useful for “let me grab him right now and I don’t want to have to go to my address book because I might lose my train of thought” situations. (Yes, some Economically Important Peopleâ„¢ seem to measure their attention span in picoseconds.)

I’ve kept the basic structure of mine pretty consistent for a decade or so; you can see an example of the current version here (on pastebin.ca, an inordinately useful site).

Bishop Tovey

Sounds to me that those individuals are under consistent stressful situations.

For me, if I don’t write something down when I’m thinking about it, I may not remember exactly what is was I wanted to say.

There have been times when posting on a site that I would have a thought that I didn’t write immediately, and then, not remember exactly what I wanted to say when I returned to that point in the message.

Memory is a funny thing and it can be debilitated due too excessive stress, poor diet and health issues.

So don’t assume that these people have short attention spans. It is more likely that they have too many tasks on their plates and their attention is divided beyond reasonable expectations.

Bishop
Tovey

Jeff Dickey

Yes, that’s what I really meant and should have said: “available time” rather than “attention span.” The latter was an unfairly flip remark made at the end of a very stressful day of my own.

Steve O

It’s amusing to read the author criticize others for their spelling errors when the first paragraph of the article contains the phrase “Too often, we sometimes see email signatures…”

Grammar is important too, especially for a ‘Communications Strategist’. Makes it hard to put much faith in the advice that follows.

dave

Thanks for the heads up, Steve. I do, in fact, heart grammar – enough that your comment actually led me to discover a second typo. Guess I’ll have to return my infallibility card.

All sarcasm aside, this post isn’t intended to be critical. It’s an observational piece in which I share personal opinions – readers can take them or leave them. For example, it seems Outlook users are not a fan of my “drop your email address” idea – and that’s totally cool by me. Their argument appears to be firmer than mine.

Thanks again for the comment.

Mouse

See anything wrong with the following?

This PersonsName
This PersonsTitle
Solution Partners Organization (SPO)
NE,OK.LA,AR,MO,KS and TX
Hewlett-Packard Company
2351 HP Way NE
Rio Rancho, NM USA 87144
Office: 1-800-965-3586 ext.7718974
Fax: 1-505-796-5154
Email:ThisPersons.Name@hp.com
http://www.hp.com
Important Contacts:
Returns 800-888-0292 Opt 4
Invoices Questions 800-888-0292 Opt 5
Order Status 800-888-0292 Opt 5
B2B Support 800-607-3567
Tech Support – Post Sales 800-334-5144
Tech Support – Pre Sales 800-752-0900
HP Services – Presales 800-289-9052
HP Services – Registration 800-407-6210
PARTNER (ONLY) CONTACTS
Influencer Hotline 888-887-1890
Partner Support Center 800-544-9976
Tech Support-Post Sales 800-231-9977
Tech Support-Presales 888-629-6914

This communication may contain confidential and privileged
information that is for the sole use of the intended recipient. Any viewing, copying or distribution of, or reliance on this message by unintended recipients is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately by replying to the message and deleting it from your computer.

Farid Hadi

I too don’t agree with you about dropping your email address from the signature, for the same reasons that others have stated. It might be redundant at times but I feels it’s still better to leave it in. I’d rather drop the slogan.

Chris B

Is there a legal requirement to have more than the above? E.g. add the old “This e-mail and any attachments are confidential and may be protected by legal, professional or other privilege.” etc etc etc?

Comcastic

This is NOT EUROPE ! We do NOT use period/decimalpoint to delimit phone numbers here. The proper way is to use the hyphen:

123-456-7890 <- PROPER PHONE NUMBER

Also don’t use Euro Trash dates we ALWAYS put the MONTH first here NOT THE DAY !!

MM-DD-YYYY <- PROPER DATE FORMAT

Adhering to these two simple rules will go a long way to proper communication decorum.

Also NEVER use Mrs. for a woman’s title , always use Ms. instead.

Jaymie

This is Europe from where I’m sitting, specifically the UK. :o) Our “demands” are:

No hyphens OR periods to separate the phone number – just use spaces and brackets.

Don’t be silly, of course the day comes first. DD-MM-YYYY, or better, DD/MM/YYYY. Smallest to largest. By your rationale, do you use mm:HH:SS too?

If you’re married or know someone is, of course it’s fine to use ‘Mrs’ – that’s what it’s for.

Sheesh.

Chad

“Don’t be silly, of course the day comes first. DD-MM-YYYY, or better, DD/MM/YYYY. Smallest to largest. By your rationale, do you use mm:HH:SS too?”

Good grief. When someone asks you the date, you don’t say ‘it’s the 6th of July, 2010″. You say ‘July 6th, 2010’.

mm:hh:ss is a terrible example to support your claim, as it’s written exactly how we say the time aloud. It has nothing to do with smallest to largest. Likewise, mm:dd:yyyy would be the proper usage.

Mark

In England (part of Europe) the correct telephone format is;
(NNNNN) LLLLLL
Where NNNNN = the national STD exchange number and LLLLLL = the local number.

The American date format of MM-DD-YYYY is a newer format than DD/MM/YYYY or D/MM/YYYY that everybody else uses.

I prefer; 1/02/2034 (Wednesday the 1st of Feburary, 2034)
to; 02-01-2034 (Feburary the 1st 2034, Wednesday)

As d/mm/yyyy is in the order of least to most significance date order.

Also if there was a vote on which system to use. D/MM/YYYY would win as more people use it.

blah

I ~ALWAYS~ use the following date format:

6 Jul 2010

instead of 6/7/2010 or 7/6/2010… there is too much ambiguity in the month/date date/month that it is just not worth it to me…

Once glance at the data and there is no mistaking what date I am intending.

Other than that your article is pretty much spot on … too much garbage is being sent over the net… let’s cut down to the minimum…

Brian

What kind of ridiculous comment is that? I’m fairly certain that if you know someone is a “Mrs” then it is probably okay to use…..oh, I don’t know…..maybe…..Mrs?

People live all over the world, so saying that everyone should do the date (MM-DD-YYYY) your way is pretty foolish.

As for the phone number, there are many ways to do it, in many different places, but, didn’t you know that ###.###.#### is the new “Web 2.0” way to do phone numbers? God help us all! Next thing you know we’ll be using a dot instead of a space to separate our names….

Bishop Tovey

A few years back, I had seen a job add in the paper
and it had a three dotted number listed; ###.###.####.

Having spent a great deal of time working with my home network, the only place I had ever seen dotted numbers prior to that, I naturally, opened my browser and entered the IP address. I then, just as naturally, received the site not found error page.

It is important to format a phone number in the format that the area is accustomed to. It may be less confusing for people who use dotted phone numbers to adjust to dashes. Yet I can see where even that could confuse someone who has never seen the format before.

The best policy then is to avoid all possible confusion by putting Ph: prior to the number to indicate that it is a phone. Whether the number has dots, dashes or spaces, the reader will know that it is a phone number and nothing else or more.

Remember, it is not the job of the person receiving your message to interpret your message properly. It is your job to properly communicate your message with that individual. If there is a misunderstanding, it is the miss-communication of the message that caused the misunderstanding, not the receiver of the message.

There is however one exception to this rule.
If the person you are communicating with applies none standard definitions to your words, then they are obviously at fault for the misunderstanding.

It is also best to not communicate with such individuals to begin with and break off all further communication. No one needs that kind of head ache.

Bishop Tovey

triptyx

Considering IPs are xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, that was kind of silly of you. :)

I pozas

I’m from Mexico and the proper use of the day here is dd/MM/yyyy, I know someone in brazil who also uses the same format, the whole Latin America uses that date format, and as I can read, all Europe uses it, then Why should WE adhere to your standards instead of doing the OBVIOUS thing of adhere to THE REST standards?

John

I first worked for an international company back in 1982. I’ve used the month name rather number ever since.

That way you can use your preferred order – 19 June 2010 or June 19, 2010 – without creating any ambiguity for a recipient from another part of the organisation who prefers a different order.

This also works well if you need to put the message text into a translator.

Chris Day

I also disagree with the email omission. If the message is printed and/or forwarded to someone else then it may be lost. Particularly with MS Exchange; recipient email addresses are replaced by their names in MS Outlook.

Otherwise great read though, thanks Dave!

Jaymie

Exactly what I was going to say – except yours is more concise. :o) I hate having to deal directly with someone in the middle an email chain only to find out their mail client has stripped away the email address!

Jonathan Dickinson

I have 2 signatures; one for new emails and one for replies. The replies one is absolutely minimal (my name, my company logo – that’s it).

Facebook in a signature isn’t a great idea in my opinion (I actually have none). Maybe that’s because I am only friends with people on the platform that are IRL friends. A link to a Facebook page couldn’t hurt though.

And, finally someone who groks what I have been saying for ages: the redundant email address. A lot of other information can be inferred from your email as well (e.g. company website).

Paulo

Nothing about your geographical location (city/country), are you sure ?

How will you know your correspondant is actually living in Singapore, Brazil or Bangalore ? It could prove helpful when phoning someone (unless you know ever international country calling codes by heart ;-)

Calvin

Nice suggestion. I love this post because many things have cleared now. i really like this post.

Joop Eggen

I did miss the mention of the main garbage: legalese, like: If you are not the intended recipient / The content of this mail is … / … .

Satyajit Tambe

Thanks for the post. It’s very informative. Gives me new insights, I would have never considered mailing address, but your post gave me an insight that they can be very handy in some situation and for certain professionals.

I only like to include my website address (as I try to include all my social links and all ‘about me’ there.)

And when mailing from mobile I like to add a line that it’s been ‘sent from my mobile’ for simple reason to convey contact that I might not be immediately available for doing any work.

Satyajit Tambe

Thanks for the post. It’s very informative. Gives me new insights, I would have never considered mailing address, but your post gave me an insight that they can be very handy in some situation and for certain professionals.

I only like to include my website address (as I try to include all my social links and all ‘about me’ there.)

And when mailing from mobile I like to add a line that it’s been ‘sent by my mobile’ for simple reason to convey contact that I might not be immediately available for doing any work.

Scott Walker

Drop the slogans and quotes – they are an annoyance and only serve to promote a personal POV. FAX number? No way, unless you still live in the 1980’s.

etiquette bitch

YESSSS! I hate the quotes and I hate the slogans. I don’t need someone (in a signature no less) telling me to have a great day, print or not print the email, etc.

Leslie A Joy

I agree. I find that if I’m writing to someone who’s most likely busy and isn’t someone I normally email (maybe I’m sending for a bid on a job), I put my method of contact in the body. It keeps my signature short, but still allows the person to find me if need be.

Joe Mezzanini

I also disagree regarding leaving out your email address in your sig. Outlook and other email clients often show just the name and I have do to a few things to see the full email address.

Brian

completely agree. especially in forwards, outlook does not always show address, usually just name. Also, I’d leave out the separate web address and put in the email. 2 birds, one stone.

Site

Good tips, but I disagree about the email, too. I often receive email that has been forwarded from a client or a vendor, and the “From” may just show their name and no longer be a link. Having an email in the sig block makes it easy for me to circle back with them.

Britt

I just realized I’m guilty of a few of these.. I re-state my email, and link to TWO websites. :/. Fixing now; thanks for the article!

mikemost

heh, I love the comments about adding your own retaliation slogans. Short and informative is my take but am curious what anyone thinks about the .vcf attachments. This is singling out who can open it and there is no guarantee they will know what to do with it. I too can’t stand the auto-sig in replies. New emails only – first email sent or first reply should contain your full signature line, otherwise make it simple after that like

Regards,
Mike
@mikemost <– though w/a hyperlink

doctor-don

When I kept receiving e-mail that always said “Sent from my blackberry” I had to retaliate.

“This was sent to the person(s) to whom it was intended, but it is not sent from my blueberry and it was not sent at a time when I was being paid by an employer.”

No dire warnings that the e-mail should be deleted immediately if you aren’t the person for which it was intended. That’s just ridiculous!

Trudy

Unfortunately those delete immediatly if you are not the intended person notices are often dictated by industry standards, company policy, SOX, other governing agencies, or in some cases depending on your industry by law.

No one puts those on by choice.

Further I think use of FAX number depends on your type of industry. Althoug it is hard to beleive, and even harder to understand why, there are still some industries were FAX use is still prevelent. I myself work in one such industry. Even when dealing with multi million dollar companies they often prefer to fax over something rather than scan it. Smaller Mom and Pop shops may not even have email, but thy have a fax. Our FAX machine runs all day long.

Some industries are just slow to embrace change.

Kelly

Thanks, Trudy! I was just going to chime in a similar comment about the extra stuff at the bottom. I’m a tax attorney and the IRS requires that we add a Circular 230 disclosure to all correspondence, email included, that meets certain criteria. Other industries have similar requirements; you can’t just delete those (even if it looks silly) without potential consequences.

sefcug

RE: Social Network Links

I use http://card.ly, which serves as an online business card with links to my social networks and blogs.

My general signature is as follows:

Steve Costello
Computer user groups keep users informed, join one and become an active participant.
http://card.ly/sefcug

I do have a lengthy signature for work, but that one is mandated by administration, and is really only for internal e-mails in my case.

Also, I have a five line signature for the email I use as president of a computer user group which consists of my name, title, the group website, and card.ly.

lostindustrial

Where I work our signatures are dictated from on high. We cannot personalize them at all…and they have to contain our personal cell phone numbers, a fax number, and a large graphic. :(

onajourney9

Great points, but I have to disagree on the email suggestion. Depending on the email client you use, it may not be so easily visible in the “from” line. In Outlook, I often have to right-click on the name and view the properties, then highlight the email address in order to copy it to wherever I needed to use it (sending info to a colleague, adding to my database, etc.). And if you’re posting to an online forum like Yahoo Groups, you may not see the email address in the header, especially once someone has replied to the thread.

So I say – please do put your email in the signature line so I don’t have to jump through hoops to reach you. My $.02.

Veit

One additional reason why you MUST include your sig: Your email gets forwarded – often I need to contact someone who’s 3 emails down. The sig is the only way you get their email address

triptyx

Journey and Veit hit it on the head. I’m constantly having to track down email addresses that were stripped from the breadcrumb trail on a forwarded message. Having it in the signature saves me tons of time and ensures your problem gets dealt with faster.

Phil

Agree wholeheartedly. Email address is an essential and very useful component of a sig. You never know what email client the recipient is using, or to where your message will be forwarded.

Steven

And remember to trim the signatures in long conversations. One full signature should be enough. Scrolling past a dozen signatures can get tiresome.

dave

right! beyond basically being an ad for apple, they let everyone know you have an iphone. (side note: having an iphone isn’t special anymore.)

in the same vein… those “sent from my mobile device – please excuse any misspellings” are terrible. reread your emails before you send – it’s not that hard and doesn’t take much time.

Ricky

Some people can reread their emails all day and still not know how to spell.

Lea

I don’t want people knowing when I’m not at my desk. Why would I want my iPhone to rat me out?

George

Those tag lines “Sent from … (device)” are added by default by the system. It’s not the sender’s fault directly, just more corporate marketing crap. But they can be changed or removed if you look for the option (for example, a blackberry has a web page to manage your phone setup).

rice1077

I worked for an individual who had the longest title ever. And he did think he was very important.

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