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

Kenneth Brown

Nice article – but it is worth pointing out that certain information is a legal requirement on UK emails. Every email thread should include : Company name, comapny regestration number, and address of company registration.

I use 02JAN10 for the date. That way, I do not confuse my American colleauges ;-) (and this is in fact the standard scientific way of writing the date, and scientists are clever, so it must be right!)

Also, the American way is not the PROPER way – as long as you speak a derivitive of the Queen’s English, then the Queen’s way is the proper way.

Cassie

I disagree with leaving out the email. Sure, it’s a bit redundant, but if you are forwarding the email to another person, it would be helpful to include the email address. Also, sometimes I copy and paste someone’s contact information into an email to send to someone else so having the email listed is very helpful.

My signature includes my name & title, institution, street address, tel/fax and email. I’ve been lectured before (by outsiders) for not including contact information. Ugh.

The head of our department standardized the signatures for the people who work under him (I’m not one of those staffers) – I think it’s html-based and is set up like a business card: on the left side is the person’s name, title, phone/fax/email and on the right side is the dept and street address. He’s kind of particular about stuff like that. Though I just noticed that a couple of staffers have been using their own (non-standard) signatures – I guess he hasn’t noticed their signatures yet because you can bet he’d badger them to conform.

Lea

Facebook, Twitter and company logo icons in email signatures drive me nuts! I work in software support and have to forward most emails I receive into a Jira ticketing system. The graphics just end up piling up on certain tickets as trashy attachments because our ticketing system doesn’t know the diff between a substantive attachment and an icon. “Donate Online!” “Join us on Facebook!” Opt for the links people.
Good article.

Gary Slinger

“yyyy,mm,dd,HH,MM,SS,Cs is the computer language international standard for computer systems. The (human) International standard is dd/mm/yyyy or dd/mm/yy” – really? According to whom? It certainly isn’t the “international standard” in the USA, Canada, or large parts of Europe. Nor is it the “international standard” in the handful of multinational corporations I’ve worked at. It is the “international standard” for the UK (I’m English) and former territories, etc.

Google “international date standard” – you get what I posted. Now google some variation of “international date standard for humans”… First hit I get is the ISO standard again, and nothing to contradict it.

If you’d made it, I’d have accepted the argument that the need for a computerized date standard drove/accelerated the definition and sharing of an international date standard, but you don’t get to just arbitrarily claim “dd/mm/yyyy” as an international standard – it isn’t.

Mark A.

I guess that the international standard has changed as the number of computers has increased since I left school.

Binesh

I would say this article is worth more than two cents. Thanks for the article..

Mark A.

yyyy,mm,dd,HH,MM,SS,Cs is the computer language international standard for computer systems.
The (human) International standard is dd/mm/yyyy or dd/mm/yy

Not all computer languages use it thou.
Eg. PHP mktime() uses h,m,s, month,day,two digit year.
mktime(HH,MM,SS,MM,DD,YY*,dst)
YY* = 1970 to 2069
dst
= true if summer time.
So the date is in the middle of the time as the command ends with the ‘Daylight Saving Time’ value.

Mark A.

I hope you can read my last message as all linefeeds where removed.

yyyy,mm,dd,HH,MM,SS,Cs should be yyyy,mm,dd,HH,MM,SS,ms (ms=milliseconds)

Also some languages (eg. Javascript) use 0 to 11 for months, so January=0

mike russo

i like my quote of the day (automatically changed every 5 minutes via a cronjob that runs fortune) and if someone doesn’t like, to hell with them.

vspike

In the UK there are regulation on what information must be in an email, just as there are on what information must be on a company website.

I liked this article and I hate the long sigs I am told I have to use, but I checked and it seems the PHB’s are right on this one.

Key points you need are:-
* Your company’s registered name (e.g. XYZ Ltd)
* Your company registration number;
* Your place of registration (e.g. Scotland or England & Wales)
* Your registered office address

See http://www.out-law.com/page-5536

It does say that disclaimers and confidentiality notices carry no weight so I might remove those. I can also remove our VAT number as that seems to be not needed.

I just wanted to make sure any UK readers didn’t fall foul of the Companies Act after reading this!

TimO

I can’t believe there have been 62 comments on this article and not one mention of alt.fan.warlord. How old are you people? ;-)

I know that email isn’t usenet, but there is a body of knowledge – collected over many years – in AFW that I’m sure is pertinent today (setting aside fixed-width fonts and the whole vt100-ness of it) as it was all those years ago. Okay, so much of it was collected by people with too much time on their hands (writing critical essays on the relative merits/demerits of so-and-so’s signature block), and we^H^Hthey probably spent more time on that project than they did on their PhD theses / day jobs / etc…

For those unfamiliar with AFW, then see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt.fan.warlord

Leonid Mamchenkov

As for the phone number, I use it like so:

Phone: +375 99-XXXXXX (GMT+2)

Two things are important here:

  1. Plus sign (+) in front indicates that this is a full number, including the country code. Anyone can dial it pretty much from anywhere. When I see phone numbers like 35799XXXX, I’m not sure where the person is and if I need to dial any country/area code before that number.

  2. Your timezone. This is very helpful for those who call you from far away. They have some indication of whether they will wake you up in the middle of the lunch break. You can of course use your location instead of timezone, but from my experience people have more troubles figuring out what time is at certain location than calculating the difference between the timezones. YMMV of course.

mike

HA! I was puting my email address in my signature! Feel a little silly now, and have taken it out. Nice read.

Dave

And please turn off all the “Sent from my iPhone”, “Sent from my Blackberry”, etc. disclaimers and particularly turn off the “please excuse typos” disclaimers. Your recipients don’t need to know whether you are in our out of the office–nor should you want them to know–and don’t care what device you use. Yes, your recipients will think less of you if you cannot spell, punctuate or construct a complete sentence when responding whether or not you include a disclaimers. The disclaimers seem amateurish.

Dave

Really interesting post about one of my big pet peeves. Companies should have consistent email signatures for consistent branding. I wish my company’s signature was shorter, but it is consistent and were important in how customers perceive us (or so customers said) after a rebranding effort.

My theory is email signatures should have as little information as possible, but enough that if you cut and pasted it into an Outlook or Google contact the recipient had enough to work with me in the future. That varies by industry–personal finance has fax numbers (b/c fax to send your W-2 info to a mortgage company is more secure than email), many lawyers have physical addresses and a privilege disclaimer, others just a name/title/mobile. Agreed with others re the email inclusion. Seems silly, except I get a lot of my action items forwarded and I often cannot trace down an email to contact someone.

Sid

What about a picture in he email? A picture of the sender or a logo of the organization?

Ray

Great article, thanks for the insight. A point about physical addresses. Physical addresses are very useful for those like myself who work for a global company or have clients on many continents. Physical addresses inform their recipient of the timezone the author resides. That little bit of knowledge really helps to schedule your work so that you’re not expecting a response from someone in the middle of their night and to plan your work accordingly.

Anon

Your e-mail should be included in your signature for those times when your original message is forwarded on to someone else who then has to get back to you directly.

Many email clients don’t preserve the e-mail address in this case, so having your e-mail in your signature is a great help.

ConfusedDater

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…

Comments are closed.