The Email Signature: From Efficient to Overkill

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

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