The Email Signature: From Effective to Overkill

Too frequently, e-mail signatures are so crowded with info that our eyes glaze over

My own penchants aside, the sig is an interesting component of e-mail communication and etiquette. Too frequently, we see e-mail signatures so jammed with information that our eyes just glaze over: name, title, division, company, e-mail address, office number, cell number, fax number, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn links (complete with icons), trite words of wisdom about not printing this e-mail or a variant on carpe diem … the list goes on.

So let's figure out what's helpful, what's overkill, and how the e-mail signature can be refined:

Name. This is a pretty important part. There's not a good deal 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 individual experience. My real 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, so, 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" dominion, reader indifference begins to set in. All I know is that the individual is probably important (which may be the point, of course). But I could also perceive that as, "Well, this guy sure thinks he's noteworthy."

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

Company. Like your name, this is pretty basic. One idea worth observing is to be sure you spell your company as it's acknowledged. Why? Beyond the obvious, for search purposes. There's a fundamental deviation when I look for "LendingTree" vs. "Lending Tree." One turns up e-mails related to the company, the other turns up threads related to Christmas tree donations. (Not an actual conversation topic in my in-box, but you get my point.)

Website. You should probably include this, especially if you're a writer, blogger, photographer, Etsy retail merchant, designer, or in any other job where you need to showcase your merchandise or drive traffic somewhere. For neatness, it's best to hyperlink your company's name, especially if you want to drive people to a unique section or area of your website.

Slogan. Personally, I dig this if, and only if, it's concise. I'd say it comes down to word number. I'd suggest no more than 5 words. You surely wouldn't want to include your company's mission or vision statement—that just gets redundant.

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 adequate. Who among us is ever more than 20 feet away from his or her mobile? It's the number by which you're most available. And it's also the number by which you can be the most unreachable for those "there's no way I'm speaking to her right now" moments.

E-Mail Address. This is overkill. Think about it. You're e-mailing someone and, by and large, you're looking for some kind of reply. The fact that the recipient got your e-mail guarantees they have your e-mail address. Nix the e-mail address from your sig—it's unneeded.

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 omitted from the e-mail 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 business involves material product that necessitates 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 encountered e-mail sigs that include Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn icons. And we've likewise seen those that have only the links. If you're going to include these components, here are a couple of suggestions:

Only include two social methods of contact. Naming every social network in which you take part translates, "See! Look how cultural I am! I do everything!" This, by default, shows that you're on those networks for the improper reasons and all of them are in all likelihood empty of content. So if you're heavy on the social media side of affairs, 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 decently in someone's in-box. They'll have to "Always show images from," and mobile viewing has its image issues. While it may look sharp in your e-mail, there's no guarantee others will view the identical thing.


Quotes, Suggestions. First, it's fundamental to point out that these are different from slogans. A slogan reflects a company brand. What we're talking about here are those inspirational quotations and obsequious admonishments at the bottom of an e-mail. They're usually referring to things like love, teamwork, or recycling. These one-liners—while they can be funny, profound, and/or moving—don't really have a place in professional e-mail communication. Leave them out.

Rich Text Signatures. Gmail recently started supporting rich text signatures. The thought is to allow more customization (think links, color, pictures, etc.). While this is a wonderful way to template a dynamic signature, don't go overboard. As we've talked about above, your sig file isn't a résumé: Smart, serviceable, easy content is all you need.