It seems so innocuous, that block of contact information that comes after your name at the bottom of an email. And, ideally, it should be. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a hyper-competitive one, where anything you can do to set yourself apart or make your brand stand out is an advantage.
It is possible to go too far.
Trying to stand apart with an eye-catching email signature block can easily make you look silly, unprofessional, or just plain stupid, experts say.
Keep Your E-Voice Down
“I’ve seen one [where] everything was 12-point and the signature was 28-point, 32-point — it was like, ‘Oh my god!’” says workplace communications expert Barbara Pachter. “I’ve been teaching business writing for a long time, and some of these signatures are embarrassing. It’s not the time to start shouting at your client.”
When it comes to professional email signatures, pros say the best advice is to keep it simple and straightforward. Treat the end of the email just like you would the body.
“I’d avoid colors, I don’t like colored signatures,” says business etiquette consultant Jacqueline Whitmore. “I would also avoid quotes and prayer requests unless of course you’re in the religious industry, but even then, it makes the signature too long. I would just put basic contact information.”
What about sales pitches — “Ask me how to save on 10 percent on your electricity bill” — or company slogans?
“I don’t think anybody reads those,” Whitmore says.
Get Your Name Out There, Carefully
For small business owners and startups that regularly email people who may not know anything about the company, some information beyond a name, like web addresses and social media handles, is certainly called for. But email etiquette expert Judith Kallos says that going beyond the bare minimum is too much.
“If you wouldn’t put it on business letterhead, don’t put it in an email,” she says. All you need in a signature is a link to a website. All the other stuff — colors, sayings, elaborate titles — “just makes it look tacky.”
It can be very tempting to give readers a sense of who you are beyond your business persona, or about adjacent projects in your work life. And for some professionals, giving a hint of personality and notice of other projects might be too tempting to resist.
Pachter, for example, includes a thumbnail image of the cover of her latest book, The Communication Clinic, at the bottom of every email. Kallos makes sure to have links to her social media pages.
If You Must Embellish
And in the case of a more elaborate signature block that goes beyond contact details, there are two major rules to follow.
Be absolutely certain that nothing you include could cause offense. “If you use sayings, or a poem, or a quote from somebody, you could offend somebody if it’s too strong a quote,” Pachter says. “It’s the standard. You stay away from sex, politics, and religion.” And whatever you do, she says, “just keep it little.”
What looks good on your screen may not look good on others’ screens. If you decide to get fancy with corporate logos or handwriting-style fonts, be aware that it’s common to see pixelated images at the bottom of emails, error icons, unreadable cursive fonts, and signatures that look wildly out of place with the rest of the message.
There’s a very fine line between clients and contacts noticing an email signature block in a good way and a bad way. So, the best advice is still to keep your signature and contact details as plain and functional as possible. Given that modern professionals are in near-constant communication with the members of their own team and their clients, Kallos says, and may send and receive hundreds of messages a day, “There’s no need to muck up an email.”