Six Email Signature Mistakes that Might Send the Wrong Message

How to leave a better impression with every correspondence

Last year, I scanned my hand-written initials and used them as part of my email signature. I thought it was a neat way to include a personal touch, something that would stand out.

Then I needed to search for an email I had received with an attachment. Every email I had sent (and many I had received in reply) for the past several months was in the list! I couldn’t find the message I was looking for, and I realized how annoying an image in your signature can be.

Email is an important part of how we communicate. Your signature is at the end of every message you send. Be sure it isn’t sending the wrong message about you.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Nastco

There are things you should never put in your email signature:

  1. Images. As I found out, including an image in your signature usually shows up as an attachment. This triggers feelings of anticipation or angst in the other person when they see the paper clip icon. It can also be difficult to get it to display at the proper size on tablets and smartphones. Stick with text.
  2. “This was sent from my phone. Please excuse any typos.” This is just an excuse for being sloppy. You don’t need to impress me with how busy you are—not only are you checking your email on the go, you’re also too busy to proofread and use your phone properly. Don’t let where you’re checking email determine the quality of your communication.
  3. “Sent from my Verizon 4G LTE Droid Ultra Supermax 128.” Nobody but Verizon cares. I’ve received emails where the carrier’s advertising in the signature was longer than the message body that mattered to me. Change the signature to something that will promote your brand.
  4. Legalese. Speaking of signatures that are longer than the message body, legal disclaimers are more of an annoyance than anything. Opening your email does not constitute a Non-Disclosure Agreement. No court case has ever been decided on the presence (or absence) of such a disclaimer. Besides, it doesn’t create a good impression when your email signature states that you have a tendency to email the wrong information to the wrong people. If you are required by your employer to include one, only use that account for professional correspondence and stick to a personal account for everything else.
  5. Every way someone could possibly contact you by email, phone, fax, letter carrier, courrier, or carrier pigeon. Include one or two preferred ways to contact you, that’s it. You shouldn’t try to recreate your entire business card in the signature. If someone needs more information, they’ll ask. Or you can include a link to a landing page or about.me profile where they can get more information.
  6. Your email address. You just emailed them. They have your address. Use the space for something that will add value to the recipient.

What should you include in your signature?

  1. Your full name, as you use it. Just first and last. Even if you really do go by Lord Chester A. Dukewellington, III, MD, KBO, MVP, BBQ.
  2. Job Title. In a corporate environment, it may be appropriate to include your job title so people have some context on where you’re coming from without looking you up.
  3. A link to more information. Include a link where people can find more information about you. You can link to a social profile page such as LinkedIn or Twitter, create a special landing page on your web site, or create a profile on about.me.

An email signature should be subdued. It’s a garnish that enhances your email, not a side dish that competes for their attention with the entrée. Let the focus be on your message—why you’re emailing them in the first place.

Take two minutes now to check your email settings and update your signature if you need to. If you aren’t sure what to include, try just an em dash followed by your name. Minimalist and classy.

Question: What’s in your email signature? Have you seen one that was especially thoughtful and effective? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.

  • David Willis

    Nice article and interesting comments mentioned. However, there are ways to get around having an image appear as an attachment. You can always try a third party software solution that specifically focuses on email signatures.

    At my company, we use something called Exclaimer Signature Manager and it allows everyone to have an image, all the relevant contact details and even things like banners without them appearing as attachments. It is pretty nifty to be honest.

    I suppose it all depends how much information you think is relevant to the signature and if you want to use it for more than just an ‘e-calling card’.

    • Thanks, David.

      Yes, you can get around the images-as-attachments problem. It takes a little know-how or an app/service to help. You still might have a problem with people who have their email client set to not load images, and you can’t select the text to copy it. It’s all about trade-offs—if you can make it look good and enhance your brand, then go for it!

  • parkerjh

    I agree with most everything BUT for not including an e-mail address. I always include one. E-mails get forwarded and other people sometimes pop up in an email conversation mid-stream. I think it is a common courtesy to include that. Likewise, sometimes e-mails are printed out and there is no record of an e-mail address unless it was included in footer.

    • Most email clients will include the sender when printing. The sender’s address is also included above the original message when replying or forwarding (“On Saturday, May 3, 2014, John Appleseed wrote:”). If that’s been edited out, it’s just as likely that your signature has been removed, too.

      • parkerjh

        You are missing the point: I’m talking about e-mails that have been forwarded and replied to several times. Yes: I have the sender info but not necessarily everyone in the email chain whose sender information simply appears as text of their name.

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