Signature files have been around since, well, before most current Netizens were even aware that email existed. Before the Web, folks generally had basic contact info and included their favorite quote to show their feelings or perspective on certain issues.
Now, most will use their properly left-aligned signature file as a quick identifier of who they are and what they do and offer a link to their Web site while those online for personal use will still serve up witty, clever and many times interesting quotes.
The most important reason to use a sig file is that signature files allow you to promote your site or opinions indirectly, by simply going about your daily online business. Whether you are posting on message boards, emailing other site owners or participating in mailing lists, your signature file gets your basic information and a link to your Web site in front of everyone you email or those who may just read your post on a message board.
Your sig file’s contents can help you solidify yourself as an astute technology user, a caring human being and if you have a business to soft sell your enterprise to your contacts. Signature files are the ultimate in online passive promotion when used properly and effectively.
Let’s first cover the DON’Ts:
DON’T have your signature file start right after the last sentence line in your email. Looks unprofessional. Make a point of setting up an extra line break in your email program or just be sure to hit “enter” one extra time when typing the last sentence of your email. Keep your sig file no more than 4-6 lines.
No, there is no law that will send you to the pokey if you break this guideline however, this is a role that most follow and is a recommended guideline so you don’t seem too pushy.
DON’T have everything about you including the kitchen sink in your sig file. If you have a Web site, include a pointer to your URL to make sure folks can find out whatever they like about you – that is really what your sig file is for. To have your pager, cell, home, business, work, accreditations, and slogan about how great you are will lead to the perception that you are tad bit self-enclosed.
You also do not need to include your full “all about me” signature file on every email in ongoing conversations or with those who already are aware of all your information. Instead, for ongoing conversations, use a simpler less info-packed version, maybe one that just includes your most used sign-off and your name.
DON’T use inflammatory quotes in your signature file. Hey, everyone has the right to an opinion – that is one of the great things about the online environment is the free exchange of information and ideas. I’ve seen many a witty and humorous quote in emails.
However, to intentionally have a quote you know is very controversial or offensive simply isn’t courteous. Save those type of “opinions” for those who know you well and will understand your need for attention.
DON’T throw in any sales-pitchy type hype. Credibility online is very difficult to acquire and support without undermining your efforts. Refraining from overzealous sales hype that ends in exclamation marks tends to lead to you being perceived as a seasoned professional. A short and sweet comment about your product or service is enough. Let your Web site do the selling for you!
DON’T use formatting in your sig file (or your business emails). This includes ASCII formatting, font colors and bolding or including graphic files (which can show as attachments) in lieu of a plain text signature.
You are in essence then contributing to the recipient’s attachment folder unnecessarily requiring they have to weed through your signature file graphics to get to the important attachments they were expecting. If you wouldn’t turn your name or title bright red on your company letterhead – don’t do it in email.
DON’T close with your signature file reflecting anything but proper punctuation. Please capitalize your name properly: John A. Smith, John Smith, John. Not typing your name in proper case reflects a lack of education and business savvy.
DON’T start using your sig file until you have verified, reviewed and double-checked that all the information is correct. I see signature files with errors every day! Sigs with errors lend to the perception that you lack attention to detail.
What is a sig-separator? In the beginning of all this when folks used Newsgroups quite a bit (now known as groups) it was important to have a “–” and a line break before your signature file. (Hyphen, hyphen, space, newline.) At that time Newsgroups were pretty much it and had quite heavy traffic. To allow the smooth flow of conversations, the sig-separator allowed news software to strip out signature files when replying. Here’s an example:
At your service,
There is a downside to sig-separators though. Top posters will find that the entire earlier post (which is then below the sig because they are incorrectly top posting [Learn how to properly reply and down-edit your e-mails.]) is then removed.
Top posting in general doesn’t lent to clarity in your communications let alone when using a sig-separator that strips out the previous conversation below your sig. Therefore it is best if you don’t put your signature file as the very last thing in an e-mail to refrain from using a signature file separator.
Quite a few onliners have never heard of a sig-separator and many feel this traditional sig-separator looks rather silly when interposed into a regular e-mail. So the jury is out as to whether sig-separators will ever be able to gain a foothold in regular e-mail and communities that prefer a letter-like style.
Now to the Do’s:
DO align your sig’s text with spaces and not tabbing. Tabs and text are displayed differently on different machines, which can make your layout look yucky. Also keep in mind that you want to keep your sig file to 70 characters or less, as that is the set screen width default for most email programs.
DO make sure that your signature file has the basic info folks need to contact you. No need to include your email address – that is automatically noted at the top of every email you send. The only instance where you would want to include your primary email address in your signature file is if you are using a different or secondary email address to send the email in question.
DO setup your email program to automatically append your signature file and make sure to include your sign-off so that you do not have to type your name with every email. Such as:
John A. Smith
Website Address Here
Slogan or Additional Information Here
DO make sure that when you include your Web site address that you add the “http://” before your site’s URL. In some email programs without the http:// the program will not recognize the address as a clickable link within your email.
One of the neat things about sig files is they allow you to have every email be one click away from your Web site. Don’t miss this opportunity by forgetting the http://.
DO have several signatures that you can switch dependent on tone or issue at hand. Sig files are an excellent way of setting a tone and directs the ongoing communication’s priority or level of formality. Sincerely, Best, Regards, Respectfully – each used differently depending on whom you are communicating with and the tone you would like to set.
You can also set up signatures that have your formal name and a less informal version to set a comfort zone with the other party such as Elizabeth vs. Lizzy. Keep in mind to not be overly informal too soon with new contacts. Formalities are in place for a reason – especially in business communications.
DO have signature files that relay a different message based on where and to whom you are emailing. If you are marketing on message boards or newsgroups, use a signature file that reflects your new product or the current promotion for that specific audience.
Different terms and words have different results depending on the market. Be sure to include a call to action such as: Download now… Contact Us today about… Get your free… – you get the idea – sans hype. Don’t use multiple exclamation marks or question marks.The beauty of your sig file is that you do not have to say anything about your own site, in the body of a posting … unless it would make sense and is acceptable in the proper forum. This is a great way to subtlety market to those you do not know.
Keep in mind however, the last thing you want to do is post gratuitously or send an email with a one word answer just for the sake of getting your signature file in front of folks. That is one of the oldest tricks in the books and folks will know what you are up to and may complain directly to you and/or the moderator. Credibility lost.
DO keep in mind that the perception your signature file gives will lend to others forming opinions about who you are, what you believe in, if you follow the roles, if you know how to use technology – or not. Quotes are fine and sometimes apropos depending on the conversations tone and topic, however, keep in mind who will be reading the email and the perception your opinion via the quote you include will leave. Humorous or controversial quotes are best left to personal email.
There you have it! The basics you need to know to use signature files properly. Use these tips to build your own personal library of signature files. Always update and work on your signature files – there is always something new to say about yourself or your business!