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Your E-Mail Signature: It's More Than Meets the Eye

by Dan Pinnington

Ah, the humble e-mail signature-that simple block of text that (we hope) appears at the end of all your e-mail messages. It is easy not to think much about it-but you do so at your peril.

It's likely that you send out hundreds or even thousands of e-mails over the course of a year. These messages are read by existing and prospective clients, opposing counsel, experts and other third parties, friends and family.

When sending all these e-mails, you should keep in mind three things. First, many (but not all) of them should contain your full contact information, just as your letterhead does. Second, many of those related to your practice also need other appropriate information (such as notices and disclaimers) appended. Third, each message you send offers a great opportunity to market you or your firm in some manner.

Enter the e-mail signature, which is a handy mechanism for accomplishing all three ends. Are you getting all you can from your e-mail signature? Read on to understand how to supercharge it.

The Basics of Signature Setup

Most e-mail programs can automatically add a specific block of text to the end of outgoing messages—this is the so-called e-mail signature feature. Once you create a signatuRe, you can have it automatically appear in every new e-mail that you compose, provided you configure your e-mail program to include that text as a default signature.

In Microsoft Outlook (the steps in other programs will be similar) you create a signature by clicking on Tools, selecting Options, clicking on the Mail Format tab, and then clicking on the Signature button. This will open the Create Signature dialog box—which is where you enter the text to appear in a signature and set other signature configuration options.

The figure on the next page shows my e-mail signature as an example. Let's use it to walk through an explanation of what contact information your signature should contain.

  • Your full name.
  • Title or status at your firm.
  • Firm name.
  • Phone number, including area code—and if you list a toll-free number that doesn't work outside your state or country, list a direct-dial number, too.
  • Fax number, if it's appropriate to your practice.
  • E-mail address—remember that the address in the Sent box won't always display properly on screen or in printouts, so having it right in the message can be very helpful.
  • Firm Web site URL.
  • Any other relevant contact information (such as the name of an assistant).

You'll see that I don't put a street address in my e-mail signature, for the simple reason that people I send messages to would rarely want my address. But depending on the nature of your practice, it may well make sense for you to include your street address along with the rest of your contact information.

Marketing Information and Other Content

After the contact info (as you'll see in my signature), you can include a little blurb that markets you in some way. It might refer to an upcoming presentation that you're doing or a helpful article that appears on your Web site. And to make it dead easy to get more info on the presentation or a copy of the article, include a direct link to it in the message. This is the easiest and cheapest direct marketing you will ever do! Don't include more than one or two marketing items, though, because people just won't read all of them. Instead, keep things fresh by rotating your marketing messages every month or two.

You can also use a signature to add a confidentiality notice, the IRS notice or any other content you want in every message you send. And note that if you want something to appear before the content in your message, you can still use the signature feature to place the text into each new message—you will just jump down a few lines to type the message contents.

Signature Formatting

To make things even easier, remember to add three or four blank lines to the start of your signature so that you have a blank space at the start to type your message contents. This will save you from having to bump your signature down a few lines in every new message screen you open. I also include "Dan" at the top of my signature so I don't have to type my name at the end every time.

To make your signature stand out more, try using a divider line of one or more types of characters. I put a divider at the start of the marketing portion of my signature, too. So that things look more presentable, I make all my dividers the same length and keep all text in the signature within the dividers so that it appears in a box-like shape.

E-mail Form Letters

Many e-mail programs allow you to create more than one signature, which is helpful if you have different signatures that you want to include on different messages, or for different categories of recipients. Maybe you want to set a default signature if you use the same one the majority of the time, or maybe you want to manually select one for each message if you use a number of different signatures.

But don't stop there: Do you have one or more blocks of text that you frequently include in your messages? Consider saving those blocks as signatures, too. Then, the next time you want to include one or more of those text snippets in a message, place the cursor where you want the snippet to appear and insert the signature that contains the text you want. It's just like using a macro or auto-text feature within an e-mail. Cool!

vCards

A vCard—that little contact card icon you sometimes see at the end of e-mails you receive—is a standard file format (.vcf) that facilitates the easy exchange of contact information. Consider it an electronic business card you attach to e-mail messages. vCards can contain name and address information, phone numbers, URLs, logos, photographs and even audio clips.

In Outlook and many other e-mail programs, users can instantly add all the info in a vCard into their address books by simply double-clicking on the .vcf attachment. If you want to make it easy for people to add you to their contact lists, specify that a vCard be included in your e-mail signature when you create and configure it.

No Signature Required

Do you need a full signature on every message you send? Absolutely not! Internal or informal messages and those to friends or family don't need one. So to quickly get rid of a default signature, do this: As soon as you click within the body of your message, press Ctrl+A and just start typing. This selects and deletes the default text your e-mail program automatically inserted.

Hmmm. Didn't think there was that much to consider when it came to e-mail signatures, did you? Go look at your signature now, and take steps to do more with it.

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