Article by
Gildas Jones

We delve into the tricky world of email signatures and the reasons why your carefully crafted signature might not look quite so pretty by the time it reaches the client’s inbox.

6/15/2016

Do your email signatures reach the client’s inbox?

Do your email signatures reach the client’s inbox?

Email signatures are an essential part of your company’s branding: they can include a logo, important company info, and other details you’d like every recipient of your messages to know. At Dial A Geek we include links to our latest blog content as well as our social media channels.

However, we’ve heard from clients who find that their lovingly crafted signatures don’t look right when they reach their destination – the fonts are wrong, the images don’t show, and the size is all out.

How can we fix it? they ask. Well, the unfortunate short answer is that you can’t. Emails and signatures are web technologies, and one of the weaknesses of this is that you can recommend how text and images are displayed to your customers and users, but you can’t dictate. I’d like to take you through the reasons for this, and the measures you can take to deal with the problem as best you can.

The fonts you use must be on the recipient’s computer

This is a much-discussed problem for web designers. When a web browser looks at your website or reads your email, the font specified by the designer must be installed on the reader’s computer. This means that any communications written in a common font like Arial are much more likely to display as intended compared to when you use an obscure one.

To find out whether your chosen font is likely to be on a lot of computers, use a website like http://www.cssfontstack.com, which gives percentages of Windows and Macs with those fonts on.

The other technique is to use a ‘font-family’, which your web designer or email support team should understand. With the font family, you specify your preferred font, plus a series of fall-backs. For instance, if you wanted Century Gothic in your email (present on 87% of Windows PCs), you could specify a font-family of: “Century Gothic, AppleGothic, sans-serif”. This would try displaying Century Gothic, and failing that, Apple Gothic, and failing that, any sans-serif font. This should ensure that, even if your named fonts are not present, something approaching the right one will be used.

Images are often blocked

Images in emails have rightly been blamed for a lot of problems: they’ve been used to spread viruses, they increase the amount a reader needs to download, and they have a reputation for damaging privacy and being used for tracking.

Therefore, images are often blocked by default, with the user having to manually request an email’s images be downloaded and displayed. So if your email’s images are not displaying at the receiver’s end, it may be this security measure that’s in place.

The best solution is to specify what’s known as ‘alt text’. When an image is blocked, a blank square is put in its place, and the alt text is written inside it. So you might see a box which says ‘Dial a Geek logo and contact details’. This might encourage your customer to unblock that image if they think useful information will be forthcoming, but you can also be more imaginative. How about putting your contact number itself in the alt text? Some companies use the alt text to ask the user to unblock images, but this probably isn’t worthwhile with an email signature, and can look a little needy here.

Layouts

This is another tricky topic. These days emails are read on all kinds of devices, from 23” high-resolution screens to 4” phone screens. The software used varies too. You never know how wide your emails will be displayed, or in how many columns etc.

Your brilliant text might be split across numerous lines, or might stretch across the whole screen. Again, you can’t dictate how big your users’ screens are, but you can test your emails on as wide a variety of devices, and in as many email programs as possible, and mitigate the worst problems.

The vagaries of code

I’ve mentioned that emails are just the same as web design, and this means that they are a combination of HTML and CSS. HTML labels the different parts of a page or email as, for example, a subtitle, an image or a link, while CSS dictates what each labeled section should look like. For example, all subtitles might be bolder, larger, or in a different font.

However, once the email reaches the reader, all bets are off. In some extreme cases, the CSS might be ignored, or the HTML might be. Your reader might then see nothing but paragraphs of plain text and basic formatting applied to subtitles to differentiate them. Again, all you can do is specify your ideal, and safely assume that most (but not all) your readers will see something very close to what you intended.

Test test test!

I’ve covered the main problems which can cause your email signatures (and the rest of your emails) to look different to what you hoped. But with these solutions that I’ve described you should be able to limit the problems to minor ones. However, the most important thing is to test, test and test again. Test your emails in as many programs as possible, at the very least in some recent versions of Outlook, Thunderbird and Mac Mail, and test them too in common webmail sites like Gmail, Outlook.com and perhaps even Yahoo! Mail.

Then at least you’ll know the likely issues, and be able to deal with the worst.