Looking After Your Signature File

"Signature Files are an absolutely vital way of promoting your web site". Confront someone who has at least a working knowledge of web site promotion with these words and you will probably be met with the following response, "Well, obviously". Confront someone who is brand new to the world of web site promotion and you will probably get a funny look...or maybe even a confused look. Ironically it is the former person who is in the worst situation, not the latter. You see, the latter person has not thought about signature files as promotional tools...they are quite simply lacking knowledge...and this is easily dealt with. The former person however, although knowing all about sig. files, has become apathetic...he/she believes that they have given sig. files enough thought...they feel that there time would be better spent tackling REAL aspects of web site promotion...this is not so easy to deal with. The following is written with both types of person in mind.

The best way of looking at signatures is to view them as the ultimate in passive promotion (assuming promotion can be passive!). They allow you to promote your site indirectly, by simply going about your net business. Signatures are not there to be sent out to as many people as possible...for there is a word for this and that word is SPAM...and do we not like spam. Signatures are there to work along side all of your genuine postings...whatever form these postings take: email, newsgroups, digests, message boards, discussions etc. The fact is that signature files are a non-aggressive form of site promotion, and in a way this is their most valuable feature.

When I talk about sig. files being passive, I am not talking about what your attitude to them should be...I am talking about their subtle role in your interaction with others on the internet. If someone comes across a banner that you have created for your web site, they will not be under any illusion as to why that banner is there...you have put that banner there to promote your site. The banner serves absolutely no other purpose...because of this, banners have to be very well designed...and designing a banner well, is far from easy. Advertisements on the Television, before the advent of the remote control, did not have to be anything special...now however, they have to be incredibly well thought out, it being so easy for us to point and press. Advertisements on the internet, have never had an easy time...for right from the beginning it has been possible to point and click...and although a very good banner may actually benefit from the point and click web culture, all other banners suffer. You may well now be saying: "...but surely sig. files are only added to promote a site, and serve no other purpose". Now there are two points that need to be made here. The first is that sig. files definitely do serve another purpose...they often provide information that if missing, would actually be requested. Secondly, signatures are only additions to email and other postings...they do not form the body of the email. So if for example you are providing someone with some valuable information via an email, they are not likely to consider themselves the recipient of an advert.

This second point leads us to the importance of remembering that the reaction to your sig. file depends on the content of the sig. file itself AND on the content that precedes it. If you create custom graphics...you are more likely to get people interested in your services, if you answer a post in a newsgroup requesting specific help with an aspect of PaintShopPro...than if you just post "New Site" messages all over the place. The beauty of a sig. file is that you do not have to say anything about your own site, in the body of a posting...unless it would be relevant/appropriate. You could be emailing someone to tell them how much you enjoyed THEIR site...you would not have to even mention your own site...your sig. file would have it covered.

In the first example above, the recipient of your help is likely to visit your site as a thankyou...so the sig. file is just going to serve as a method of providing the required links. This is not the case however when it comes to, the people browsing the newsgroup you posted in, and the recipient in the second example above. The content of the posting is still of vital importance...but the content of the sig. file itself has become more crucial. So now is a good time to look more closely at the content of sig. files.

Some people like to just have one general signature, which they always use. Other people have different signatures for different situations. It really depends on the nature of your web site and where you are posting/mailing. For example, some places actually request signatures to be under a certain length. So if you are regularly posting in such a place, it would be a good idea to have a signature ready that meets their length requirements. Most of the time it is likely that you will be using a general signature...so the following is some simple advice for such a signature:

~Have a sig. file~ ~Include the URL of your web site~ ~Even if there are no length requirements, do not make your sig. too long~ ~Include a brief description of your web site ~Regularly up-date your sig.~ ~Always proof-read your sig. file~

"Could this BE any more obvious?" I hear you ask, in a tone rather reminiscent of Chandler from 'Friends'. Well I am pleased to say that I do not have to answer this question... virtually every single newsgroup, message board and digest answers it for me... as does a large percentage of all email. For the sad fact is that you do not have to look very far to find sig. files that are too long or lacking in information or missing a URL or (and worst of all) completely non-existent.

The first two points above are self-explanatory (although they are so often forgotten), the only thing that can be added is that some people like to include their email address in their sig. along side the URL. It is basically a matter of personal preference...you have to consider that sometimes it is going to be unnecessary. So do you sacrifice a line of your signature, that could contain something more useful, or do you provide it anyway. Providing your email address in your sig. does allow people to send fresh email to you, instead of replies...it also makes it easier for people to respond to your posts in digests etc...and sometimes it may actually be the only way that someone can respond to you. Your best bet is to look closely at the places you are posting and decide for yourself.

The third point is important because of the reaction you may cause in the recipient of your signature. I said above that one of the great things about sig. files is their subtlety in the realm of web site promotion. You have a sig. file that is too long and the subtlety goes out the window. The fourth point connects to this in that it is the site description that is often the problem when it comes to length. There is a lot of skill involved in describing your web site as concisely as possible. Often the best thing to do is include the name of your site and the most valuable thing about it (this could be your key product/service or whatever)...if your site is giving away something free, now would definitely be a good time to mention it. Remember the site description you use for your signature is as important as the site descriptions that you submitted to the search engines...so work on it.

This takes us to the fifth point. We all know how hard it is to change a listing with the major search engines/directories...the opposite is true of your sig. file...it couldn't be easier to change your signature. Take advantage of this fact and constantly improve your site description...and more importantly use your signature to dynamically reflect your web site as it is NOW, not as it was THEN.

And so we come to my final point...whenever you change or create a sig. file proof-read it like you have never proof-read before. A "http:/" instead of "http://", can do untold damage. People expect to be able to click and go...you were too lazy to proof-read and now they are too lazy to type. Although, the above typo is definitely preferable to a typo in a domain/directory name...for this is quite simply disastrous...it is also very likely to happen if you are constantly updating your sig. file, so don't ever be too busy to proof-read. Nothing is more unprofessional than typos and spelling mistakes...this is as true for sig. files as it is for anything else.

Look after your signature file and it'll look after you.