Email signatures on Exchange Server: Business guide

Unless you’re a time traveler from the early 1990’s, chances are emails in your Exchange organization already contain signatures.

But what do they look like? If you allowed individual users to set them up on their own, you and your company may have ended up with a mess of bigger or smaller proportions.

Let’s see what could go wrong:

An email signature deployed by the end-user

  • Incomplete and/or not up-to-date contact information
  • Failure to include legally required details
  • Corporate visual identity disaster
  • Lack of customer-brand relationship building strategy
  • No social media icons and links
  • Missed opportunity for marketing content

The most efficient way of dealing with the problems I mentioned above is by switching to central email signature management:

Email signature deployed centrally

  • Complete and up-to-date contact information
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • Control over customer-brand relationship
  • Social media links included
  • Marketing opportunities seized
  • Corporate visual identity success!

The capability to do this is in no way dependent on what email clients are used in an organization. Your workmates could be using Outlook, Entourage, OWA, Gmail, mobile devices, etc. – not important.

The only thing that matters is that their email accounts are sitting on Exchange – the server supports several ways of managing email signatures centrally (one of them is actually an out-of-the box feature in Exchange).

Below I discuss in detail four ways of managing email signatures on Microsoft Exchange. Note that, as indicated below, only transport rules and selected 3rd party solutions cover all email clients (standalone, webmail and mobile devices).

Email signatures via Transport rules

Starting from Exchange 2007* administrators can set up server-level email signatures directly in Exchange Management Console or Exchange admin center.

* On Exchange 2003 and older Exchange editions the only way to centrally manage email signatures is using 3rd party products like CodeTwo Exchange Rules 2003.

This feature has evolved over time. Exchange 2007 allowed only fixed-text with basic formatting options. Subsequent Exchange editions added support for Active Directory dynamic fields, full blown HTML formatting, and other options.

More on the evolution of this feature Email disclaimers on Microsoft Exchange Server’s side.

How it works

How Exchange transport rules add email signatures

  1. The administrator creates an email signature rule in EMC or EAC.
  2. A user sends an email from their Exchange account.
  3. When traveling through the Exchange server, the email is checked against the email signature rule. If it meets the defined criteria the email signature is inserted.
  4. After being processed, the email is delivered to the intended recipient.

NOTE: The mechanism includes fail-safes for instances when the email cannot be processed (e.g. because it is encrypted). In cases like these, Exchange can wrap the original email in an envelope, ignore (deliver the email without the disclaimer) or reject the email.

Features

  • Insert a signature/disclaimer at the very bottom or top of a message body
  • Support for all web, mobile and standalone email clients
  • Signature/disclaimer rule configuration wizard
  • Pull personal information from Active Directory (available in Exchange 2010/2013/2016)
  • Support for linked images (available in Exchange 2010/2013/2016)

Drawbacks

  • Cannot insert email signature directly under latest reply or forward in email conversations
  • Embedded images not supported
  • Email signatures not displayed on end-users’ side
  • HTML code must be typed or pasted in + no preview of email signature
  • Does not remove lines containing blank AD fields

These capabilities are available only using 3rd party software.

Step-by-step guides

To learn more details about centrally setting up email signatures on Exchange select your edition below (not sure what Exchange edition your company works on? go to our email platform detection assistant or ask your IT admin.)

Email signatures on Exchange Server 2007
Email signatures on Exchange Server 2010
Email signatures on Exchange Server 2013
Email signatures on Exchange Server 2016

OWA signatures deployed via Powershell

On Exchange you can centrally design and set users’ OWA and Outlook on the web signatures using the the Set-MailboxMessageConfiguration PowerShell cmdlet. This feature is available in Exchange 2016, Exchange 2013, Exchange 2010 and Exchange Online (Office 365).

How it works

Global OWA email signature deployed using PowerShell

  1. The HTML code of the email signature is prepared and saved in a TXT file.
  2. The administrator feeds the code into PowerShell…
  3. …and uses it to update the Email signature setting in end-users’ OWA clients
  4. The next time a user starts composing a new email, the signature is visible in the message box and is sent as part of the message.

Features

  • The signature is visible when users compose new emails in OWA
  • Support for linked images, tables, font formatting and other HTML features

Drawbacks

  • Users can edit the signature
  • No direct way to pull users’ Active Directory data into the signature
  • Support only for OWA / Outlook on the Web

Step-by-step guide

Set Outlook Web App signature with image using PowerShell

Outlook signatures generated using VBS and deployed via GPO

Although the procedure can be summarized in two steps (see below), it may prove very time consuming in practice. To use it, you not only have to learn how to write scripts in Visual Basic and manage Group Policy in Windows Server, but perform a lot of maintenance even once the signature is in production.

How it works

Outlook email signature generated using VBS and deployed via GPO

  1. Prepare the VBS script that will generate the email signature file
  2. Deploy it as a logon script using Grou Policy Management Editor

Features

  • Support for images, tables, links, font formatting, etc.
  • Ability to personalize the signature using Active Directory variables
  • The signature is visible when users compose new emails in Outlook

Drawbacks

  • Requires Visual Basic skills
  • Users can edit the signature
  • Need for constant maintenance
  • Few scoping options
  • Support for Microsoft Outlook only
  • Logon scripts may cause dealys or issues on startup

Step-by-step guide

Active Directory Outlook Signature – VBS script

3rd party email signature management solutions

Due to the limitations present in all of the above approaches to email signature management, many administrators and Marketing teams opt for 3rd party applications dedicated to overcoming those hurdles.

CodeTwo Exchange Rules products are among the most acclaimed in this category.

How CodeTwo Exchange Rules work

How CodeTwo Exchange Rules add email signatures

  1. The administrator creates an email signature rule in CodeTwo Exchange Rules.
  2. A user sends an email from their Exchange account.
  3. On the Exchange server, the CodeTwo Exchange Rules transport agent checks if email matches any of the email signature rules.
  4. If the result is positive, the email signature is inserted in the position defined by the administrator (e.g. under latest email reply). Lines containing blank AD fields are not included.
  5. After being processed, the email is delivered to the intended recipient.
  6. CodeTwo Exchange Rules updates the senders’ Sent Items folder to reflect the result of Step 4.

Features

Apart from features available in Exchange’s native tools, which I discussed above, CodeTwo Exchange Rules puts several further capabilities at your disposal:

  • Advanced signature placement options: CodeTwo software lets you insert signatures under new replies and forwards, as well as anywhere else in the message body.

    Email signature inserted beneath a reply

  • Support for in-line (embedded) images, logos and photos: CodeTwo Exchange Rules lets you embed images in messages. This ensures that they are always correctly displayed, when the email is opened.

    Embedded (in-line) image in email signature

  • Signatures visible in users’ Sent Items folders: This might seem like an insignificant feature, but you’d be surprised how much frustration it saves your users. Plus, it’s a good idea legal-wise to have in your database a copy of the exact email that reached the recipient.

    Email signature displayed in user's Sent Items folder in Outlook

  • Built-in signature editor: The applications come equipped with a WYSIWYG template editor. This feature makes designing email signatures a lot easier than in Exchange transport rules, where you have to type in raw HTML, then try it out on test emails to see if it came out right, etc.

    WYSIWYG email signature template editor

  • Auto-removal of redundant lines in signatures: CodeTwo Exchange Rules can be set to automatically remove lines from email signatures that would otherwise include empty Active Directory fields (this might happen when a user doesn’t have a value provided for some AD attributes).

    Blank Active Directory fields in email signature

  • Ability to delegate email signature management to non-IT staff: Thanks to the granular Access Rights feature, CodeTwo Exchange Rules allows the administrator to securely delegate email signature management to non-IT staff, such as marketers, communication managers, graphic designers, etc.

    Email signature management delegation options

Step-by-step guide

Quick guide to creating email signature rules in CodeTwo Exchange Rules

Free trial with full functionality

CodeTwo Exchange Rules – Download

Professional email signature templates

Coming up with a good business-friendly email signature design may be a chore. If you are looking for something to start you off, take a look at our library of free email signature templates. You can download them for free and use them in your Exchange organization, regardless which email signature management method you choose.

Signature templates – Browse and download for free

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