[Update]: This blog post was first published on July 13, 2017. It’s been updated to reflect the current steps required for a proper mail flow rule setup in Exchange Online.
Do your email signatures pile up at the bottom of your conversation threads? Well, I have bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that this is the default setup for Microsoft 365 / Office 365 email signatures. The mail flow rule responsible for appending email signatures can insert them at the very top or at the very bottom of the entire email thread. The good news is that there are ways to work around this. Let’s get right into the details.
Microsoft Outlook is the go-to email client for most businesses and enterprises. This is no surprise, as it has been around for decades and managed to become the ‘gold standard’ of this software category in the meantime. Outlook has evolved a lot since its first appearance, leading to its supposedly final form, “Outlook 365”. In this article, I’m going to quickly explain what Outlook 365 stands for and how to set up email signatures in this Microsoft-365-powered email client.
Outlook 365: Outlook for Microsoft 365 vs Outlook on the web (OWA)
It might come as a bit of a surprise, but officially, there’s no such thing as “Outlook 365”. There are two Outlook versions which this name may relate to: Outlook for Microsoft 365 and Outlook on the web. Both come as a part of the Microsoft 365 subscription, which is probably the reason why so many users came to name them “Outlook 365”. This can be very confusing, especially since the name doesn’t explain whether the user means the app installed locally or the webmail version. The name stuck nonetheless and nowadays can be found all over the Internet, including tech community forums and specialist websites.
To be precise, Outlook for Microsoft 365 is the version of the app installed on desktop or laptop computers. It’s the most recent iteration, originating from a long line of apps included in Microsoft Office suites and standalone programs, so you might say it’s the longest known, as it brings to the table all the features and improvements implemented over the years.
Outlook on the web, on the other hand, is the webmail version of Outlook, allowing you to access your email account through your web browser. Besides being part of a Microsoft 365 subscription, it’s also available for organizations using on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 & 2019. By the way, the name “Outlook on the web” is being used interchangeably with “OWA”. The abbreviation actually stands for “Outlook Web App”, which was the official name of the app used with Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 & 2010, formerly called “Outlook Web Access” in case of Microsoft Exchange Server versions older than 2010. The biggest difference in comparison to Outlook for Microsoft 365 is that you don’t have to install anything on your computer or mobile device to use Outlook on the web.
Now, let’s dive in and have a look at individual processes of setting up email signatures in Outlook for Microsoft 365 and Outlook on the web.
Outlook for Microsoft 365
Follow the steps below to set up an email signature in the desktop Outlook 365:
Open the Outlook for PC app from the Start menu or from the taskbar.
In Outlook, click File > Options.
In the Outlook Options window select the Mail tab and click Signatures in the Compose messages section.
Note: Another way to start configuring your signatures is to open a New Email message, click Signature in the Include group and again Signatures.
In the Signatures and Stationery window, click New and provide a name for your signature.
Create your signature in the Edit signature section. Use available formatting tools to modify its appearance.
Note: The formatting tools offered in the Outlook signature editor are quite basic. If you wish to achieve a more sophisticated and polished design, you can use a free email signature generator to create an advanced signature template. Simply choose Outlook as the target email platform, select one of the many available templates, adjust it to your needs and there you go. Your signature is ready to be copied and pasted into the Outlook editor.
The Choose default signature section can be used to define which email account should get the signature (in case there is more than one email account set up in Outlook), and whether it should be added to new messages and/or replies/forwards. Once you are done, save changes by clicking OK.
In case you selected your signature to be treated as default for new messages, you will see it every time you compose a new email.
Note: If you didn’t select your signature as the default one, you will still be able to add it manually every time you write a new email. It will be available after clicking the Signature button in the Include group.
That’s all there is to it. If you wish to create more Outlook signatures, simply follow the steps from point 3 onwards. You can create as many of them as you need – they will appear on a list visible after clicking the aforementioned Signature button.
Outlook on the web
The steps required to configure email signatures in the ”Outlook 365” webmail client are a bit different than in case of the desktop app:
Open your Outlook on the web either by selecting the Outlook App in your Office home page, or by using this direct link.
Click the Gear icon in the top-right corner and select View all Outlook settings.
In the navigation pane on the left, go to Mail > Compose and reply. You can also use this direct link to reach the signature editor panel. Use the provided editor box to enter your signature text, apply formatting as well as to add images or links.
Note: If you wish to achieve a more refined appearance, you can use a free email signature generator with lots of advanced signature templates that you can fill in with all the necessary details and copy into the editor box in Outlook on the web.
The two drop-down menus under the signature editor let you decide whether the created signature should be added automatically to your new messages and replies/forwards respectively.
Note: It is possible to create and use multiple signatures for a single mailbox – similarly to the Outlook desktop client. Just click the New signature button after you have saved your first signature to create another one.
Once you are done, save changes and close the settings window.
If you select your signature(s) in one of or in both drop-down menus, it will appear in the compose message window as you type your email in the appropriate scenario. In case you left the menus’ default settings (No signature), you will still be able to add your signature manually while composing email.
Limitations of signatures set up by users
As you can see in the above guides, setting up a professional email signature is a fully manual process. From the company’s viewpoint, it comes with some limitations and risks:
If a company cares about their brand and wants to have unified look of their emails, the process needs to be repeated individually for or by everyone within the organization. It’s highly time-consuming, especially when you consider some less proficient users who will require support to properly apply their signatures. Not to mention the recurring efforts in case of any signature updates in the future.
The more users requiring signatures, the higher the risk of incomplete or outdated data, inconsistent design, missing legally required information (no disclaimers or company data).
Creating original, visually appealing (and working properly across different email clients and devices) signatures requires advanced HTML and CSS skills.
Nothing stops users from using wrong personal information or applying custom layout.
Being aware of those limitations, you may want to change the way email signatures are managed in your organization. Instead of leaving this task to users, many companies decide to manage email signatures centrally.
Central management of email signatures
Building and promoting a company’s brand is a continuous process and every employee interacting with customers or business partners needs to be seen as a brand ambassador. Email correspondence takes up a considerable part of that professional interaction, therefore email signatures should not be underestimated. They are a powerful way to convey the sender’s professionalism and tell the recipients whether the organization cares about its image.
Managing email signatures centrally ensures that they are kept under control and stay up-to-date, consistent in design and aesthetic and are personalized across the whole company. This way, email signatures can be carefully crafted (and implemented organization-wide) to send a strong message that helps the brand, promotes offers and supports the business.
It also allows for automation of a rather unexciting task, letting employees focus on their own work instead. Not to mention getting rid of issues connected to user carelessness or lack of technical skills.
Central management via Exchange Online
Exchange Online allows for central management of email signatures and disclaimers for the entire Microsoft 365 organization. It is possible to set up email signatures and legal disclaimers, which are added to email messages that enter or leave your organization. To achieve this, it is necessary to create a mail flow rule (with the Append the disclaimer action specified) that adds the required information to email messages. And since mail flow rules may include many different conditions and exceptions, it is also possible to create separate signature templates for different departments or even specific users.
However, the process might turn out to be troublesome for someone doing this for the first time. That is why we’ve prepared a short video guide explaining:
How to set up an email signature rule in the Exchange admin center.
Where to get the HTML code with Active Directory placeholders for the signature template.
How the global email signatures work from the user’s perspective.
What the limitations of signature rules are.
What tricks are possible to make the signature-adding-rule more useful.
Besides the Exchange admin center, it is also possible to achieve similar results using PowerShell and VBScript. The immediate drawback of these two methods is that the former only works for Outlook on the web (OWA) and the latter only for the desktop client.
Although those management methods are better than setting up all email clients separately, they are still not perfect. They come with a lot of limitations:
Lack of a dedicated, user-friendly HTML editor.
No automatic users’ photos in email signatures.
Delegation of signature management is impossible.
Signatures don’t show up directly under replies/forwards.
It’s not possible to use embedded images.
Signatures not visible while typing or in Sent Items.
Blank spaces in signatures in case of missing Active Directory values.
Central management via CodeTwo Email Signatures 365
While the above list seems a long one, overcoming all those limitations is easier than you might think. Although they cannot be fixed natively, a dedicated tool, such as CodeTwo Email Signatures 365, can solve all related issues and do much more for your Microsoft 365 email signatures.
The service reinvents handling email signatures in Microsoft 365 organizations:
Manage all signatures centrally You can use a single rule to apply personalized email signatures to everyone in a Microsoft 365 organization. Signatures are added to emails sent from every device and email client. You can adjust signature templates to look differently for chosen departments or users.
WYSIWYG HTML template editor Easily create advanced email signatures that work on all email clients and mobile devices, automatically convert your signatures into HTML, Plain Text and RTF formats, insert Active Directory placeholders, edit signature layout, change colors and fonts, insert images, logos or Microsoft 365 users’ photos, etc.
Signatures visible while composing emails and in user’s Sent Items folders CodeTwo Email Signatures 365 is the first email signature management software for Microsoft 365 that allows you to preview signatures that will be added in the cloud and to display signatures in users’ Sent Items folders across various devices and email clients.
Support for AAD fields and custom attributes Besides the fields available in Azure Active Directory, you can add custom attributes that are not available in Azure AD, or you can let your end users update their signature information themselves (without impact on the original values stored in AAD).
Embedded logos and images Add company logo and marketing banners as inline attachments. This way, images are not blocked by recipients’ email clients on receiving an email.
User photos in email signatures Add Microsoft 365 users’ photos to email signatures.
Microsoft 365 lets you set up email signatures and disclaimers for the entire company. The setup process includes the native mail-flow rule mechanism and the Append Disclaimer option. As a result, your company can centrally manage message footers, legal disclaimers, and email signatures in Microsoft 365. The problem is, the process includes a few steps which aren’t exactly intuitive if you are setting them up for the first time.
That’s why we’ve created a step-by step video guide, which shows you how to easily set up email signatures in the new Exchange admin center.
And if you’d like to learn more about central management of email signatures in Microsoft 365, read on.
How does it work?
Mail flow rules used to set up an organization-wide email signatures are applied to messages when they are sent from your Microsoft 365 organization. Here’s how it works in practice:
A Microsoft 365 admin sets up the email signature rule in the Exchange admin center.
Users send emails, but they do not see any signatures in their email client.
Exchange Online adds the signatures to the bottom of each email sent, substituting AD placeholders with the user’s personal data.
The recipient gets the email with the signature applied.
The video shows how to add a unified email signature to all emails, but you can adapt the solution to your needs. Since mail flow rules include many different conditions and exceptions, you can use them to create different signature templates for various teams or even specific users.
Why manage email signatures centrally?
So, how is this better than letting users set up email signatures on their own?
Building and promoting your brand is a continuous process. Each interaction with your customers, leads or partners is an opportunity to promote your products and services or simply make a good impression. Unifying your email signatures helps you make sure that no such opportunity is lost due to user carelessness or lack of technical skills.
Unless you leave the management of email signatures to your Marketing or Communications Team, you will not achieve consistent results. Some users will stray from the template you provide, while others will not set up the signature at all. There will also be those who encounter various technical problems during setup.
And even if all users manage to create their email signatures successfully, they will remain in charge of keeping everything up to date and updating them whenever needed. As a result, manual email signature setup becomes a major, extremely time-consuming distraction. Learn more
Managing email signatures in Microsoft 365 centrally allows you to turn every user into a brand ambassador. It also allows you to automate a rather uninteresting task, letting your employees focus on their own work instead.
The limitations of Microsoft 365 mail flow rules
Using mail flow rules to manage email signatures and disclaimers is better than letting users handle them on their own. The problem is, using mail flow rules to manage email signatures is not the perfect solution. There are numerous limitations of this native mechanism, for example:
Embedded images cannot be added to the signatures. This means that most recipients will not see any graphics when they first open your emails.
Signatures cannot be placed directly under the latest replies and forwards. They are applied at the very bottom of the conversation, which often renders them useless in longer email threads.
Users cannot see their signatures and disclaimers before they send their emails or in their Sent Items folders.
Outdated or empty AD fields cannot be replaced or omitted. As a result, if a user doesn’t have some attributes assigned, it is impossible to use a default value instead or remove the signaling phrase.
You can overcome the native Microsoft 365 limitations and do much more by managing your email signatures via a dedicated service such as CodeTwo Email Signatures 365. See the product’s page to learn more and test the service for free or watch this short video to learn why companies choose our software:
While most people consider vCards as obsolete (or have no idea what they are) others use it on a daily basis in their email communication. So what exactly are those vCards? Why use QR-coded vCards in email signatures? And how to do that? Read on to find out.
Email signature management – sounds a bit technical. Simply speaking, it is a perfect way to make sure every email sent outside the company is professionally branded and gets just the right promotional content. The problem is that corporate identity, marketing campaigns, promotional banners – those aspects are typically handled by the marketing team. At the same time, Microsoft 365 management, by default, is an IT-handled task. Global email signatures fall into this category. How is this a problem? Normally, central email signature management means that either:
The IT department gains additional responsibilities. Not only can it overburden IT, but it also means that marketing needs to outsource their own projects, instead of doing them on their own.
Marketing needs to get additional permissions to the Microsoft 365 tenant. This option might be even worse because it creates a considerable compliance risk. A wrong configuration of a mail-flow rule can cause problems with sending and receiving emails and force the admin to intervene in order to fix the mail flow.
That is why I would like to present a simple method to manage Microsoft 365 signatures behind IT’s back. Don’t worry, although the title sounds a bit like a hacking tutorial, there is no nefarious activity included. In fact, it is a win-win situation for both the marketing and IT team. The solution is defining access rights to the Microsoft 365 email signature tool. But before showing you how it should be done, I’ll first show you how the Microsoft 365 signature management looks like when the problematic, native, approach is taken.
Email signatures have always been there, along with problems connected with using them. Ensuring that all users have the same signature and disclaimer template requires some effort. Fortunately, Exchange 2010 enables central management of signatures and disclaimers. This option makes the task of unifying signatures much easier. However, you have to keep in mind that you cannot do everything using native tools only. Here is the list of drawbacks that Exchange 2010 centrally managed signatures have:
No WYSIWYG HTML editor. Graphic designers do not have to be skilled HTML code users. Therefore, it requires a highly skilled and versatile person to make genuine graphics and ensure that they display in a neat, appealing way. The email signature editor looks like that:
[Update]: This article was updated on March 23, 2021
In this article I discuss how to work with email signatures in the Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) webmail client. To learn how to set up server-level email signatures for an entire Microsoft 365 organization see this article.
1. Open your Outlook on the web either by clicking the Outlook App in your Office 365 home page, or by using this direct link.
2. Click the Gear icon in the upper-right corner and scroll down to select View all Outlook settings.