Product Review: Exclaimer Cloud – Signatures for Office 365

In this product review, we will have a look at the new Exclaimer Cloud – Signatures for Office 365 from the email signature specialists, Exclaimer.

Product: Exclaimer Cloud – Signatures for Office 365

Product Homepage: click here

Free Trial: click here

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Introduction

Email signatures have long played an important role for organizations. Businesses often automatically append signatures to emails, or have a policy mandating a certain style that generally resembles standard business cards e.g. company logo, contact details, etc. In addition to this, email disclaimers are often automatically appended that include legal statements mentioning a company’s liability, although it is still unclear how much legal weight these carry.

With an average employee sending dozens of emails a day, making up hundreds or even thousands a year, imagine what the advantages of using email signatures for branding and advertisements could be. Take a Marketing or Sales department for example. Their purpose is to get an audience to interact with a brand and engage with the sales process. With a professionally branded signature, every email a company sends out can provide vast marketing and business benefits.

In this review, we will explore Exclaimer Cloud – Signatures for Office 365 from Exclaimer, a powerful tool to help organizations create and manage corporate email signatures for Office 365.

Signatures for Office 365

Yes, Office 365 does provide the capability to create and apply HTML email signatures to some or all users in an organization. However, for non-technical users, email signatures are not easy to configure and the end results can often leave a lot to be desired.

Signatures for Office 365 is a cloud-based email signature management service from Exclaimer that helps organizations create, manage and control Office 365 email signatures in an easy and user-friendly way. We can have different signature templates for individual users or different departments, the service does not require users to have any HTML skills, signatures are applied to emails sent from any device, and all contact details are auto-completed from Active Directory (AD) or Azure AD.

As we will see, Signatures for Office 365 provides a wide choice of professionally designed email signature templates we can use as a starting point, complete with an intuitive editor that lets us customize key signature elements and choose what information to include. It allows for easy management of specific email signature elements including social media icons, promotional banners and legal disclaimers.

How does it work?

Signatures for Office 365 provides the same benefits as on-premises server-based email signature solutions, but within Microsoft’s cloud (Azure) environment. As it is hosted outside of your organization, no upfront investment in server hardware is required, meaning no additional IT administration or ongoing maintenance. It also does not require any client installations to operate.

The way Signatures for Office 365 works is very simple. At a basic level, you have to:

  1. Subscribe to the Exclaimer Cloud service;
  2. Create a Signatures for Office 365 subscription;
  3. Configure mail flow using connectors in Office 354;
  4. Create a Transport Rule in Office 365 to route emails to Exclaimer’s regional Azure servers;
  5. Design one or more email signatures;
  6. Signatures for Office 365, residing on the aforementioned Azure servers sees the incoming email, adds the appropriate signature and passes the email back to Office 365 for sending to the recipient.

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Figure 1

All emails are guaranteed to stay within the Microsoft Cloud environment as Exclaimer has Azure servers located in datacenters around the world. Emails are not sent out by Exclaimer as this is controlled by Office 365. All Signatures for Office 365 does is add the email signature we created and send the email back to Office 365. This way, no emails get blocked or marked as spam by Office 365 or the recipient.

Setting up Signatures for Office 365

As with any other review, this is not a setup or configuration guide so some steps have been skipped.

In order to test Signatures for Office 365, the first thing we need to do is sign-up for a 14-day free trial. When we sign up, a subscription gets created in the same region as our Office 365 tenant (in my case, Europe), and once we get a confirmation that our trial subscription is active, we are ready to proceed:

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Figure 2

With the subscription setup process complete, we now have access to the Exclaimer Cloud portal:

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Figure 3

Under Service health, we can keep up-to-date with general maintenance, updates/new features and any service alerts with the new Service Health page. We can also register for service notifications by email and/or SMS:

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Figure 4

The Overview tab, which is also the home screen, allows us to:

  • Access and manage our new Signatures for Office 365 subscription;
  • Access and manage our Exclaimer Cloud account details;
  • Add and remove payment methods.

The Account tab lets us update and manage our account details:

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Figure 5

The Payment method tab is where we can add or remove credit/debit card information for payment purposes:

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Figure 6

The Subscriptions tab is the important one for this review:

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Figure 7

From here, if we click Manage… we can see the details of our subscription, including the name we gave our subscription (which we can change), the Exclaimer Cloud product we are using, the Azure location chosen by the service and more:

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Figure 8

When we click Launch, either from the screen above or the one before, we are guided through a couple of simple steps to activate the connection between our Office 365 tenant and our Signatures for Office 365 subscription. This is known as data aggregation. During these steps, we grant permission for Signatures for Office 365 to read user data from our Office 365/Azure directory and maintain a replica in an Exclaimer Cloud database which is used when applying email signatures. This copy is automatically re-synchronized every 24 hours, so contact data is kept up-to-date.

All we need to do is specify our Office 365 domain name (with onmicrosoft.com):

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Figure 9

After clicking Next, we are taken to a page within the Microsoft Online environment. Here, we sign in to our Office 365 tenant with an Administrator account and grant permission for Signatures for Office 365 to read our directory data:

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Figure 10

Once we click Accept, we return to the Signatures for Office 365 setup page, which informs us that we have successfully granted permission for Signatures for Office 365 to read our Office 365/Azure directory data:

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Figure 11

In the next step, the setup wizard asks for the credentials of an account assigned to the Global or Exchange Administrator in our Office 365 tenancy. The credentials specified are used to automatically create the Transport Rule and Office 365 connectors required to route emails through the Exclaimer Cloud:

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Figure 12

Once we enter the credentials, we have the option to choose if we want to route every single message through the Exclaimer Cloud or only certain particular ones (we can change this later):

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Figure 13

The setup wizard will then configure the required Office 365 connectors and Transport Rule:

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Figure 14

When this is completed, we can start to create our first email signature:

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Figure 15

However, before doing so, let’s have a look at what the Transport Rule and these Office 365 connectors are. As already discussed, to enable Signatures for Office 365 to interact with Office 365, mail flow must be configured using connectors. This way, emails being sent from our Office 365 tenancy pass to Exclaimer’s Azure servers, get an email signature applied to them, are returned to Office 365 and then sent to the recipient(s).

To achieve this, the following are configured:

  1. A Transport Rule to redirect each message to the Exclaimer Cloud where a signature is added;
  2. A Send Connector that the Transport Rule above will use to send emails to the Exclaimer Cloud;
  3. A Receive Connector to accept emails returned by Signatures for Office 365.

If your organization uses Sender Policy Framework (SPF), you will need to add the following line to your record:

  • include:spf.exclaimer.net.

Once the setup is complete, we can navigate to our Office 365 admin portal and view these connectors for ourselves:

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Figure 16

The first connector, named Receive from Exclaimer Cloud, looks like this:

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Figure 17

While the second one, named Send to Exclaimer Cloud, looks like this (where we can see emails are sent to smtp.eu1.exclaimer.net over TLS):

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Figure 18

Finally, the Transport Rule is used to determine which emails to send to the Exclaimer Cloud:

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Figure 19

In the example below, we have one condition stating that the sender needs to be inside the organization (any internal user). We can also see some exclusions to the Rule, which are cases where we do not want a signature to be applied:

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Figure 20

Now we are ready to create our first email signature and test it!

Creating Signatures

Back on the Signatures for Office 365 main page, we have several options:

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Figure 21

Using the Import option, we can import a signature we have commissioned Exclaimer to build for us using their Email Signature Design Service:

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Figure 22

If we go to Settings, we can check the status of the data aggregation, navigate to comprehensive help guides, check when there was last a sync between our Office 365/Azure Active Directory and the Exclaimer Cloud or trigger a manual synchronization:

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Figure 23

Clicking on New signature takes us to the signature wizard. Signatures for Office 365 includes a wide range of signature templates with different layouts, content and themes. These templates are organized into categories, which we can browse as part of the signature creation process:

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Figure 24

After choosing our template design, the next step is to customize it using the following elements:

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Figure 25

When creating or changing email signatures in the Signatures for Office 365‘s user interface, we work within a window where all signature elements can be accessed via an options pane on the left-hand side of the screen. As we make changes, the signature is updated in real time on the preview screen on the right.

Using these signature elements gives us the flexibility to customize most aspects of our email signature. Elements can also be hidden if we do not want to use them. The only email signature aspect that cannot be changed is the general layout, but depending on which template we select, we can easily upload our own logo via the Logo element on the screenshot above.

We can then customize almost everything including the font, colors, text, social media icons and more. If we look at the Email element, for example, we can see that it is visible and that it will be displayed with the text Email: followed by the email address of the user sending the email. Fields within “{ }” mean that data will be used by Signatures for Office 365 checking its local copy of our Azure directory database for the user’s email address:

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Figure 26

Many AD attributes can be used in signatures such as city, country, department, display name, fax, first/last name, mobile, street address and job title.

The Social Media Strip is an excellent element to use. Nowadays, most businesses have a social media presence and with Signatures for Office 365, we can easily add social media links to our signatures. This gives our target markets another avenue to continue business relationships with us outside of traditional communication channels. We can add over 20 social media profiles such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. All we need to do is select which ones we want to add and specify the link to our page/profile:

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Figure 27

We can also add an email disclaimer which will be added just below our signature:

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Figure 28

Once we are happy with our email signature, we need to apply it to one or more recipients:

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Figure 29

To do this, we click on the Applies to: text above, which takes us to the following screen:

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Figure 30

From here, we can choose to apply the signature to:

  • Everyone in my organization – everyone will get the same email signature. This will depend on the Transport Rule we have configured. In my case, it will only apply to the Test user as only emails sent by this user will be forwarded to the Exclaimer Cloud. This is important as we can set the Transport Rule to forward every email to Exclaimer and then configure the service to apply different signatures to different users/groups:
  • Members of this group – using this option lets us specify a group that we have created in Office 365 and that has been synchronized to Signatures for Office 365;
  • Specific user or email address – using this radio button we can specify a particular username or email address.

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Figure 31

Once we have chosen who the signature needs to apply to and clicked OK, we are prompted to define the circumstances under which the email signature should be applied. We can choose to apply the email signature to defined users when they send emails to:

  • Anyone, whether they are internal or external to the organization;
  • At least one external recipient;
  • Only internal recipients.

If required, we can use the Add People/Groups button to apply the email signature to additional users and/or groups:

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Figure 32

We are now ready to test our first signature! So, let us compose a new email in Outlook Web App (or Outlook on the Web as it is now known…) and send it:

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Figure 33

Once we receive the email, we can check if the signature is as we expected it to be (notice the nice social media icons matching the logo’s color scheme):

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Figure 34

If we look at the email headers, we can see that, as configured, the email went from Office 365 to the Exclaimer Cloud where it received its signature, then back to Office 365 and finally to Gmail:

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Figure 35

It is as simple as that! We can now update our signature, apply it to everyone in the organization, create new ones, etc.

Reply Signatures

When we start a new email conversation, we want our signature to be as complete as possible with all our branding imagery, contact details, social media links, legal disclaimer and perhaps even an advertising banner too. Once the recipient has replied, any subsequent replies from us will start to appear cumbersome if we keep adding the full signature each time, as it happens so often with some email systems.

When Signatures for Office 365 receives an email for processing, it adds the first signature that is applicable. However, we can configure it to scan the body of the message and avoid re-adding the same signature if it is already present.

You can create two versions of your signature, the full one and the abbreviated (reply) one. You then configure the full signature to only ever be applied once per message, while the abbreviated one will appear on each subsequent reply.

To do this, we use Do not add this signature if the message body contains this text option as shown below:

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Figure 36

Here, a unique string of characters is used to check if a signature has already been applied to an email or not. This could be our Company Registration number, a piece of our office address, a short phrase from our legal disclaimer or some kind of text embellishment. If this string is detected, then the signature is not applied to the email.

Conclusion

Signatures for Office 365 is an excellent product that makes creating and managing email signatures for Office 365 a breeze.

The only thing I would like to see is it using the same clean and modern user interface as the Exclaimer Cloud main portal. Nonetheless, it gets the job done and it is easy and intuitive to use, and that’s what matters.

CloudComputingAdmin.com Rating: 4.7/5

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More information about Exclaimer Cloud – Signatures for Office 365 of download a free trial.

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