Electronic signatures are key to getting contracts agreed without having to meet in person. But what are the different ways to make it happen?
Getting contracts signed online is a key process change that enables commercial growth. But what are the different ways to sign documents online, and what are the pros, cons, and alternatives of doing so?
This page explains the various ways to sign contracts using legacy platforms like Word, Google Docs, and PDF, as well as why this process can be particularly painful without a native solution like Juro's.
Confused about which tools to use to manage contracts?
For legal and business teams seeking to agree and manage lots of contracts, the contract workflow typically involves up to five different tools - Word, email, eSignature, shared drives and Excel.
Even if you do manage to add an eSignature directly into your Word document or PDF, you'll still need to move between different tools to get a contract across the line.
Juro's all-in-one contract automation platform enables you to agree and manage contracts in one unified workspace. That means no more moving between different systems and files to get contracts signed. To find out more, hit the button below - otherwise, read on.
Use the links below to navigate this guide, or keep scrolling to continue reading.
What is electronic signature?
An electronic signature is the use of a digital impression, markup or element to signify that the person 'e-signing' agrees to the terms in the contract they’re signing. It’s distinct from what was historically called ‘wet signature’, where parties to a contract had to physically make a mark on a paper contract with a pen.
This modern approach to contract signing has been adopted in most of the world, and electronic signatures can be used to sign documents in various formats. Most commonly this includes PDFs, Word documents, spreadsheets, and of course various native browser-based contract platforms, like Juro, where contracts can be signed in seconds.
Why use electronic signatures?
Using a digital signature instead of a wet signature means that parties don’t have to be in the same room to agree a contract - it can be done over email, via mobile technology, or in browser using a contracting platform.
Firstly, it’s much more convenient. If the platform you’re using is intuitive, then the signing process itself should be faster, involving just one or two clicks. As they are digital artefacts, they should also have a timestamp, making them more official and traceable.
You can also automate various other actions to accompany the signature - for example, when a contract is fully signed in Juro, all parties are automatically emailed a copy.
Securely eSign on any device with Juro's native eSignature👆
There are security advantages too. As these signatures are securely stored in the cloud, they’re less likely to get lost, damaged, or accessed improperly - unlike with wet ink. This is because strict certification, security standards and audit trails all help to create uniform standards that businesses and individuals can trust.
Not to mention how much more efficient they are to use. Customers moving contracts online into Juro often first decide to do so due to the painful manual processes their contracts have endured to date, like hunting through folders and filing cabinets for hard-copy contracts.
Life’s too short - and companies can recognize significant benefits by moving to digital signatures. Dropbox estimates that businesses can improve turnaround times by 80 per cent and completion rates by 26 per cent.
Who benefits from eSignature?
Authorized signatories, who likely have several documents to sign each day - as the business scales, and contract volumes rise, being able to eSign securely from any device, at any time, will be a huge time-saver. In many cases this signatory is part of the legal team, or is a senior member of the team - both of whom are short on time.
The counterparty, who at the signing stage is keen to establish this new working relationship. Having to print, sign, and scan a contract slows down momentum and can be frustrating - especially if the counterparty doesn't own a printer, or a scanner!
Sales teams, who benefit indirectly from eSigning. The quicker and easier it is to get a signature on the dotted line, the faster sales reps can close deals and get their commission.
How do you electronically sign a document?
There are lots of electronic signature providers on the market, including but not limited to HelloSign, AdobeSign, SignNow and other DocuSign alternatives. Most offer basic signing functionality, with low entry-level pricing.
By comparison, contract automation platforms like Juro differ in that they cover the entire contract lifecycle in more depth - from automating the creation of contracts at scale, through approval workflows, in-browser negotiation, native eSignature, and post-signature tracking and analytics. This is a better choice for mid-market or larger teams that have higher contract volumes and need a richer feature set.
It’s also possible (but not ideal) to add a signature within the native document format itself. Let’s look at how you do this, and the alternatives, for the three most common formats: PDF, Word and Google docs.
How to add electronic signatures to a PDF
PDF is a document format that’s understood by lots of different software platforms and workflows. As such, there are lots of different ways to include eSignatures on this type of document, depending on the software you’re using to read or amend it. Four examples of this include:
How to add a signature using MacOS
When opening PDFs on a laptop or desktop mac, they tend to open in Preview by default. To add a signature, choose ‘Tools’ from the menu, then ‘Annotate’, and then ‘Signature’.
Within this menu you can choose to ‘Manage signatures’, where it allows you to add different signature options to the menu by drawing them with the trackpad or mouse. Select the signature you want and it will be added, allowing you to where drag it to the right place and save the now signed agreement.
However, it’s worth noting that since this is simply a drawing of a signature, it won’t have some of the necessary security properties that businesses want when concluding contracts, like authentication.
How to add a signature using iOS
To digitally sign a PDF on an iPhone or iPad, open the desired document using the ‘Files’ app, and then hit the ‘Plus’ button (+) in the bottom right to annotate it. From here you can choose ‘Signature’ and it will be created.
You can also add or amend your saved signatures here, using the device’s touchscreen to sign. However, like when using MacOS, this lacks the security desired for most transactions, as there’s no audit trail attached.
What makes an eSignature valid?
But what does make them valid? Well, there are a few factors, including:
A timestamp ⏰. When a contract is fully signed, a digital timestamp can mark the agreement and make it easier for legal teams to keep track of dates.
Security🔒. Signatures that are capable of being stored in the cloud are naturally less likely to be damaged or lost than a hard copy contract.
An audit trail🔎. Being able to open a document and know exactly who signed, and when, is essential for tracking purposes. With native tools, you can also access a full audit trail of negotiations and edits, helping your business manage version control.
How to add a signature using Android
To sign PDFs on an Android device you’ll need to download an app, like Adobe Reader or SignEasy.
Although, like the previous examples, this would likely fail to meet certification standards, as the signature won’t contain an audit trail.
How to add a signature using Adobe Acrobat
Adobe has historically been an easy way to get simple PDFs signed. Simply hit the fountain pen icon in the top menu and choose ‘Fill and sign’ to enable rudimentary signature features.
As Acrobat is part of the Adobe offering, it’s powered by AdobeSign. Unfortunately, this means that it’s so robust that it lacks any useful contract collaboration, automation or management functionality, which can hold legal teams and those they enable back.
What are the benefits?
That said, it’s common for individuals to want to esign a document in PDF format. This is often the case because:
They are universal - most common software packages can handle them, and they can be opened and read on almost any device.
They are portable (that’s what the P stands for) - meaning they’re easy to send and attach via email, or other messaging services like WhatsApp or Facebook messenger.
What are the pain points?
However, while they are a good baseline for the most basic documents that need to be signed, they do have drawbacks when it comes to handling contracts at scale. These disadvantages include:
Lots of devices and software can handle PDFs, but that doesn’t mean they handle this document type well.
Looking at the examples above, the majority of signature options are just digital drawings, so won’t meet the robust security standards. This is distinct from products that deliver an audit trail.
Beyond the signature, the options above really offer no functionality around the contract process itself - once a signature is added, will counterparties automatically be notified? Will they be automatically emailed the contract? How will you track key data in the contract, like renewal dates? How will you store the contract and search within it?
As it’s a static document created from unstructured data, it’s difficult to search, making it hard to know what’s in the contract once it’s been saved somewhere.
Alternatives to adding signatures to PDFs
Juro is a free contract automation tool that enables you to create contracts from templates by navigating a natural language Q&A. You can then collaborate on contracts, get them approved, negotiate them, send them for signing, securely eSign, store and track contracts - all without ever leaving the browser.
This will enable you to manage contracts across all the devices and platforms listed above, but with a rich feature set that helps you achieve your contracting goals quickly - and for no cost. Sign up for a free Juro account here.
How to add electronic signatures to a Word document
Word is still the default currency for more than 99 per cent of documents, and therefore for contracts too. Although it’s possible to insert a signature in Word, it’s fairly basic.
With the cursor select where you want your signature to appear, from the ‘Insert’ tab, choose ‘Text, then ‘Signature List’, then finally ‘Microsoft Office Signature Line’. You can set up the signature at this point, by entering the signing party’s name.
If you’re receiving the document and want to sign it, simply right-click the signature line and click ‘Sign’.
What are the benefits?
Word is the global currency for documents in general and has various advantages. These include that:
Almost everyone can use and understand it, so in some ways, it makes sense to try and handle contracts there.
There’s almost no chance that your contract recipient won’t know how to open a Word document.
They’re also very portable, making them easy to send via email or messaging services.
What are the pain points?
However, whilst everyone can use Word, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for all use cases. Much of the functionality of Word is still aiming to reproduce the hard-copy experience in digital format, which creates uncollaborative static files. Because of this, contracts, in particular, face several challenges with regard to Word:
Word documents are uncollaborative. If people want to change the content of the contract during negotiations, they have to redline it using tracked changes, which always leads to multiple versions, version control issues, confusion and friction.
Word documents are static files, meaning they are difficult to search within, and to integrate with other systems as part of a data pipeline.
Word documents lack most of the wider features needed for contracts, like approval workflows, negotiation, mass actions, analytics, and frictionless eSigning.
Alternatives to adding a signature in Word
If you want the rich editing features of Microsoft Word, but need more robust and expansive features to handle the specific needs of contracts, then Juro offers an in-browser editor that was custom-built for contracts.
You can create beautifully formatted documents, just like in Word, but your document is browser-native, collaborative, and has access to all the features of a contract automation platform. The contract exists as structured data, rather than as a static document, so it's searchable and can integrate with other systems too.
It’s free to set up a Juro account - try it here and set up a contract of your own, before sending it for secure eSigning with the platform’s native electronic signature solution.
How to add electronic signatures to a Google doc
Google docs are considerably more collaborative document format than the legacy platforms we’ve just discussed. They’re browser-based, built from structured data, and they allow people to collaborate on the same document at the same time.
However, the signing functionality in a Google doc is limited. Without using any third-party software, the only way to do it is to select ‘Insert’ from the menu, choose ‘Drawing’, then in the subsequent screen, navigate to ‘Scribble’ and draw an approximation of a signature.
Needless to say this isn’t anywhere near as secure and recognised as more advanced electronic signature solutions are, though.
To create a certified signature electronically, you’ll need an add-on, like the tools available from DocuSign, or other alternatives.
What are the benefits?
Google docs represent an inherently collaborative way of working - the format is flexible, and easy to send and share, much like Juro. This makes it easier for teams to work together on agreements, with some basic features which support some degree of collaboration, like comments.
This is definitely an improvement compared to the online signing experience for static files, but it still has it’s limitations.
What are the pain points?
The native functionality in Google docs doesn’t really allow for valid digital signatures. You can use a third-party add-on, but if you want a free add-on to make Google docs passable for contracts, why not just use a free tool that’s purpose-built for contracts instead?
Do electronic signature solutions make it easier to sign contracts online?
Adding an electronic signature to contracts to static files is an unintuitive process. It’s manual and uncollaborative, meaning friction often occurs at the signing stage.
Legal teams and those they enable need a better, more efficient way to sign contracts electronically. Fortunately, legal teams no longer need to labour over adding binding electronic signatures to static files, as you can escape this painful process by using a contract automation tool like Juro.
Frequently asked questions
What is meant by electronic signature?
Electronic signatures are another way to provide consent or approval for contracts and other documents, without needing to provide a wet ink signature. It’s the use of a digital markup or impression to signify that the individual creating it has agreed to the terms of an agreement, much like an ordinary signature but in a digital form.
How do you create an electronic signature?
There are numerous ways to create a signature electronically, including by inserting a signature in a PDF, Word or Google docs file. However, as this post has discussed, these signatures aren’t as sophisticated or secure businesses need them to be. So using an eSignature tool, like the one provided by Juro, is often a better option.
What is accepted as an electronic signature?
Any electronic process that confirms and communicates an individual’s agreement to certain terms can constitute an eSignature.
However, like with handwritten signatures, the signatory must demonstrate that they clearly intended to esign the agreement for it to be accepted. This is usually by inserting a signature in the appropriate place in a digital document.
Certain jurisdictions will also have more specific requirements about what makes them valid. Read more about where eSignatures are accepted and with what criteria.
Is DocuSign considered an electronic signature?
Yes. DocuSign is one example of an electronic signature provider. However, there are lots of DocuSign alternatives available if you’re looking for a cheaper or more rounded solution.
Get to yes faster, with Juro's legally-binding advanced electronic signature that works on any device.
With Juro, users can set up signatories and send contracts for signing in seconds. Juro's native electronic signature is safe, secure, and optimized for any device - including mobile. Plus you have access to all the features you need to manage the whole contract lifecycle from end to end in your browser.
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