What is “Impressum” and what can we learn from it?

If you’ve ever been to the website of a German company, you might have noticed the “Impressum” link. This is a legal requirement in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (an area I only recently learned is also referred to as “DACH”; you learn something new every day). The Impressum page must contain information about the publisher, including their name and address, telephone number or e-mail address, trade registry number, VAT number, and other information. Here’s how Germany’s largest company does it.

There’s no equivalent in most other countries, so it’s quite amusing when German website owners try to translate “Impressum” on their foreign-language sites, such as English ones. “Legal Notice” and “Corporate Information” are good descriptions, but many companies (such as VW) use the word “Imprint”, which doesn’t really make any sense.

impressum

Now, a page full of corporate information may seem to most of us to be about as exciting as terms and conditions, but I noticed that the number of views on Impressum pages is quite high. Curious to know why, I asked one of our lovely clients in Germany, who said that web users there all know the fastest way to find a company’s contact details on a web site is to scroll straight to the bottom and find the tiny “Impressum” link.

What an indictment that is of website design in general. Displaying contact details is one of the most fundamental things a business website has to do. If visitors can’t get to that information instantly, with one click and without hunting for the link, you’ve let an idiot web designer prioritise form over function.

German web users have subconsciously worked out that if you want a company’s contact details, on average it’s quicker not to hunt around for the link but to scroll straight to the bottom of the page and find the legal stuff. What’s more, they know that the contact details will be presented there clearly and accurately. On a “contact us” page they’ll just as likely be forced into a method of contacting the company which is not what they want, such as a form they have to fill in.

The lesson to us all? On a corporate website, have a link simply labelled “Contact Details”, at the bottom of every page (and at the top on the home page, in my opinion). This should lead to a page which simply and accurately gives all of the company’s contact information, without any further clicking. Being forced to publish their contact emails or telephone numbers hasn’t done German companies any harm.

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