Most of your customers don’t walk around handing out their credit card information and home addresses to shady characters on the street.
In fact, most people these days wouldn’t even give their email addresses to those they don’t really know. Ditto on the Internet.
Before people will spend money, post comments, opt in to your mailing list, or take any action you want them to do when they arrive at your website, they need to feel safe.
Safety leads to trust, trust to loyalty, loyalty to purchases and shares.
Having the right legal language can get you to that place of trust with your visitors. It will also protect your profits.
Oh, and by the way, some of that legal language is required by law.
Here are five major elements your website needs in order to be legally legit.
It tells your customers exactly what personal information you collect from them and what you do with it.
It’s one of those elements required by law.
Federal law, and in some cases state law, governs the manner in which you interact with your website visitors.
Since we content marketers have opt-in forms on our websites — and since none of us have the ability to filter out visitors from California — we’re all required to have Privacy Policies.
When you tell your visitors what information you collect from them and how you use it, it gives them confidence that your site is a safe and trustworthy place to play, share, and buy.
This snappy list will get you started:
An explanation of the information you collect and what it is used for
How people can access and change any information previously collected and/or opt out of mailing lists
A statement about age restrictions — this one is super important and usually involves restricting the site to individuals who are either 13 and older or 18 and older
A statement about any “do not track” signals used
2. Terms and Conditions
What it is Terms and Conditions are a contract you make with the visitors to your site.
They set out the behaviors you expect from your visitors as well as what your visitors can expect from you.
Why your site needs one Because, as we lawyers like to say, Terms and Conditions save asses.
Solidly drafted Terms and Conditions can limit your overall legal liability, protect your valuable intellectual property, and help you collect payments on time.
Without Terms and Conditions, any disputes arising from the use of, or purchases from, your site will likely be more messy and expensive.
What it should contain As with Privacy Policies, the contents of your Terms and Conditions are dictated by your particular business.
Here’s a list of what your Terms and Conditions should (probably) contain (at the very least):
Where and how disputes will be handled (pick a state, any state …)
Limitations on warranty and damages
Intellectual Property policy, including how yours can and cannot be used and how you may use the intellectual property visitors post on your site
Your right to refuse service, including when and how you can exercise it
How purchases are processed, if you are a retailer
Refund policy (more on that below) and shipping policy, if applicable
How changes in your terms will be communicated
Disclaimers, if you give advice in certain fields like health, nutrition, finance, law, etc., including disclosures about any licenses you hold, or do not hold, within your field
Comment policy (more on that below)
3. Refund Policy
What it is Although a Refund Policy is most likely a part of your Terms and Conditions, it’s such an important little bugger that we will discuss it separately.
It might be wise to include your Refund Policy within your Terms and Conditionsand also post it separately so that folks can find it easily.
Why your site needs one Refunds are typically just a part of digital commerce life. So, it’s good to have a crystal clear policy that is conspicuous to your visitors.
Don’t want to offer refunds? That’s totally fine, unless you live in a place where it is, in many cases, mandatory (we’re looking at you, Mother Europe).
The important part is that you are clear about your Refund Policy. It will help protect you from headaches and potential legal issues.
What it should contain The most important thing is to make your policy as clear and detailed as possible.
If you don’t accept refunds at all, again, make it super clear.
If you do accept them, you’ll want to include at least these details in your policy:
Are there time limitations on returns?
What condition does the product need to be in for a return to be accepted?
Who pays for the return shipping (if applicable)?
What if items are damaged or arrive not as expected?
How long does it take you to process a return?
If a return is accepted, when can the customer expect to get his or her money back?
4. Comment Policy
What it is Your Comment Policy is also likely a part of your Terms and Conditions, but it might be important enough to list separately on your site as well.
This policy informs all of your visitors about how you deal with comments. Plain and simple.
Why your site needs one You can regulate your comments, so long as you do it consistently and without violating anti-discrimination laws.
Yup, as a business owner, you are capable of discrimination. If you don’t have a clear, uniformly applied Comment Policy that describes when, why, and how you delete comments, etc., you can be sued for it.
For the most part, you can decide what types of comments you will allow and what you will delete.
The major exception is that you cannot discriminate based on certain protected bases like race, religion, gender, etc.
There are more categories, and the lines between them can get blurry, but that’s a discussion for another time (over a glass of scotch, while wearing bow ties).
When in doubt, consult a lawyer.
What it should contain Your Comment Policy should answer questions like:
What type of comments will you delete?
Whose judgment governs whether they will be deleted? (Likely yours.)
Is there an appeal policy for deleted comments?
5. Copyright Notice
What it is Your Copyright Notice makes your visitors aware that your content is legally yours and they do not have the right to use it without your permission.
Why your site needs one A Copyright Notice, though not required, is a good way to deter visitors from “borrowing” your material.
In fact, having a Copyright Notice and a general “Here’s how you may or may not use my material” policy conspicuously posted on your site will save you a lot of time, money, and heartache in the long run.
What it should contain The Copyright Notice itself should contain the: