If you’ve read Carly’s excellent tutorial on how to start a blog, then you know there is a lot that goes into getting up and running.
But one of the things most often overlooked is making sure your blog is compliant with the law and also protected. You don’t want to go through all that work only to lose your hard-earned money to fines, penalties, or lawsuits.
In this post, I’m going to break down what you need to know to make sure your site is legally protected.
Disclaimer: While I am an attorney, I am not your attorney and nothing on this post is to be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship. Additionally, nothing in this post or resources made available are to be considered legal advice. Content and resources provided are meant for educational and informational purposes only. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failure to act related to the content. If you need specific legal advice consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.
Complying With Privacy Laws
Internationally, the most well-known privacy law is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it rocked the blogging world when it took effect in May 2018.
Even if you’re brand new….
Why? For example, if you’ve followed Carly’s tutorial then she’s explained how to install and use Google Analytics.
Google Analytics collects data, that data could be anonymous but it’s still data you need to explain that you collect it as well as why and how you do.
Another example of even new bloggers collecting data is if they allow comments on their site or set up a contact form.
If you’re being smart and starting your email list early, then that is another instance of personal information (aka data) that your site is collecting.
You can start to see how many ways even a simple site can be collecting data.
GDPR came about as many companies had data breaches but weren’t reporting them for years, the law wanted to give control back to consumers. It aims to let consumers control how their data is collected and used, as well as gives them the right to be forgotten.
This means that a big part of GDPR is how bloggers and business owners can be granted consent to collect the data. There are a few different ways consent can be granted and if you want to dig into the nitty-gritty I recommend checking out my full GDPR Guide.
Generally speaking, if you aim to comply with GDPR, chances are you’ll be in compliance of most other privacy laws, but you’ll want to check your specific jurisdiction to see if there is anything else you need to do to comply.
Related: How do Blogs Make Money? Basic Blog Monetization Strategies
Complying with Endorsement Requirements
In her tutorial, Carly explains the 4 main ways that blogs make money and two of them require proper disclosures or you risk being fined for the amount of income you earned.
Both affiliate marketing and sponsored content require you to disclose the monetary relationship you have with the service or product BEFORE the action is taken that earns you the money.
For sponsored posts, that means the disclosure must be at the top of the post.
For affiliate marketing, the disclosure must be before the link but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the top of the post.
Though keep in mind a sidebar placed disclosure won’t work since many people use mobile phones to access sites and on mobile, the sidebar gets pushed below the content.
While it may seem annoying to have to disclose – the reason for it is to fully inform the reader what’s going on if you’re being financially compensated there could be a bias toward the product (even if there isn’t bias, the reader has the right to know).
It’s all about being open, honest, and transparent with your audience. All good things in order to build an engaged audience.
That being said the disclosure needs to be written in a way that your audience will understand. Remember, not everyone knows what affiliate marketing is. If your audience does then go ahead and use that term, otherwise, use different language.
Bottom line is if you’re earning money from it and it’s not obvious you need to disclose it.
To get this right from the start, use a plugin like ad inserter to make it easy to insert the disclosures on the appropriate posts.
Related: How to Install WordPress Plugins (&Warnings)
Protecting Your Site From Liability
No one ever wants to be sued. Limiting your liability with disclaimers and a set of rules for using your site (typically referred to as terms and conditions) can help to limit your liability, thus protecting your business.
This is especially important if you’re writing from a place of authority. For example, my disclaimer at the beginning of the post explained that while I am an attorney, this isn’t legal advice.
I wanted to make sure you understood that this post is meant to help you understand the topic, which can make asking questions to an attorney easier when you seek specific legal advice.
Professional disclaimers are just one example of how to protect your site.
If you sell products or post income reports then earnings and testimonial disclaimers are a must! You have to explain that you can’t guarantee others will have the same results.
You’ll likely also want to set up terms and conditions aka the rule of your site. It would include things like:
- your refund policy,
- the jurisdiction where any disputes must be settled,
- if you require arbitration,
- what sort of licensing are you giving people that buy your products (personal or commercial use), etc.
Terms and Conditions are saying: my site, my rules (so long as they aren’t contrary to the law), if you don’t like it you can leave.
While not everyone may require certain disclaimers or terms and conditions when they start, if you plan to sell products or services, then eventually you probably need both.
Your Blog Isn’t the Only Place You Need to Comply
As you probably know, there is a lot more that goes into blogging than just your blog, there are things like the emails you send your list and social media posts. Make sure your compliance spills over to those areas as well.
In social media posts, you can disclose endorsement relationships with a simple “#ad” but it again it must be before the link.
Similarly, affiliate disclosures in email are best before the link (required in the US, but could be slightly different elsewhere).
Related: Affiliate Marketing: how to ACTUALLY make money with it
Where to Get Website Policies
There are three different ways to get website policies for your site:
- Hire a law firm to craft custom policies to suit your specific needs
- Get templates written by an attorney in your country
- DIY it (though unless you have a legal background this is probably the least effective)
Hire A Law Firm
This is the most expensive option, but it’s also the best. You’ll get custom policies for your site. However, I can understand if new bloggers can’t yet afford this option. In which case you should move to option two.
However, once your blog gets to the point where you can hire an attorney, do it, it’s worth the investment knowing you’ve really covered all your bases.
Get Templates Written by an Attorney in Your Country
Knowing that many can’t afford to hire them for custom work, some attorneys (like myself) sell templates at a more affordable rate. They have the benefit of being written by an attorney covering a lot, but lack customization.
Meaning you’ll need to go through and customize it to suit your needs, some templates are easier to do this with than others.
My goal is to make it as easy as possible. With the templates I sell, you just fill out a form and it prepopulates your information into the template. Then you watch a video I’ve made that explains each section of the template making it easier for you to customize.
Whether you get templates from me (a US-based attorney) or somewhere else, they are sure to be better than doing it yourself….
DIY Your Policies
While free to do, unless you have a legal background, you don’t know what you don’t know and you could easily miss something.
You could endeavor to do a ton of research and craft some good policies, but I’d suggest you to look at the return on the investment of your time, could you earn more than buying templates would cost?
Getting website policies up on your site not only helps you to avoid looking like a newbie blogger but also helps to protect your blog as a business and comply with the law.
The best place to get policies would be from a law firm that crafts custom policies, but if you can’t afford that getting templates written by an attorney are the next best thing.
Liz Stapleton is a lawyer and blogger. A licensed attorney since 2012, and a blogger since 2014, she has spoken at both virtual and in-person conferences, including FinCon, on the importance of legally protecting your blog and business. She is the founder and voice behind Less Debt, More Wine – a personal finance site, and ElizabethStapleton.com, where she helps readers earn more money while making sure they are protecting themselves and their businesses legally. If you want to learn more about the legal side of blogging, check out her free workshop – 7 Things You Need to Know to Legally Protect Your Blog.