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April 5, 2010

Do Your Website Legal Documents Position You for Marketing Success?

Website legal contracts, website legal forms, and website documents as positioning statements for marketing purposes? You’ve got to be kidding, right?

That’s the typical reply I get when I advise clients regarding website legal compliance. They’re aware of the critical need to manage their legal exposure, particularly after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guides went into effect on December 1, 2009.

They’re not aware of how these website documents also make a positioning statement – either favorably or unfavorably – to their potential customers and joint venture partners.

Two Kinds of Websites

In my experience helping webmasters update their websites for website legal compliance, I see two kinds of websites. It’s really easy to spot them and to see the difference between the two kinds of websites.

  • Serious websites – websites whose webmasters intend to operate them as serious ecommerce businesses; their webmasters design and operate these websites consistent with sound SEO, navigation, and marketing principles. They are in it for the long term, and are committed to doing it right.
  • Hobby websites – websites whose webmasters, regardless of intentions, actually operate their websites as a kind of hobby; although these ecommerce sites may make some money, their webmasters either do not have the time or otherwise are not able or willing to commit to incorporating sound SEO, navigation, and marketing principles that are essential for long term success.

Both of these types of websites have the same legal compliance requirements, and both should be updated for legal compliance by their webmasters for purposes of managing their legal exposure.

Webmasters of serious websites, however, have a more strategic reason for maintaining website legal compliance. As many of them are now discovering, maintaining website legal compliance can position their websites favorably to their potential customers and joint venture partners.

Savvy Customers

Customers are more savvy these days. One of the most critical concerns of both individual consumers and businesses that are your potential customers is privacy and the related issue of data security.

Prior to 2004, the typical website privacy policy contained trite statements like “we respect your privacy”, and little else.

Beginning in 2004, website privacy policies began to conform to the standards set by the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003 (OPPA) which became effective on July 1, 2004. These standards require, at a minimum, that your privacy policy describe:

  • how information is collected from website visitors,
  • the categories of information collected,
  • how and for what purposes this information is shared with others, and
  • how personal information may be updated by users.

Since 2004, based in part on lawsuits brought by the FTC and their related settlements, additional issues are now covered in website privacy policies, and they include:

  • the passing of third-party cookies (for example, by Google Analytics),
  • whether the website engages in behavioral advertising (for example, Google’s Adsense),
  • adequate notification and disclosure of online behavioral tracking activities, and
  • disclosure of personal information access by third-party service providers.

An up-to-date privacy policy will exhibit these features, and more. For this reason, it’s relatively easy to distinguish an up-to-date privacy policy from one that doesn’t pass muster.

The take-away: given that savvy potential customers can easily evaluate your privacy policy, and that they prefer doing business with someone they trust, you should not be surprised that an up-to-date privacy policy will position your website as serious website – one to be trusted with sensitive customer information.

Prudent Joint Venture Partners

Similar logic applies to potential joint venture partners.

Successful webmasters and web marketers look for joint venture partners that can make them money. However, they also tend to do business prudently – with serious websites, not hobby websites.

Ecommerce websites that are regarded as serious businesses will have some combination of these legal documents and website legal forms:

  • FTC Guides Disclosure Policy,
  • Legal Page,
  • Terms of Use,
  • DMCA Notice,
  • DMCA Registration Form,
  • Privacy Policy,
  • Service Provider Privacy-Security Agreement,
  • Customer Agreement (click-wrapped SaaS, Membership, Subscription, Account Agreement), and
  • Red Flag Identity Theft Policy.

Most of these website documents and legal forms should be posted on the website, and therefore would be visible to any potential joint venture partner checking out your website.

The take-away: it’s relatively easy for a potential joint venture partner to evaluate the degree to which you qualify as a serious website merely by checking out your website legal documents and legal forms.

Conclusion

Website legal compliance is now a significant factor in evaluating serious websites, both by potential customers and joint venture partners. While legal compliance has always been necessary to manage liability exposure, it should become an important factor in positioning your website for success. Is your website making the right positioning statement?

This article is provided for educational and informative purposes only. This information does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such.


Leading Internet, IP and software lawyer Chip Cooper has automated the process of drafting website legal contracts, website legal forms, and website documents online. Use his free online tool – Website Documents Determinator — to determine which documents your website really needs for website legal compliance. Discover how quick, easy, and cost-effective it is to draft your website contracts at http://www.digicontracts.com/.

4 Responses to “Do Your Website Legal Documents Position You for Marketing Success?

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    avatar bizlegal says:

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