Not long ago, I was asked by a client if the terms and conditions on the websites they visited, and their own, were legally binding. It’s a fair question. The website terms and Conditions (or terms of use) seem to be a document that users largely gloss over. The short answer – is yes; they are legal and necessary.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated, of course. Website terms and conditions set the rules that people must abide by when using your website and need to be read in conjunction with a  privacy policy. Well-drafted website terms and conditions will also contain disclaimers that protect you and your business by stating what your website does and does not offer in terms of service, advice, content and products.

Websites include a wealth of information, including your precious intellectual property, which you must protect. Intellectual property can be unique website copy, images, products, service structure, course names, videos, audio, and downloadable PDFs you create for your business. Website terms and conditions identify intellectual property and educate the user about your ownership and permitted use of any intellectual property on your website. In addition, the terms and conditions make it clear that the use of your website is only permitted according to the terms of use. So it pays to get the terms and conditions right.

Are your website terms and conditions any good?

How do you know if website terms are well drafted, and why would you care if no one reads them? Website terms and conditions seem unimportant until they are. When your website copy, design, or images are copied or downloaded and shared or used without your permission, your terms of use are critical in managing these issues and enforcing your ownership rights.

TIP:  Well-drafted terms need to specifically address your business and your website content. For example, website terms and conditions do not require tick box signing or acceptance. However, they state the rules of engagement for accessing and using the site, much like when you enter an art gallery,  gym or private and public venues. Without the terms to lay the boundaries of behaviour and conduct, there is no platform for negotiation or enforcement if there are none in place in the first place.

Importantly it helps to view the website terms and conditions as an opportunity to educate visitors about your business and your website. So often, this is a missed opportunity because businesses gloss over the importance of this document and fail to ensure that it is drafted as an accurate representation of their business. Ensuring website terms have been drafted to be in sync with your business and website and that they are fair, legally robust and easy to read makes it easier for visitors to comply and for businesses to enforce should the need arise.

One big Mistake to Avoid with website terms and conditions

Website terms and conditions are written for all visitors to the website. However, visitors that become customers or clients by purchasing a service or a product or engaging in some other commercial relationship other than as a visitor will require separate terms, which should be placed on the checkout page if they are buying a service or a product.

A big mistake to avoid is putting your terms of sale (e-commerce terms), online course terms, coaching contract, or service agreement in your website terms of use.

Why? Because your clients and customers, when they become clients and customers, expect to find these terms at checkout, NOT by wading through pages and pages of extended website terms of use that are meant only for visitors who visit and leave.

What is worse is confusing customers with information unrelated to the product, service or course they are purchasing by placing the website terms of use as the tick box agreement at checkout.

TIP: The big tip is to keep your terms for different activities and transactions on your website separate. 

Terms and conditions that are placed where visitors, customers and clients expect to find them, i.e. at the point of sale, will be far more effective for your business because:

  • they will make better sense to your customer and client
  • they address the activity, i.e. sale or sign up only; they will be shorter and easier to read
  • they will be transparent terms that will protect the transaction and the sale,
  • they will be easier to enforce if necessary
  • they will provide a platform for negotiation that is unambiguous and drafted for fairness
  • your client will appreciate having terms that relate to what they are buying as opposed to everything else you are doing on your website.

The website terms and conditions (and your Privacy Policy) must be placed in a prominent place on your website in visible font and as separate heading links. On the footer of each page of your website is where visitors expect to find the website term of use and the Privacy Policy. Other terms such as terms of sale, e-commerce policy, online course or program terms, and subscription terms need to be written specifically for that purchase or actively and placed as a tick box agreement at the point of purchase.

If you have “borrowed” your website terms and conditions from another website or neglected to add this essential legal tool to your website, it is time to take action. In many cases, for small businesses, a well-drafted legal template will suit your needs. Purchase yours via my legal templates shop ASAP.