Is your website ready for prime time?

Medieval monk sitting at a writing desk

Time to get to work!
Since we’re all at home trying to figure out how to make money while away from the office or, even worse, bricks-and-mortar store, this is a good time to think about updating your website. Many businesses with an online component are holding on pretty well under the circumstances, and some are even thriving, possibly at your expense. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

  1. Update your information. Ok, this one is pretty obvious, but it’s important that people know how to get in touch with you, whether you’re open or not, and how they can still buy your services. If they weren’t able to buy your products online, that probably needs to change. Strictly speaking, that’s not a legal issue, but it’s probably the most important issue you have to deal with if you’re going to keep your business afloat!
  2. Update your Terms and Conditions (or Terms of Use). No matter what you call them, your terms of service lay down the ground rules for your online presence, so it’s critical that they are binding on your customers and that they accurately spell out what you are and are not responsible for. If you don’t have one, you need one, especially if customers can order products or services via your website. This is important, so there will be more detail in a later post, but for now just make sure you have one!
  3. Update your Privacy Policy. There was a time when privacy policies, like terms and conditions, were optional, but now it’s pretty much a must-have. Like terms of use, there are many different privacy policies to be found online, it should accurately state your real policies and processes, so yes, you’ll have to read and revise it accordingly. Unfortunately, privacy policies, even more than terms of use, need to be customized for your audience under state, federal and international law, so if you are selling financial services, or targeting children, or Europeans, or selling the data of California residents you’ll need to customize your privacy policy accordingly. We’ll deal with the alphabet soup that is privacy policies (or “statements”) under the GDPR, CCPA, and other laws later, but for now you still need one.
  4. Register a DMCA Designated Agent. There’s a lot wrong with copyright law these days but, for website owners, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) isn’t one of those. Basically, if you follow a few simple rules and procedures you can be sure that you won’t be held liable for copyright infringement by a contributor to your website. That’s any contributor, from the one-time guest post to a regular contributor or even customers who upload photos and other content to your website. I’ll outline those DMCA rules separately, but to start with you need to register a DMCA agent with the United States Copyright Office. It’s very easy, very cheap, and could save you a ton of money if it’s ever needed. A DMCA notification and takedown policy on your website is a good idea, but not strictly necessary. You can even put it in your terms of use if you’d like. As for those rules, I’ve covered those in a separate article, but you really won’t need them unless and until you receive your first notice, so for now just get yourself registered.
  5. Improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To generalize wildly, the ADA mandates that all “places of public accommodation” be made accessible for the disabled. Unfortunately, it’s very unclear how that applies to websites, but given the number of lawsuits filed under the ADA in recent years you pretty much have to assume it does. While there’s no black-letter law on what constitutes compliance with the ADA, the general consensus is that website owners need to comply with a standard called WCAG 2.0 AA. While that standard is way too complex to outline here, and there’s no single tool to make you website compliant, you can start with a few simple tasks like making sure there’s alternative text for all images, adding text for any videos or audio presentations, adding text for form labels so it’s easy to tell what goes in each field, and making sure all pages and links have headings or descriptors which accurately describe the content. Focus on the real meat of your website, since it’s more critical that the disabled be able to access your services than it is for them to know that you also like to hike the Andes when you’re not at work.
  6. Cookie Policy. You may or may not need a cookie policy. They are particularly necessary when selling to Europeans, in which case you probably need an opt-in mechanism as well (like those annoying banners which pop up all over the place when you are browsing certain websites). The CCPA is a little less antagonistic towards cookies, but even under CCPA a disclosure at the point of collection, ideally with an opt-out mechanism, is the minimum for legal compliance. At the very least, make sure your privacy policy outlines where and how cookies are used, especially if you are using Google Analytics or third party ads, since that’s relatively easy. Adding banners and opt-ins may require the assistance of your web developer.

That should be enough to keep you busy for a while!

In all seriousness, though, just pick one or two of the above items and get started – many of those items are pretty straightforward unless your site is very complicated, and some (like registering a DMCA agent or taking some steps to make your website more ADA compliant) could save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages in the future.

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