Everything You Need to Know (But Never Asked) About a Website Privacy Policy

You see them on almost every website you visit. Click throughs to accept cookies and read privacy policies.

But this isn’t just a default state for web designers to build into projects. You need to actually think about a privacy policy before just putting something on the website or using a default template.

The challenge when it comes to a privacy policy is that there are a lot of things to think about, and what’s important to include might vary by your industry or location. We’ve put together a primer so you can start working on a solid privacy policy for your website and know what question you might need to ask before you click publish.

Do You Need a Website Privacy Policy?

The short answer is yes.

But with as is the case with almost everything else in website design, it gets more complicated than that quickly. So, here’s a longer answer.

Certain places, such as the European Union (GDPR), United Kingdom (DPA), Canada (PIPEDA), Australia, and some states in the United States, have laws that require privacy policies and notifications if you collect certain types of information on your website. Other countries and locations are adding regulations all the time.

As a rule of thumb, if you adhere to the strictest privacy guidelines, you should be safe. Since the nature of the web is worldwide, that can be a safe way to think about where to start.

The other influencing factor can include third-party apps and services that you connect to your website, such as email newsletters, advertising, analytics tools, or eCommerce platforms. These services might have or require that you include a privacy policy on your website as part of their terms and conditions for use.

You can find the Terms of Use for Google’s Marketing Platform here. Since most websites are using a Google tool, often Analytics, this can be a good baseline for thinking about what a privacy policy should include. (And remember, you agreed to these terms when you started using a Google tool.) https://marketingplatform.google.com/about/analytics/terms/us/

5 Ways a Privacy Policy Can Benefit Your Website

Even if you don’t legally need a privacy policy, there are other reasons to jump on board now.

  1. Build trust with users. You wouldn’t sell things online or ask for payment information without website security. A privacy policy is kind of the same thing. While many people don’t actually read these documents, they are there in case they need them or have questions. This creates a level of transparency that users will appreciate and can build trust.
  2. Help boost search rankings. It’s an indirect impact, but It does exist. More visitors and more engagement can boost search; a more comprehensive website that engages visitors for a longer period of time does tell search engines that your website is more valuable.
  3. Increase conversions. This benefit goes back to trust and transparency. If your privacy policy is clear, easy to find, and easy to read users that are on the fence about filling out a form, answering a poll, or making a purchase may feel confident enough to do so on your website.
  4. Stay in compliance third-party tools. You could lose the ability to use your email newsletter service or another app if you don’t have a privacy policy and their terms of use require it. That’s a headache you don’t want to deal with.
  5. It’s not hard. Generally speaking, creating and adding a privacy policy to your website isn’t a complex task. If you have a business attorney, they can probably draft something for you quickly. There are also other tools and resources online – we’ll get to those a little later here – that you can use to help craft your own draft. Once you have the document, all you have to do is create a page for it on your website.

What Needs To Be in a Website Privacy Policy?

While there’s no one-size-fits all privacy policy, there are some general pieces of information that almost every website privacy policy includes. Do keep in mind, that if you are in a more regulated industry, such as healthcare or financial services, there may be even stricter privacy policy guidelines to consider.

Most privacy policies contain the following:

  • The website URL, owner, and contact information (such as an email address)
  • What information or data you collect on your website (such as asking for email signups or payment information)
  • If that information or data is retained (for example, payment information is not generally stored on websites; usernames or account information might be)
  • What do you do with any information or data you collect
  • If anyone else, such as a third-party app or vendor, has access to that information
  • Clauses or information from any third-party apps that are required as part of your usage agreement with them

Where Should You Put a Privacy Policy on Your Website?

Once you’ve done the work to create a solid privacy policy for your website, it should be on a page of its own. Don’t overthink it and name this page “Privacy Policy.” You may also have a terms and conditions or terms of use page that is separate.

Using a naming convention such as privacy policy makes it easy for website visitors to find it if they search your website.

Then link to it. The standard location for a privacy policy is in the footer. It’s a good idea to make sure it is on, or easily accessed, from every page on your website. (That’s why the footer is a standard location.)

How Often Should You Update a Privacy Policy?

Once you’ve written and published a privacy policy, you can’t just forget about it.

The laws surrounding consumer rights and internet privacy seem to be shifting all the time. Stay on top of legislative changes where you live and update your policy if you see new regulations go into effect.

Generally, adding a privacy policy update to your list of annual website to-dos is a good idea.

Read through the policy for things that might have changed, third-party services you are no longer using or new third-party tools you’ve added. Clean up language that’s confusing.

It’s also a good practice to read over your privacy policy any time you link it to a new website, service, or app. (Facebook, for example, will let you link to a website privacy policy.) Any time you link to the policy again, make sure it encompasses the use you are adding at a minimum. 

Privacy Policy Resources and Tools

The right privacy policy for you depends on your needs, business, location, industry, and website. We don’t recommend downloading a random template and publishing it.

But there are some templates, tools and guidelines that can be a solid starting point. When looking for one of these tools, opt from something that comes from an official source (such as a reputable business advocate or organization) over a template from a reseller.

A few privacy policy resources include:

Conclusion

In some countries, there are privacy and online regulations in place. This guide is not meant as a legal document and you should always consult an attorney if you have questions about specific rules.

This guide is designed to help you begin to understand what factors you should consider in a privacy policy. If you don’t have one on your website, it is probably time to consider what type of privacy policy is appropriate and what information it should include.



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