privacy-policy-notices-why-your-site-should-have-a-good-oneA privacy policy is a disclosure document that tells your site visitors about the information you collect about them, and how you use it. In many countries, it is a legal requirement to publish your business’ policy clearly on your website.

The number of businesses that have websites has grown enormously since privacy statements were first introduced. Additionally, so has the volume of data collected by any one site and the sophistication of businesses in how they use it.

Many site owners mistakenly think that they don’t need to publish one, or that it doesn’t have to cover much detail. That isn’t true. You don’t need to have a large e-commerce site to need a privacy policy since even the smallest WordPress blogs collect data such as user statistics.

Although many businesses publish a privacy statement, many simply copy one from another site. The issue is that while this may seem to satisfy the need to have one, it probably doesn’t accurately describe the actual use policy.

So what are the advantages of spending time on writing a tailored policy?

1. Comply with Legal Regulation

In the USA, the FTC is responsible for guiding businesses and enforcing of disclosure, and is public in shaming and fining businesses that don’t comply with the law. The penalty can be up to $11,000.

In Europe, each member state of the EU has its own department. For example, in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office publishes a Code Of Practice (you can find a summary here) that incorporates all the relevant law. The penalties in Europe can reach far more, for example, the maximum UK fine is £500,000.

2. Build Trust with Visitors and Customers

When a visitor comes to your site, he or she is trusting your website to protect his or her personal information. That might be simply an IP address, or more personal information such as an email address, post address, personal preferences or billing information.

Studies have shown that visitors do look to see whether you have a privacy policy. Although they might not read the whole statement in full, seeing a comprehensive notice makes them more likely to trust your site, come back to it again, and buy from you (if you sell anything from it).

3. Help Search Engines Identify that Your Site is a Legitimate Business

And that additional level of visitor trust links into this point. Google and other search engines want to direct users to the best quality sites. Those are, generally, those that visitors trust.

Search engines will check your site to make sure you have a privacy policy (and terms of use) publicized clearly. It is not necessarily a direct ranking factor, but it does show a search engine (actually, most likely a human reviewer) that your site is serious and that you deserve to be listed in search results.

So how do you get your hands on a good template?

A lawyer will be able to write a good document for you. But he isn’t necessarily the best source.

The reason is that much of what goes into the document should be about how your site is run, not what the law is. The most knowledgeable person about your site is usually you.

A template from an online legal stationer is a good starting point. (Most lawyers will also head straight for a downloadable template). You can find plenty on the Internet at a range of prices. Just make sure you get one that is up-to-date and has been written by a lawyer.

An alternative is to use a generator. This is online software that takes your instructions then produces a ready-made document at the end. Using one of these can be much easier and faster than editing a template, but often, the software is very simplistic. If you do choose to use one, also download a couple of templates and cross check that everything is covered.

There is one last advantage.

By taking the time to understand what data your site collects and how to use it, you can identify what data you have that is under-used. With that knowledge, you can better understand and therefore serve your site visitors, making them more likely to return and buy from you in the future.