11 Key Legal Requirements for Websites & Tips For Compliance

Websites are fantastic for showcasing your business or idea, but there’s a world beyond design and content. The online world has rules, just like the real one.

I’m not talking anything crazy, but there are some legal requirements for websites to make sure things are fair and safe for everyone.

Call it your website’s passport to legal compliance. These requirements not only keep you on the right side of the law but also enhance your website’s overall user experience.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be cruising smoothly and avoiding any unnecessary roadblocks that could hurt your website’s reputation and growth.

  • Consider legal requirements like data privacy (CCPA, GDPR) and accessibility (ADA) when building your website.
  • Depending on your industry, there might be specific legal requirements you need to follow, like HIPAA for healthcare websites.
  • Beyond legal stuff, remember essential components like an “About Us” section and clear contact information for a successful website.

11 Key Legal Requirements for Any Website

Imagine your website as your online storefront. You’ve got the products beautifully displayed, and the music’s just right, but have you thought about the legal signs you need to post up?

As a website owner, there are a few requirements that act like those signs, making sure your online space is safe, transparent, and operates according to the rules.

Here are key requirements that should keep your website safe and compliant:

1. Privacy Policy

Happy and informed visitors are more likely to return and engage with your website. And one way to ensure that is to show your website’s commitment to user privacy.

This is why a cornerstone of user trust is a clear and comprehensive privacy policy.

This document explains what information your website collects from visitors (think browsing habits or contact details), how it’s used (for targeted advertising or newsletter subscriptions?), and most importantly, how users can control their data.

To show what a good privacy policy typically includes, let’s look at Canva’s Privacy Policy:

'Information we collect' clauses in Canva's privacy policy.

The example above clearly states what information Canva collects, going beyond just “personal information.” It also uses language that is easy to understand and shows it prioritizes user experience and the value of user data.

'How we use your information' clauses in Canva's privacy policy.

Here, Canva breaks down the use cases into clear categories. This makes it easier for users to understand the different purposes behind data collection. It also explains how it benefits the user.

'Sharing your information' clauses in Canva's privacy policy.

To reduce any ambiguity, Canva states the reasons for sharing user information: providing the service, Canva’s legitimate interests, and with user consent.

2. Terms and Conditions

Just like any well-run establishment, your website needs a set of rules to ensure a smooth and legal operation. This is where a Terms and Conditions page comes in.

Think of your website as a store or online space you’ve built. The Terms and Conditions act like a rulebook for visitors, outlining their rights and responsibilities while using your website. Here’s why it’s crucial:

  • Legal Protection: A well-crafted T&C document helps shield you from liability in case of misuse of your website. It sets expectations for user behavior and protects you from copyright infringement or other legal issues.
  • Transparency and Trust: A clear T&C builds trust with your visitors. It demonstrates your commitment to a fair and responsible online environment.
  • Manages User Conduct: By outlining acceptable use, you can discourage inappropriate behavior and maintain a positive user experience for everyone.

PRO TIP: Place a link to your T&C in a prominent location, such as the footer, to make it accessible. For complex businesses, consult with a lawyer to ensure it is legally sound.

3. Disclaimer

A disclaimer is a statement that clarifies your website’s limitations and protects you from legal responsibility. It informs users of what to expect from your content, services, or products.

There are various disclaimers you might consider for your website, depending on its content and purpose:

  • Medical Disclaimer: This clarifies a website doesn’t provide medical advice and users should consult a healthcare professional for health concerns. Here’s an example:
Health disclaimer clauses in Tony Robbins website.
  • Disclaimer of Warranties: This limits a website’s liability for any guarantees or warranties associated with the information or services offered. Here’s what that looks like:
Warranty disclaimer clauses in STANLEY Engineered Fastening website.
  • External Links Disclaimer: This disclaimer informs users that the website is not responsible for the content or security of external links. It looks like this:
External links disclaimer clauses in US Department of Defense website.
  • Limitation of Liability Disclaimer: One of the most common legal website requirements is a Limitation of Liability disclaimer. This outlines the extent of the website’s legal responsibility for any damages or losses users may experience. Here is an example:
'Limitation of Liability' clause in Amstate Insurance Agency's disclaimer.

4. Cookie Policy

Cookies are small pieces of data that a website uses to store information about a user’s visit. While they may seem insignificant, they play a big role in how websites function and how they interact with users. That’s where a cookie policy comes in.

A Cookie Policy is a document that clearly explains how a website uses cookies and similar tracking technologies. It informs users about what types of cookies are used, why they’re used, and how users can control their cookie settings.

Cookie policy clauses in The New York Times website.

PRO TIP: Avoid technical jargon. The goal is for users to easily understand what information is being collected and how it’s used.

5. CCPA/CPRA Compliance (for California users)

To comply with CCPA/CPRA, websites targeting Californians must prioritize user control over personal information. This means offering clear ways for users to:

  • Access their Data: Provide a mechanism for users to see what information you collect about them.
  • Request Deletion: Allow users to request the removal of their data, with some exceptions.
  • Opt-Out of Data Sales: Give users the option to prevent the sale of their personal information.

Websites must also update their privacy policy to reflect these rights and explain how data is used. Investing in data security measures and obtaining user consent for data collection are also crucial aspects.

CCPA/CPRA compliance is an ongoing process. Staying informed about updates to the law and consulting with legal professionals can help ensure your website remains compliant.

Non-compliance can lead to significant fines (up to $7,500 per violation) and potential lawsuits from the California Attorney General or even consumers themselves.

6. GDPR Compliance (for European Users)

Enforced by the European Union (EU) in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes strict regulations on how the personal data of EU residents is collected, used, and protected.

While initially aimed at EU organizations, the GDPR’s reach extends to every website that processes the data of EU residents, regardless of the website’s location.

This means that if your website has visitors from the EU, understanding and complying with GDPR is essential. Here are some key steps to consider:

  • Understanding the Regulation: Familiarize yourself with the specifics of the GDPR and the rights it grants to EU residents. The official GDPR website is a valuable resource.
  • Data Inventory: Identify what personal information you collect from EU users and how it’s used. This will help you determine your GDPR obligations.
  • Lawful Basis for Data Processing: The GDPR requires a legal basis for processing user data. Common lawful bases include consent, contractual necessity, and legitimate interests.
  • Transparency and User Rights: Update your privacy policy to clearly explain your data collection practices, the lawful basis for processing, and how users can exercise their GDPR rights. Provide clear mechanisms for users to submit data access requests or request data deletion.
  • Data Security Measures: Implement appropriate technical and organizational safeguards to protect user data from unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction.

7. ADA Compliance (for Accessibility)

Websites have become essential tools for communication, information, and commerce. However, for users with disabilities, navigating websites with inaccessible features can create significant barriers.

This is where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its focus on web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) come into play.

There’s no single solution for ADA compliance, as the specific requirements can vary depending on the website’s content and functionalities. However, here are some key steps to take:

  • Self-Evaluation: Conduct a self-evaluation of your website using tools and resources available from the W3C or accessibility advocacy groups.
  • WCAG Compliance: Aim to conform to the WCAG guidelines as much as possible. The W3C offers a three-level conformance rating system (A, AA, and AAA) to help you measure your progress.
  • Accessibility Testing: Use automated accessibility testing tools to identify potential issues and conduct manual testing with assistive technologies.
  • Ongoing Maintenance: Accessibility is an ongoing process. Stay informed about updates to the WCAG guidelines and make adjustments to your website as needed.

8. Copyright Notice

In the digital age, where content is easily copied and shared, copyright notices act as a shield for your website’s creative assets.

A copyright notice is a simple but crucial legal statement that informs users about the ownership of the intellectual property on your website, typically text, images, videos, and other original works.

It should include:

  • Copyright Symbol: The copyright symbol © or the word “Copyright” followed by the year of first publication.
  • Copyright Owner: The name of the copyright owner, which can be an individual, company, or organization.
  • Notice of Rights Reserved: A statement like “All rights reserved” can be included to indicate that all exclusive rights under copyright law are reserved by the owner.
Copyright notice on HubSpot website footer.

If you want to allow others to use your content under certain conditions, you can explore Creative Commons licenses. These licenses provide a spectrum of permissions, allowing you to control how your work is shared and reused.

PRO TIP: While it serves as a deterrent and strengthens your legal position, it doesn’t guarantee complete protection. For solid copyright protection, consider registering your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office.

9. DMCA Policy

For websites that allow user-generated content (UGC) like forums, comment sections, or social media features, having a DMCA policy is not just a good practice, it’s a legal requirement.

The internet thrives on sharing information, but that freedom comes with a responsibility to respect intellectual property rights.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. law that sets guidelines for online copyright protection and takedown procedures. To ensure DMCA compliance, check that the policy includes:

  • Designated Agent: Identify a designated agent who is responsible for receiving and responding to DMCA takedown notices. Include their contact information (email address and physical address).
  • Reporting Procedure: Clearly explain the process for users to report suspected copyright infringement. This should include details like what information to include in the notice (type of work infringed, location of infringing material, etc.).
  • Takedown Process: Outline the steps your website will take upon receiving a valid DMCA notice. This typically involves removing the infringing content and notifying the user who posted it.
  • Counter-Notice Procedure: Explain the process for users to file a counter-notice if they believe their content was removed in error.
  • Repeat Infringer Policy: Specify your policy regarding repeat infringers. This could involve account suspension or termination for users who repeatedly violate copyright laws.

10. eCommerce Regulations

E-commerce regulations are a set of laws and guidelines established by governments or industry bodies to govern online business transactions. These regulations aim to:

  • Protect Consumers: Ensure consumers have a safe and fair online shopping experience. This includes regulations on product safety, data privacy, clear pricing, and transparent return policies.
  • Maintain Fair Competition: Create a level playing field for businesses operating online. This might involve regulations on advertising practices, intellectual property rights, and pricing strategies.
  • Promote Consumer Confidence: Build trust in e-commerce by ensuring businesses operate ethically and transparently. This can be achieved through regulations on customer service standards, dispute resolution procedures, and clear terms and conditions.

These regulations are not meant to stifle innovation, but rather to create a fair and safe online marketplace for both businesses and consumers.

11. Acceptable Use Policy

An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) outlines the rules and expectations for how users can interact with your website. It discourages activities like spamming, hacking, or posting harmful content.

To ensure compliance, clearly display the AUP, educate users, and enforce the policy consistently. This protects your website from misuse and creates a positive online community.

Acceptable use policy clause in Shopify website.

What are the Website Laws That May Impact Your Business?

Launching new websites opens doors to a global audience, but it also brings legal considerations. Here are some key website laws to be aware of, depending on your target audience and the nature of your business:

1. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a legal framework that regulates how the personal information of individuals in the European Union (EU) is collected, used, and protected. It’s considered one of the strictest data privacy laws in the world.

The GDPR sets high standards for data security, transparency, and user consent. Businesses must have a lawful basis for collecting data and be able to demonstrate compliance with the regulation.

Any organization processing the data of EU residents, regardless of the organization’s location, must comply with GDPR.

2. CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act)

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a landmark law that regulates how businesses collect, use, and share the personal information of California residents.

Websites that target California users or collect data from them must comply with these regulations to avoid hefty fines and potential lawsuits.

Enacted in 2018, this law establishes a baseline for data privacy rights in California. It empowers California residents with the following key rights:

  • Right to Know: Consumers can request what personal information a business has collected about them and how it’s being used.
  • Right to Delete: Consumers have the right to request that a business delete their personal information, with some exceptions.
  • Right to Opt-Out of Sale: Consumers can opt out of the sale of their personal information to third parties.

3. CPRA (California Privacy Rights Act)

The CPRA, California’s updated data privacy law enacted in 2023, requires websites to take user privacy a step further. It builds upon the CCPA and introduces several new provisions:

  • Right to Correction: Consumers can request that inaccurate personal information be corrected.
  • Right to Limit Use: Consumers can limit the use of their personal information for certain purposes, such as targeted advertising.
  • Increased Consumer Rights: The CPRA expands the definition of “personal information” and strengthens consumer rights regarding data-sharing practices.

4. COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act)

Designed to protect the privacy of young users online, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a crucial law to consider if your website targets children under 13.

COPPA applies to websites that knowingly collect personal information from children. Here are its key aspects:

  • Parental Consent: COPPA requires verifiable parental consent before websites can collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13. This means you need a system in place to verify a parent or guardian’s permission before gathering any child’s data.
  • Privacy Policy: COPPA mandates a clear and comprehensive privacy policy explaining what information is collected from children, how it’s used, and parental control options.
  • Data Security: The law emphasizes the importance of robust security measures to safeguard children’s personal information.

5. CalOPPA (California Online Privacy Protection Act)

While CalOPPA (California Online Privacy Protection Act) might seem similar to the CPRA at first glance, it serves a distinct purpose.

Unlike the CPRA, which focuses on comprehensive data privacy rights, CalOPPA has a narrower scope. Its primary function is to ensure transparency around data collection practices.

Interestingly, CalOPPA applies to any website that collects personal information from Californians, regardless of the website’s location. This means if you have website visitors from California, you’d need to comply with CalOPPA’s disclosure requirements.

6. EU Cookie Law

While the term “EU Cookie Law” is often used, it’s not entirely accurate. The relevant legislation is the ePrivacy Directive, which outlines regulations concerning electronic privacy in the European Union (EU).

A significant aspect of the ePrivacy Directive focuses on cookies and website tracking technologies. Here’s what you need to be aware of:

  • Informed Consent: The ePrivacy Directive requires websites targeting EU users to obtain informed consent before placing cookies or similar tracking technologies on their devices. Users must explicitly agree to the use of cookies, and not be tricked into consent through confusing defaults.
  • Transparency: Websites must clearly explain what cookies they use, what data they collect, and for what purposes. This transparency allows users to make informed decisions about cookie consent.
  • User Control: The ePrivacy Directive emphasizes user control over cookies. Users should be able to easily manage their cookie preferences, including opting out of non-essential cookies.

7. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. While the ADA primarily applies to physical spaces, its reach extends to the digital world as well.

This means ensuring ADA website compliance is crucial to avoid discrimination and ensure your website can be accessed and used by everyone.

The ADA emphasizes equal access for all. It requires that websites be accessible to everyone, including users with visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and cognitive disabilities.

8. CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act)

The CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act) is a U.S. law that regulates commercial email messages, including those sent from a website.

A website may be subject to CAN-SPAM if it collects email addresses for marketing purposes. This includes signup forms for newsletters, promotional offers, or any email list where you plan to send commercial messages.

By adhering to CAN-SPAM regulations, you can ensure your email marketing practices are legitimate and avoid hefty fines for non-compliance.

Are There Industry-Specific Legal Requirements?​

Beyond these general legal considerations, there’s another layer of complexity to website regulations. Depending on the industry you operate in, there may be a specific list of legal requirements you need to address before you launch your website.

1. HIPAA for Health Websites

For websites in the healthcare industry, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) adds another layer of legal requirements.

HIPAA safeguards sensitive patient health information (PHI). They require that websites implement strict security measures to protect PHI, such as those allowing appointment booking, prescription refills, or access to medical records

HIPAA compliance involves securing data transmission, user access controls, and robust data encryption practices. Failing to comply with HIPAA can lead to hefty fines and reputational damage.

2. ABA for Attorney Websites

While the American Bar Association (ABA) doesn’t have the force of law, its ethical guidelines hold significant weight for attorney websites. These guidelines aim to protect consumers and ensure ethical advertising practices. 

Following the ABA’s guidelines offers legal protection by reducing the risk of false advertising claims or disciplinary action from state bar associations. For attorney websites, adhering to these guidelines ensures professionalism.

3. Contractor Sites

In many areas, contractor websites need to consider state-specific licensing requirements. While there’s no federal law mandating it, many states require contractors to display their license ID on their business website.

This informs potential clients that you are a legitimate and qualified professional. Failing to do so could result in fines or even legal action.

PRO TIP: It’s always best to check with your state licensing board to confirm the specific requirements for contractor websites in your area.

4. Financial Advisor Sites

Financial advisor websites are subject to regulations set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

A key requirement is ensuring clear communication to avoid misleading investors. This means avoiding ambiguous language or exaggerated claims about investment performance.

Financial advisor websites should also disclose any relevant conflicts of interest and qualifications to ensure trust and transparency with potential clients.

Essential Components to Consider That are Not Legally Required

Beyond the legal considerations, building a website involves several essential components that contribute to its overall success and user experience. Here are some key non-legal aspects to keep in mind:

1. About Us

The “About Us” section is a crucial element for building trust and transparency with your website visitors. It’s your chance to introduce your brand, its mission, and the team behind it.

Here, you can showcase your values, expertise, and what makes your business unique. A well-crafted “About Us” page can foster a connection with your audience and leave a lasting positive impression.

About us clauses in Nestle website.

2. Contact Information

Providing clear and easy-to-find contact information is essential for establishing communication channels. This can include a phone number, email address, physical address (if applicable), and links to your social media profiles.

Making it easy for visitors to get in touch demonstrates your commitment to customer service and accessibility.

3. Shipping, Return, and Refund Policies for E-commerce

For an e-commerce website, a transparent and easily accessible Shipping, Return, and Refund Policy is important.

This policy clarifies customer expectations throughout the buying journey. It should outline shipping costs and timelines, return eligibility and procedures, and refund conditions. 

A clear policy reduces purchase anxieties and helps manage customer service inquiries related to these areas.

4. Avoid Defamatory Statements

Maintaining a positive online reputation is crucial. This means refraining from making false or misleading claims that could damage someone’s reputation, especially competitors or business partners.

Remember, defamation can lead to legal action, so it’s important to be truthful and objective in all your website content. If unsure about the accuracy of a statement, it’s best to err on the side of caution and omit it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a privacy policy?

Yes, if your website collects any user data, a privacy policy explaining what data is collected and how it’s used is essential.

How can I ensure ADA compliance for my website?

Follow WCAG guidelines to make your website accessible for users with disabilities, such as using alt text for images.

Can I send marketing emails from my website?

Yes, but CAN-SPAM regulations require user opt-in and clear unsubscribe mechanisms for commercial emails.

How can I ensure my website complies with the CCPA?

The CCPA requires clear user control over data. Offer options for users to access, delete, and opt out of data sales.

What does “About Us” do for my website?

A well-crafted “About Us” section builds trust and connection by introducing your brand, mission, and the team behind it.

Andreea Mare
Andrea is a data protection and privacy specialist with many years of education and expertise in this area of law. She helps clients by ensuring compliance is reached on all levels while taking into account the legal requirements and their business' needs.