Writing terms and conditions for your business can be difficult, especially when it comes to ensuring all the necessary clauses are included, and the final product is easily understandable and accessible to your users.
1. What to Include in a Terms & Conditions
Terms and conditions include a variety of rules and guidelines for how users access and use your website or mobile app. Here are some of the most common elements:
How can users reach you with questions regarding policies or operations? This contact information is often different than that found on contact or customer service pages, and should be listed in your terms and conditions.
A contribution clause tells users what rights they have to content created through your website or application. These sections are only necessary if your website or application allows users to create content.
Dispute Resolution Clause
Terms and conditions often contain arbitration clauses that specify how disputes will be resolved. You may also decide to include class action waivers, which prevent users of your site or app from later becoming involved in class action lawsuits against the business.
If third parties are allowed to post content on your website or app in any form, you should include a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice and information about the company’s registration with the DMCA. The DMCA allows you to minimize liability if offensive or copyright-infringing material is accidentally posted on your website or app by end-users or third parties.
Future Changes Clause
Your agreement should mention that changes may be made to the provisions. The method by which users will be notified of such changes and the period of notice that will be provided before these changes occur should also be discussed.
This section informs users about which state and/or federal laws govern the agreement. In many cases, companies select the law of the state or country in which they’re located, or the country in which users access the company’s website or application. A typical example of a governing law clause is:
These terms and conditions are governed by the laws of the United States of America and the laws of the state of California.
Intellectual Property Disclosure
These disclosures inform users of your intellectual property rights, including those to copyrighted and trademarked content, logos, and other protected marks and ideas. These clauses can be brief and simply state that the materials are owned by the company, as well as in what context future changes may occur.
A limitations clause informs users that by agreeing to use the services offered by your company, they also agree not to perform certain prohibited actions. This section is where you outline acceptable and unacceptable user behavior. Some companies use complex limitations to prevent all harmful activity that could potentially occur on the site. In many cases, companies choose to use limitation clauses that limit liability for direct damages, and state that individual parties (user and company) will not be liable for any indirect damages that may occur.
Your company should clearly state the prices of any products or services that are sold on the site, or where users can find these prices. Many companies will also use phrasing such as “as is” for items, and “as available” for services, as this minimizes the chances of a dispute. You should also list any appropriate shipping costs, acceptable payment methods, and how transactions will be handled.
Pricing disclosures may also include a clause that states what will happen in the event of a pricing discrepancy – such as one caused by an exploit or malfunction.
Prohibited Activity Policy
Your terms and conditions should contain information prohibiting unlawful use of your website or application. These terms frequently list particular types of unlawful behavior as well as broadly prohibiting illegal activity. In order to further minimize liability, companies often expressly state that the company is not responsible for content published through the platform by third parties.
Although this clause is often confused with a limitations clause, note that it is specific to the performance of unlawful activity via your site or app, while a limitations clause addresses broadly-prohibited activities (not necessarily illegal ones).
Site Management Clause
You may choose to include a site management clause in order to divulge information about how the company operates a website or application so that users are thoroughly aware of these functions. Many companies choose to use lengthy site management sections with descriptions of how long the company can monitor a website, as well as situations where the company can refuse access to individuals or existing users.
Termination provisions contain the various types of behavior for which the access of users to a site can be terminated. The decision to terminate a user’s account is usually left at the sole discretion of the company that owns the website or application. A vital part of most terms and conditions, termination clauses help businesses prevent abuse of a site or application.
Third Party Clause
This clause informs users that your company is not responsible for any third-party websites to which your website or application links. In many cases, these provisions also notify users that they are solely responsible for reading the policies of third parties and third-party websites.
User Registration Clause
Some companies that manufacture or distribute products choose to place warranty clauses within their agreements. Companies who decide to do so should make sure to describe what exactly is warrantied and what type of replacement, repair, or refund the company offers for products under such warranties.
2. How to Make Your Terms and Conditions User-Friendly
For your terms and conditions to be effective, they need to be user-friendly. Not only will this ensure that your users understand the terms you set, but it will also be necessary in maintaining the legality of your terms in the event of a dispute.
Cut the legalese
One of the most dangerous tactics to employ in any legal policy is legalese. Legalese is a convoluted, unclear, and overly-legal way of explaining things – an old method of hiding messages in fine print. Unfortunately, much of that language has carried into modern-day legal documents, putting business owners unsuspectingly at risk.
As a legal policy, terms and conditions should be as free of legalese as possible, both for the sake of readability and validity.
In order to cut out legalese, sift through the language of your terms and identify words or phrases that can be reworked for optimal clarity. There are online tools that can help you with this, like the Hemingway Editor – a site where you can paste your text and it will highlight areas that can be made more clear.
If you’re overwhelmed with the prospect of writing legalese-free terms and conditions, start from our free terms and conditions template.
Keep it organized
Making your terms and conditions readable isn’t just a matter of choosing your words wisely. You also need to account for the layout of your final document, and how easily a user can scan and understand what you have to say.
Break your terms of service into sections with clear headings to maximize readability, like the following example:
Furthermore, add bolding or CAPITALIZATION to emphasize particularly important sections, and format simple lists into bullet points.
Prioritize user understanding
The last factor in the user-friendly equation is understandability – not just through proper phrasing, but also through concept clarity.
While it’s possible to eliminate the majority of legalese from terms and conditions, there is a certain amount of necessary information and legal jargon that goes into this policy. This legal necessity sometimes makes it difficult for users to quickly and easily comprehend the main point of each section in a business’s terms.
To mitigate this risk, it’s often beneficial to add a summary snippet beneath each section heading, giving users the tl;dr on that segment. This is particularly useful if you have a long, or especially complicated section of terms.
3. How to Present Your Terms and Conditions
What good are terms and conditions if your customers never see them, right?
Here’s how you should present your terms to users, to maximize effectiveness and cut liability:
Put a link in your footer
It’s important to keep a permanent link on your website or app, so users can easily navigate to your terms and conditions at any time. This can be done in the header or footer, but is more commonly found at the bottom of a webpage.
A simple link reading “Terms and Conditions” that directs to your terms will do here. Check out how it’s done in the example below:
Keep in mind that in most jurisdictions, a link in the footer of your website isn’t enough for your terms and conditions to be held as legally-binding. In order to maximize legality, take advantage of the next step and ask that users agree to your terms and conditions.
Ask for user agreement
While you should keep an easily-findable link on your site no matter what, you may also choose to ask that users agree to your terms and conditions through a banner or pop-up modal.
These notifications appear when a user enters your site for the first time, and asks them to agree to your terms and conditions before continuing on the site. Being able to point to evidence that a user expressly agreed to your terms is an invaluable advantage if a legal disagreement found its way to a courthouse.
Terms and conditions protect your business and satisfy your customers. The cost of not having them is too high to not follow the advice above and write terms for your own website or app.
If you still want to make your own, but need help getting the ball rolling, check out our downloadable terms and conditions templates:
|T&C Templates||Description||Template Download|
|Mobile App||Terms and conditions for apps in various app stores.|
|Website||Terms and conditions for websites and blogs.|
|Ecommerce||Terms for ecommerce sites and online shops|