Win Your Readers’ Trust with a Custom Privacy Policy for Your Blog

[This post is part of the Exploring Affiliate Marketing series.]

Do you worry whether your readers trust you? Are you trying to minimize your risk of being sued? Does your blog host ads? If so, your blog needs a privacy policy.

Online privacy is a hot topic these days. Because of questionable privacy practices by some high-profile companies, many people are wary about how their information is handled.

Like the disclosure policy, the most important reason to have a privacy policy is to put your readers at ease and earn their trust. Be upfront about what information you collect from them, as well as what you do with that information.

Studies show that people are more willing to give up private information to sites they feel are trustworthy. So being as transparent as possible with your privacy policy will help make your readers more willing to leave comments, subscribe to email lists, click on affiliate links, and purchase products.

A current and accurate privacy policy will also reduce your risk of legal liability.

Required for advertising

In addition, maintaining a privacy policy on your blog is required to be a part of many third party advertising and affiliate networks.

Do you use Google Adsense on your blog? Are you an affiliate for Amazon, HostGator or GoDaddy? What about Commission Junction or LinkShare? They all require you to have a privacy policy.

Even using Google Analytics requires a privacy policy.

Google has outright banned bloggers from AdSense for violating their terms, and once you’re banned, that’s it. No reinstatement.

Privacy policy content

So what should you put in your privacy policy? Well, it depends on what information you’re collecting and how you’re using that information.

I’ve spent the last week or so reading a ton of privacy policies, mostly on other blogs. I also played around with a few of the more commonly used policy generators out there.

Privacy policies run the gamut from short and vague to long and detailed, making it a bit confusing to figure out exactly what needs to be spelled out.

Mini-review of free privacy policy generators

If you want to compose a privacy policy with minimum effort, a policy generator is the way to go. Most of these generators ask you to fill out forms to help determine what info you collect and how it’s used.

Here’s a quick rundown of three free privacy policy generators.

SerpRank.com
SerpRank’s generator is primarily geared to cover Google AdSense publishers, so it’s not very comprehensive. Though it does have options to add language for several advertising and affiliate networks such as Commission Junction and Amazon.

GeneratePrivacyPolicy.com
I’ve seen this one used quite a bit on other blogs such as on BloggingWithAmy. It covers just about everything you’d need for your blog. You do have to register with the site in order to create your policy, but then you can store and edit multiple policies on that site.

FreePrivacyPolicy.com
FreePrivacyPolicy.com is pretty similar in scope to GeneratePrivacyPolicy.com, but it’s a bit more complete in that it adds language to comply with the California Online Privacy Protection Act. You can only have one privacy policy at a time, and you only get one shot at it. If you want regenerate the policy, you have to pony up $47.

Writing a custom privacy policy

None of the generated policies seemed adequate for what I wanted to communicate to my readers. I wanted my policy to be a bit more personal and detailed than the generated policies. So mine is a custom combination of those I’ve read on several blogs as well as the output from some of the generators.

I’ll walk you through each section of my policy to show how you can write your own.

At The Hobby Blogger (www.thehobbyblogger.com), the privacy of my visitors is extremely important. This Privacy Policy outlines the types of personal information that is received and collected and how it is used.

First and foremost, I will never share your email address or any other personal information to anyone without your direct consent. Period.

This is the introduction. I keep it short and sweet, and assure readers right off the bat that none of their information will be shared without their direct consent, which also makes sure I’m compliant with the California Online Privacy Protection Act.

Some bloggers use the introduction to give a “plain English” summary of the privacy policy before they get into the details of their policy.

1. Log Files

Like many other websites, I use log files to help learn about when, from where, and how often traffic flows to this site. The information in the log files include:

  • Internet Protocol addresses (IP)
  • Types of browser
  • Internet Service Provider (ISP)
  • Date and time stamp
  • Referring and exit pages
  • Number of clicks

All of this information is not linked to anything that is personally identifiable.

This section was based on the Log Files section of the SerpRank generator. The “Like many other websites” statement assures readers that what you are doing is not out of the ordinary.

2. Cookies and web beacons

Like nearly all WordPress blogs, this site stores “convenience” cookies on your computer whenever you leave a comment. The cookies record the name, email address, and URL that you enter when you submit a comment so that you won’t have to re-type that info the next time you leave a comment.

Third-party advertisers may also place and read cookies on your browser and/or use web beacons to collect information. TheHobbyBlogger has no access or control over these cookies. You should review the respective privacy policies on any and all third-party ad servers for more information regarding their practices and how to opt-out.

If you wish to disable cookies, you may do so through your web browser options. Instructions for doing so and for other cookie-related management can be found on the specific web browsers’ websites.

Most cookies are benign (user authentication, storing user preferences, keeping track of shopping cart contents or what ads have been clicked), but they can also be used to track a user’s browsing activity, something many people don’t want others to know.

Accordingly, people are a bit suspicious of cookies, so it’s important to let them know that your site uses them and that they can opt out by disabling cookies in their browser settings.

While much of this section was modified from the SerpRank generator, the first paragraph is completely my own. I’m trying to be as detailed and transparent as possible, so I’m going the extra mile to find out about and tell my readers about every cookie.

ShareASale

ShareASale, a third party affiliate marketing network, uses cookies to help make sure I get a commission when you buy a product after clicking on a link or ad banner that takes you to the site of one of their merchants. Here is ShareASale’s Privacy Policy.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a web analytics tool I use to help understand how visitors engage with this website. It reports website trends using cookies and web beacons without identifying individual visitors. You can read more at the Google Analytics Privacy Overview.

Here, I specifically describe how each company collects information and offer a link to each company’s privacy policy so readers can find out more if they wish to opt out. This list will grow as I add more ad networks, such as Google Adsense, to the blog.

3. Other

Users may choose to receive email blog updates via FeedBurner by submitting an email address to the email subscription form. I use a secure opt-in subscription system and I reserve the right to contact subscribers with information related to this website and blog. Subscribers may unsubscribe anytime and every email delivered will contain an “Unsubscribe” link.

When leaving a comment, users must submit a name and email address. To combat spam, the WordPress blogging platform also records the IP address of anyone submitting a comment.

Again, none of this information will be shared with anyone without your direct permission.

In this section, I address the information that readers give when they subscribe to my email list and submit comments. It’s important to mention that they can unsubscribe from the email list and any time.

Also, I’m surprised that most blog privacy policies don’t address the information that commenters give when they leave comments. I’m not sure that many readers even know that their IP address is logged when they comment. So it’s better to spell it out and inform them.

This is also a good place to repeat that this information won’t be shared with anyone without the reader’s consent. However, I do let them know that I might contact them at the email address they submit so they’re not taken aback when I contact them to say thanks for visiting, or ask them a question regarding a comment.

4. Children

TheHobbyBlogger.com does not knowingly collect or solicit Personally Identifiable Information from or about children under 13 except as permitted by law. If I discover I have received any information from a child under 13 in violation of this policy, I will delete that information immediately. If you believe TheHobbyBlogger.com has any information from or about anyone under 13, please contact me.

Lots of websites have this statement, so this one is copied nearly word-for-word. It basically says your site does not cater to children younger than 13 years old, and that you will not knowingly collect or keep any information from these children. Having this statement means you don’t have to take further steps to comply with the United States’ Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

5. Consent

Your use of this site, in any and all forms, constitutes an acceptance of this Privacy Policy.

This statement is important so no one can complain that they didn’t explicitly agree to how your blog handles their information.

6. Changes to this policy

This Privacy Policy is reviewed and revised from time to time. You will want to revisit it regularly. When it does change, I’ll also change the “Last Updated” date at the bottom of the page.

Last Updated: February 15, 2012.

Tell your readers how they can find out about changes to your privacy policy. While sending out emails or posting a notice on the homepage are options, the least effort on your part is to simply post the date when your policy was last updated at the bottom of your privacy policy and ask readers to check it regularly.

More privacy policy tips

  • Personalize – You’ll notice that I try to personalize the policy by writing in the first person. It’s better to let your readers think they’re hearing from a real person rather than a one-size-fits-all boilerplate policy that feels like a lawyer wrote it. It’ll help convince them that your went all out to make sure you respect their privacy.
  • Be definite – Many privacy policies use the words “may” or “might” in order to cover as many bases as possible without having to frequently research and update the policy. Try to research exactly what information you and your third parties collect as much as possible. Using less vague words like “do” and “will” conveys that you’ve done a lot of work to know exactly how your users are affected.
  • Read every TOS – Make sure your read and comply with the Terms of Service for all of your advertising and affiliate networks. You don’t want your accounts shut down because you didn’t follow their guidelines for protecting your readers’ privacy.
  • Prominent link – While you don’t have to emblazon the link to your privacy policy on your navigation menu, it should be relatively easy to find. Standard practice is to place the link in your footer.
  • California – Note that compliance with the California Online Privacy Protection Act is required if anyone located in the state of California visits your blog, regardless of where your blog is based. Will California authorities come after you if you violate this law and you’re based in a different state? Probably not, but why take a chance?

A grain of salt

I’m not a lawyer; if you want to be absolutely certain that you’re protected, please seek legal advice.

Otherwise, feel free to use my policy as the basis for your own policy, and leave a link to it in the comments so we can all see each others’ policies.

Next up in this series, I’ll tell you what you need to know about nofollowing your affiliate links.

Article by Bryan Kerr

I love breaking down the techie side of blogging into easy-to-understand tutorials. That's mostly what you'll find here on The Hobby Blogger.

Comments

  1. I actually didn’t know a privacy policy was required, I’ve always had an affiliate scheme disclosure but never anything else. Time to go write my own privacy policy it seems!

    Cheers for the heads up!

    Ben

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Glad it helped! I’ve read of people not knowing why their AdSense account (with three-figure amounts of money still in it) was terminated. I’d check their blog out and they had no privacy policy.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. @Ben Norman : I agree with you at the first time. But after I surf several top blogs, most of them have ‘Privacy and Policy’ page. I wonder if they do that there must be something if I am not.

    @Bryan : I think your post just answer my wonder above. :) Glad I have that in my blog.

  3. Hi Bryan

    Brilliant. The best “how to do something exactly” article I’ve seen. Well written, very easy to follow and it works perfectly.

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing especially when “Blogger’s Help” wants to get all official and confusing.

    I totally agree with why you must have a Privacy and Disclosure Policy and understand why the bigger sites have to make it legal and therefore impossible to follow for us newbie bloggers but as it is so required you would think they could offer some help along these lines.

    This how to is the best without doubt and I’m now a subscriber. I copied your policies and just changed the need to bits. Here is the link as suggested:

    http://www.itsakitcar.com/2013/01/privacy-disclosure-policy.html

    Thanks again and I’ve bookmarked your site for further reading and learning.

    Cheers MJ.

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Nice, MJ. I like how you added the part about where you have “direct control over which ads are served” for AdSense. Best of luck and thanks for reading!

  4. Thank you so much for this! I love how it is written in plain english and very friendly. Great for bloggers such as myself!!!!

  5. I need to write a privacy policy for my business website. Where do I link the policy to? Where do I compose the policy? Do I make a page specifically for this policy and then link it to that?

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