Legal Rules & Guidelines For Bloggers

Legal Rules and Guidelines for Bloggers (make sure your website, newsletter and blogging income is legal!)

Whether you're just starting or you've been blogging for a while, there a few 'rules' you may not be aware of.

By the way, I don't mean bossy best-practice rules like 'don't post irregularly' or 'always include a Call to Action'; I'm talking about real legal rules and guidelines that you may not know about at this point in your blogging journey. 

To be fair, you kind of have to go out looking for most of this information; it annoys me how many free or paid blogging platforms fail to warn people about this stuff. I even see plenty of larger bloggers who have been going for years without realising some of these things...

Website Guidelines

I covered these points in more detail in my 'is your website legal?' article a few months ago, but I'll go over them again briefly:

1. You must have a Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy
This is a legal requirement as per the Data Protection Act, and applies to any websites that have contact forms, newsletter subscription options, shopping carts or any kind of analytics software - if you run a blog it is highly likely you have one or several of the above on your website.

Example of a Privacy/Cookie Policy

Example of a Privacy/Cookie Policy

2. Businesses & Freelancers must display contact details
If you are a registered business or are self-employed, you must display company information on your blog (this includes your business name, registered office address, country of registration, and VAT/Trade membership numbers if applicable). As of 2016, you must also clearly display your contact email address on your website; a contact form is not enough.

3. Your website must be accessible for audio readers
The Equality Act 2010 states that websites must be accessible to all users, including the visually impaired. I go into more detail on how to ensure this in my previous blog post, and if you want to know the full requirements you can visit the W3C checklist.

4. You may want a Terms of Use/Copyright notice too
This isn't compulsory, but it is highly recommended if you want to protect your content (including written content and photography/graphics). A notice may simply involve a 'Copyright' statement in the footer of your website, or you may wish to include a 'Terms of Use' page on your website with more details - this is especially important if you use a lot of photography on your website that you want to protect from being used elsewhere on the internet. 

Newsletter & emailing Guidelines

1. You may only send emails to people who have opted in to receive emails from you
Due to EU Anti Spam Laws, your readers must give you express permission to receive marketing emails from you (this includes any kind of newsletter, salesy or not; if you use email software like Mailchimp, any email you send from there counts as a marketing email).

Campaign Monitor have a great guide on what counts as 'giving permission' in case you are worried!

2. Your Privacy Policy must include how you store and how you use any data you collect
As part of your Privacy Policy (mentioned above), you must include a section on how you store and use peoples' emails. Most Privacy Policy templates will include this but best to check just in case!

3. You must give people the ability to unsubscribe from your newsletter at any time
Most email software will do this automatically for you, but you must make sure you don't remove the little 'unsubscribe' link by accident. It should be clearly visible and allow the subscriber to remove themselves from your email list automatically in no more than 3 simple steps.

Unsubscribe button example

Unsubscribe button example

4. You must include your contact details at the end of each email
Again, most email software providers will prompt you for this when you sign up anyway, but it's tempting to leave it blank when you're a blogger or freelancer who doesn't want the world to know their address! It's annoying I know, but it is a legal requirement. 

Blogging income Guidelines

1. If you earn money from your blog you must declare this to HMRC
As soon as you start to earn money from your blog from thinks like adverts, affiliate links and sponsored posts (even if it's pennies!), you are legally obliged to declare this to the taxman. 

To do this, you can register as self-employed, or as a business, with HMRC. This does mean you will need to keep track of all your blog earnings and expenses, and fill out a tax return each year, but there's plenty of great software online to help you do this, or you can hire bookkeepers and accountants to help you if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself.

2. If you receive money for a sponsored blog post, you must make your readers aware
This and the below points are due to Advertising Standards laws, and in fact they are important for ethical/responsible content creation too. If you read a great review about a company and then purchased from them, and then found out the blogger was paid for that review and you didn't know, you'd be kind of pissed off!

Place a statement at the top and/or bottom of your blog posts (ensuring it is clearly visible for readers) stating that the content is sponsored. You can also write something like that your review is still honest - it's up to you how you phrase it!

3. If you receive something for free in exchange for your writing a blog, you must make your readers aware
Same as above; if you receive something for free in return for a review, this counts as compensation/payment. If however, you are sent something for free without the expectation of a review from that company, you technically don't have to declare it. It is up to you how you feel about that ethically, however.

Example of a disclaimer statement for freebies

Example of a disclaimer statement for freebies

4. If you use an affiliate link, or are paid to include a link, or link to the company who is sponsoring that post, you must make your readers aware AND use a 'nofollow' link
Any links that have been paid for, or that you will receive affiliate compensation from, must be declared with a *, and a notice within the blog stating that they are sponsored or affiliate links. 

You should also ensure these links are 'nofollow', or your search engine ranking could be penalised. To do this, simply go into your code text editor in your blogging platform and make sure your links look like this:

<a rel="nofollow" ref="http://www.yourlink">Your anchor text</a>

SEO specialist, Sam, from Strawberry Squeeze, has written a great guide on follow and nofollow links for bloggers!

5. If you publish content on your blog that promotes a company and is not written by you, you must declare it as an advert
Bloggers and YouTubers are under scrutiny at the moment for this, but from my understanding of the guidelines, you only have to state that the content is an 'ad', 'advertisement', 'advert', 'advertorial' etc. if you did not create the content yourself.

So for example if a PR or SEO company approaches you and asks you to place a pre-written article on your website, and it links to and/or promotes a company, you must state that the content is an advertisement in the title of the post and body of the post.

6. All of the above is also true for posting on youtube and other social media (yes, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram etc)!
Just exchange the word 'blog post' or 'article' for 'social media post' and everything is still applicable. You are allowed to Facebook share/retweet/repost advertisements and company promotions, but if you write/post anything that you have received payment/compensation for, you must declare it as sponsored or as an ad.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, and my advice is based on UK and European law. If you are concerned you would be best off speaking with an Internet law specialist.