After a bloggers' Facebook group discussion last week highlighted an important piece of information missing from someone's blog, I got thinking about all the other important things that should be included. A lot of blogging has very grey areas where legal requirements are concerned (especially as different countries have different laws), but certain regulations should be adhered to no matter where you're based to protect yourself, your blog and your rights.
Here's a quick guide to the things that all bloggers should check they are including on their blogs: The first three have some legal requirements attributed to them, the last three are basics that you may have missed out - but I highly recommend you check that you're doing them all.
Let me know if you've found this post useful in the comments below!
1. A disclaimer/disclosureIf you've ever received anything from a company in terms of payment, a freebie, or affiliate commission, you should have a clear disclaimer somewhere on your blog explaining all of those things. Even if you've just started blogging I still recommend it: You may well be sent freebies in the future so if you have the disclaimer written up now, you won't forget to do it later.
You must clearly label freebies as items that were gifted to you. The most common way to do this is to either mention what was gifted in the post itself, or (this is common with fashion/beauty bloggers) to label them c/o or with an asterisk*.
A short summary explaining what the abbreviations mean should then be added to your PR page, sidebar or somewhere equally visible. I've added mine to the footer of my blog as well as my PR page so that it's visible no matter what page the reader is on (and saves me adding it to every post or forgetting).
If you've signed up to an affiliate programme like rewardStyle or Shopstyle mention that you may earn commission if the reader clicks through and buys.
Whenever you have been paid to publish pre-written content, or write a blog post with links, or work on any type of blog post, Facebook post, Instagram post, etc. you must disclose it to the reader. I know the US laws are very strict on this, but in the UK they are a lot more fuzzy and non-reputable brands often try and get bloggers to withhold disclosure of a sponsored post (if this happens to you do not work with them).
Some brands refuse to have the word "sponsored" mentioned; I have to admit although it's to the point I think it sounds a bit clinical. I add a message to my posts (where I have received payment to write them) to say that I have "written this post in collaboration with XXX brand" and then again, in my footer, my disclaimer explains exactly what "in collaboration" means (that I have accepted payment for it).
If you're not sure what to write, look at the disclaimer of some of the bigger bloggers and see how they've worded theirs: You'll soon work out the best way to word yours.
As laws vary from country to country I'd advise that you find out exactly what the regulations are for where you live and follow them to the letter. It's better to disclose too much than too little.
2. Your image copyright policyClaiming right to your images is incredibly important. It may not stop anyone actually stealing your images - even with a watermark there's no easy way to completely stop your images being used - but making your copyright clear gives you some back up should the worst happen (and may make someone think twice about stealing them).
A common misconception is that publishing your photos on the internet gives anyone the right to use your images however they wish - this is NOT true. You automatically own the copyright to all your images. Some bloggers watermark their images as a deterrent, but with a little cropping or Photoshop skills watermarks can be made to disappear easily so don't think you have to do this.
You still own the copyright of your images even if they are not watermarked.
A short message (preferably in your sidebar or footer so that it appears on every page of your blog) stating that you own the copyright of all your images unless otherwise stated, etc. and that they cannot be used without permission is what you need. Make sure, however, that you are not doing exactly that yourself with others' images; for example, using images and linking them to Pinterest as the source is a breach of copyright (Pinterest is not an original source)!
Most bloggers are happy for you to use their images in a blog post as long as you give them a linked credit (I know I am). However, I think it's always polite to let them know you are going to do this in advance (i.e. ask them) to give them the chance to say no. It's always good exposure, after all, and they're very likely to say yes.
[This is slightly off topic, but if you post pictures of your family on your personal Facebook account, be extra careful. If you don't want pictures of your children used anywhere ensure you set your privacy settings so that your photos can only be seen by your Facebook friends (not publicly). Last week a blogging mum, along with about seven or eight other parents, discovered that an image of her child had been used in a meme without her permission - and it went viral. Her desperate attempts to have them all removed were futile due to the thousands of times it had been shared. So choose carefully what you want to put out there and protect yourself as much as you can.]
3. No-follow links (where relevant)Something that many bloggers are unaware of is the use of no-follow links. This can be a huge bone of contention between brands/PRs and bloggers, and if you are offered payment for a do-follow link then my advice is simple: Do not work with them.
What are no-follow and do-follow links?It's a bit complicated and confuses many bloggers, but I'll try and explain this in layman's terms...!
A do-follow link will boost the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) of the site it points to [by Google]. The bigger and more reputable the site that featured the link, the more the SEO of the site it points to will be boosted. Generally, all links you create are do-follow by default unless you purposely make them no-follow. Make sense so far?
Changing a link to no-follow means that the SEO won't be boosted. In other words, even if that link gets clicked on thousands and thousands of times, the site won't see any boost to their SEO whatsoever. However, they still count as valuable click-throughs in terms of traffic (page views).
So why should some links be no-follow?In bloggers' cases, no-follow links should be used when you have received some sort of payment, either in cash or product/services, in relation to that link. Google don't like payment being used as a "bribe" to influence SEO - they're much more keen to see SEO being grown organically - and payment for do-follow links is seen as artificially boosting SEO.
Say you have received a range of hair products to try and you feature them on your blog. It makes sense that you'd link to the brand's site so that your readers can also buy them. Changing the link(s) to no-follow will ensure that Google won't take any notice of it, basically, so you're safe to accept payment or product in exchange for that link without violating Google's guidelines on link schemes.
When to use no-follow links:
- When you have received payment to write a post/publish pre-written content
- When you have received gifted items or accepted services (e.g. a free hotel stay) to review or feature on your blog
- For any affiliate links where you may receive commission, e.g. rewardStyle links
- Anything that you consider to be untrusted content
Don't use no-follow links for:
- Links to other blogs you're referencing (you want to boost their SEO - blogger love RULES!)
- Products or services that you bought yourself and are writing about with no direct influence from the brand/company itself
- Links to other posts on your own blog (this is a great way to boost your own SEO)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this point, do not work with brands that offer you payment for do-follow links. They know perfectly well that Google do not take kindly to artificially boosted SEO, but you don't know the extent to which their campaign is running and they will most likely try and tell you that "they're only guidelines" (or some other nonsense) that makes out you don't know what you're talking about. Believe me, I've had some pretty condescending replies sent to me in my time by brands and PRs. You're being asked to take a risk, and it's a risk not worth taking because both your blog and the brand's site may be penalised.
(As a blogger I'm represented by an agency and they won't take on any collaborations for me unless the brand/PR agrees to no-follow links in any blog posts I write.)
If you want solid proof of a time that Google took action against a company that worked with bloggers in the wrong way, read how Interflora were wiped off the face of the internet for quite a while in 2013. Food for thought.
How do I make my links no-follow?Blogger: All links are do-follow by default. To make a link no-follow, highlight the text you want to hyperlink and click on the "Link" button as normal. In the window where you add your link, check the box in the bottom-left corner that says "Add 'rel=nofollow' attribute". Ticking this box will make it a no-follow link.
Wordpress: I'd recommend following Wordpress's own instructions What is Nofollow? as it doesn't seem as straightforward to me as Blogger.
4. Social media iconsSo a new reader discovers your blog - great news! You've captured their interest enough to make them want to come back another time and read more. They want to keep up with your blog and follow you on Instagram, or Facebook, or Bloglovin... but they cannot immediately see any links to your social media or ways to follow you. If they're pretty determined they will do some clicking around different pages to try and find those follow links (About page? Contact page? A Follow page? The footer?), but 9 times out of 10 they'll give up and forget to come back.
Give your readers your follow/social media icons on a plate - do not make them hard to find. The top of your sidebar or the top of your blog is the best place to put them, not hidden within another page or at the bottom.
5. Your email addressSome bloggers only include a contact form, but if you really want interaction and/or brands to contact you an email address is essential. Like your social media icons, do not make it hard to find. If you put it on your Contact page, ensure there is a clear "Contact me" somewhere at the top of your blog. Putting it in the sidebar is another alternative.
Some brands won't bother contacting you via a Contact form, so if working with brands is important to you include an email address.
Word of warning: I'd strongly advise against making the email address linked ("mail to") otherwise it's likely to be found by spam crawlers. Make sure there's no hyperlink, or go one better by creating your email address as an image, or replacing the "@" and "." symbols with something like [at] or [dot].
6. An About page (including name and location)Hopefully you already have an About page (if not, do it now!), but have you included two of the most things that help your readers get to know you: Your name and your location? I'm not talking about your full name with middle names and your street address and postal code - just a first name or pen-name (minimum) and the area you reside (at least the country).
Unless your blog is specifically about a brand, blogging is very much about getting to know people as individuals. The number of times I've found a great new blog, gone straight to their About page to get to know them a little more - and drawn a blank when it comes to their name. Or what country they live in. Sometimes I've resorted to spelling [A-ha - they've written color (not colour), mom (not mum) - they're probably American] or seen that they've written prices in Sterling £, not dollars [that means they're British].
It shouldn't be that hard...!
On occasion I've gone to a blogger's Twitter account to see if their name or location is written there if I've needed to get in touch with them to ask permission to feature them in a Bloggers You Should Know post. There's something about having no clue about what a person's name is and where they come from that makes them very hard to get to know, no matter how much they write about themselves.
Imagine being at a social gathering where you've had a long conversation with someone and you realise you haven't been properly introduced and you now don't know their name. Pretty awkward, huh...?
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I hope this makes some things clear for you - let me know how (and if you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll see if I can help)!
P.S. Like this post? You might enjoy checking out more of my Blogging Tips!
Linking up to: Let It Shine, Brilliant Blog Posts, Friday's Fab Favourites