Using Fine Print — Why Your Site Needs Terms and Error Messages

fine print terms conditions legalese error messagesEverybody hates contract-speak. From a web perspective, it’s even worse. The dense language is a readability and SEO nightmare, and pages of text don’t look particularly attractive. Nonetheless these “fine print” pages are hugely important to the security and usability of your site. If you’re not using them, you could be harming your site’s reputation, or even leaving yourself open to legal trouble.

404 error

Whatever your site’s purpose, at some point a user will end up facing a 404 error page. A 404 error means the page a user typed wasn’t found. That could be because there was a typo in the URL, or they clicked on a dead link. Sometimes they indicate bigger problems, such as a PHP or other scripting error with search functions.

Most sites built from templates have standard 404 error pages included automatically. They’ll usually display the error message and direct the user to another part of the site—usually the homepage. However if you want you can customize your 404 error page, using this fineprint setting as an opportunity to direct lost users exactly where you want them to go. You can also use it to create a unique or quirky error message rather than the default “page not found.”

To edit your 404 error page, look for the 404.php file in your content management system’s folders. It’ll require some basic scripting knowledge—if you’re not comfortable changing this yourself, let our friendly experts help you out.

Terms of service

If you’re running a site with regular users, members, or paying customers, chances are you’ll need TOS. These are the rules that govern interaction on the site. Most people don’t read them, but they’re an invaluable support for you if things go wrong. Whether you’ve got a belligerent user in your fan-fiction forum, or a disgruntled customer unhappy with your product, the fine print in your TOS provides the framework for resolving your differences.

Privacy policy

This is another important page if you’re handling sensitive information. That can be anything from member’s names and email addresses to street addresses and banking details. If people are trusting you with their information, you have a duty to tell them how you’ll use and protect it. A privacy policy sets out the fine print of your responsibility. Not only will this make your site more credible, it could also be a legal requirement, depending on the type of information you’re handling.

Frequently asked questions

If you run anything more than a blog, chances are your visitors will have questions for you. Shipping rates, membership cost, competition entry closing dates—you name it, if you sell or run anything regularly on your site, FAQs could save you the headache of answering repeat enquiries.


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a grand title for an American law that says you have to comply with copyright infringement notices. This technically only applies under American jurisdiction but can affect your host company, CMS, and any third-party applications running on your site, including Google AdSense, Paypal, or WooCommerce. If you’ve decorated your site with images taken from Google without thought to owns them, you could fall foul of DMCA. If you copy someone else’s post without permission, the author can file a complaint. And if you host or distribute files to which you don’t own the copyright or have a prior agreement with the copyright holder, once again DMCA can rear its head.

Failure to comply with DMCA can lead to your host taking your site offline. Plus there are the ramifications of breaching copyright law. The solution is to not use or host anything on your site for which you don’t have written permission for. An exception is content out of copyright or free under Creative Commons licences. In the meantime, if you’re not sure that there isn’t infringing content on your site, a short-term solution could be to include a DMCA compliance notice on your site. That way if anyone finds their content on your site they’re more likely to report it directly to you than to your website’s host.


Writing terms and legalese isn’t fun, and is easily overlooked when you’re building a website. Our quick guide gives you the basics on the different pages you might need. The exact ones to use will depend on how your site is run. For help or advice, contact us today!

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