Does Your WordPress Site Need a Terms of Service?

One of my favorite parts of writing about WordPress is that I get to talk about exciting topics related to web design and development. But let’s face it: the work we do with WordPress isn’t always that glamorous. On occasion, we have to deal with the seemingly insignificant parts of websites, too. The perfect example of this is the Terms of Service page.

Does this page even merit a discussion? I mean, it’s not like you need to strategically design it in the hopes that visitors will have an easier time reading it. The Terms of Service page is boring legalese. There really is no way to make it exciting. That said, I’d argue that this page most certainly does deserve a discussion.

So, today, let’s talk about why your WordPress site most definitely needs a Terms of Service page. Then I’ll walk you through how to get one set up using a plugin.

5 Reasons Why Your WordPress Site Needs a Terms of Service Page

The Terms of Service page—also referred to as the Terms of Use, Terms & Conditions, and sometimes merged with the Privacy Policy—is a necessary piece of every WordPress site. It doesn’t matter if visitors don’t read it. By simply having one created, you’re protecting your business from undue harm.

Here are 5 reasons why you need the backing of a Terms of Service page to keep your site safe:

1. Visitor Privacy

It’s one thing for your visitors to know their information is secure when they share it online. It’s another thing to know that it will remain private.

By now, visitors know you’re collecting information on them. That’s why they’re okay with personalized experiences; you’ve chosen to use their information for good and not evil. However, you never know when someone may get a touch of paranoia wondering why they’re seeing your ad on Facebook or when the heck they signed up to join your mailing list.

The Terms of Service page (if merged with the privacy statement) gives you a chance to disclose any particular methods by which you collect information on visitors. For example:

2. Liability Coverage

In another example of why you need a Terms of Service for your own protection, there are liability issues to consider. Most of the time the content you’ve created for your site is not the problem—unless you’ve included an erroneous fact, published something unexpectedly viewed as offensive on your blog, or included a link to another site that you were unaware contained something explicit or graphic in nature.

However, the big thing to consider here is user-generated content. When you open your site to contributions from other users—in the form of guest blog posts, customer reviews, comments, forum discussions, and so on—your site can then become the target of retaliatory action.

So, if you don’t want to be blamed for offensive or inappropriate content posted to your site, you’ll definitely want that liability statement.

3. Copyright Protection

The moment your site’s content is created and published, it is automatically copyright protected by law. Nevertheless, that doesn’t always stop people from trying to jack your content (including your images).

By including a copyright statement in your Terms of Service page, you can provide notice to infringers regarding the action you’ll take if content is stolen (namely, that you’ll issue a DMCA takedown notice). On the other hand, if you’re okay with people using content from your site, with proper attribution, of course, you can also lay out those terms there and define how people can repurpose your content.

4. Elaborate on Your Services

This is something I see a lot when researching hosting companies. I dig and dig and dig for information related to their infrastructure or you want to know what their uptime guarantee is, but can’t find it within the main content. Whenever that happens, I know I need to turn my attention to the Terms of Service page since that’s the only other spot where they could’ve tucked the information away. (Why they would hide that information, though, is beyond me.)

You don’t have to be a web hosting company to use a Terms of Service page for this purpose. If your business has special terms that you want to more clearly define and refine for users, you can do so there—especially if you want a legally binding statement regarding memberships, payment terms, account termination, etc.

5. Define the Governing Law

If your site has visitors coming in from outside your geographic area, you should include a statement about the local governing law. In doing so, you’re informing them that this is the state and/or country in which you conduct business—something which may affect sales tax, copyright law, legal action related to the website, and so on.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need a Terms of Service page in order to cover your a$$. You never know when one of your visitors may decide they’re unhappy with something on the website and try to take unwarranted action against you. Since a Terms of Service page is so easy to put up, why would you gamble with this?

How to Add a Terms of Service Page to Your WordPress Site

Before I walk through how to go about adding the actual page to your site, let’s quickly review your options for creating the copy. You have a few options:

  1. You can copy the text from another site. It’s not advisable, but you can do it so long as you mark your page to noindex.
  2. You can use the generic Terms of Service copy provided by a plugin, should you choose to use a plugin to add a ToS to your site. Again, if you do this, make sure to noindex.
  3. Use a Terms of Service content generator tool like the one from Terms Feed. The content won’t be 100% original, but you can at least customize it with information related to your location.
  4. Hire a lawyer to draw up an original. This is something you’ll want to do as soon as business starts to boom. With more money coming in and more exposure, the chances of a lawsuit will increase.

With that out of the way, let’s get to work setting up your Terms of Service page. If you’re going to go the plugin route, start with Step 1. If you’re going to have your Terms of Service copy custom written, skip down to Step 4.

Step 1: Install a Terms of Service Plugin

Terms of Service - Auto TOS Plugin
The Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy plugin in the WordPress plugin repository.

For this tutorial, we’ll use the Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy plugin. Go ahead and download, install, and activate it on your site.

Step 2: Set up the Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy Plugin

With the plugin installed, go into the WordPress Settings menu and click on Auto TOS & PP.

Settings are super easy to define here. Go ahead and update each of the required fields.

Terms of Service - Update Fields
There are a number of customizations you’ll want to make to your Terms of Service text.

The plugin’s developer was kind enough to leave an example for each field here. This will ensure that you type out the information in a way that will make sense when it populates within the Terms of Service page. When you’re done, click on Save Changes.

Step 3: Get Your Shortcode

Now, what this plugin actually does is create the text for your Terms of Service and/or Privacy Policy pages. It does not actually create the page for you.

At the top of the Auto TOS & PP Settings page, you’ll see the available shortcodes you can use:

Terms of Service - Shortcodes
You have three options for which pages you want to include on your site.

Select the shortcode that makes the most sense for your site’s needs and copy it.

Step 4: Create Your Terms of Service Page

Next, go to Pages in the WordPress sidebar and click Add New.

In the case of my own website, I chose to keep my Privacy Policy page separate from the Terms of Use. If you want to merge the two for the sake of brevity, by all means, please do so.

Here is what my page looks like in the visual editor in WordPress:

Terms of Service - New Page
This is how I set up the embedded shortcode for my site’s Terms of Service page.

I wanted to include special notices about Creative Commons licensing as well as DMCA protection that weren’t included in the pre-written Terms of Service text, so that’s why this isn’t a straight copy-and-paste of the shortcode.

Here is what the page looks like on my site:

Terms of Service - Example Page
Here is what the Terms of Service page looks like when all’s said and done.

As you can see, it’s not pretty. It’s just a whole bunch of text explaining the legal terms of “using” my website. But that’s what the Terms of Service is supposed to be and it gets the job done.

Step 5: Set up the Footer Text

Terms of Service - Footer Putter plugin
This is the Footer Putter plugin from the WordPress repository.

The Terms of Service page does not need to appear in the navigation for your site. In fact, it would probably be best if you kept that distraction out of the main content areas anywhere on your site. Just put it down in the footer like everyone else. Your visitors will know to look there.

For my site, I used the Footer Putter plugin. The best thing about this plugin is that it was built specifically for all the excess information you need to include on your site, but don’t want to waste prime real estate on. This includes things like a copyright notice, a privacy statement, as well as the Terms of Service.

When you have the plugin installed, look at your WordPress sidebar for a new item called Footer Putter.

  • The Intro page will tell you exactly what you need to do to add the Terms of Service link to your website.
  • Footer Credits is where you’ll enter the information you want to include in the footer.
  • Footer Trademarks is only if you want to include a trademarked statement or trust mark logos in the footer.
Terms of Service - Footer Settings
Make sure to add the details you want included in your Terms of Service footer.

Step 6: Create a Terms of Service Menu

With your Terms of Service information entered, it’s now time to push the new footer live. Go to the Appearance menu in WordPress and click on Customize. Select the Menus tab and select + Add a Menu.

Name the new menu and then select the newly created page(s) to add to your Terms of Service footer. Since I created a page for Terms of Use and for Privacy Policy, I added both to my footer menu.

There’s no need to assign this menu to any of the display locations. Click Save and back out.

Step 7: Publish the Terms of Service Footer

Back under the main customization section, select the Widgets tab. You should now see a widget option for Credibility Footer.

Terms of Service - TOS Footer Options
Here is where you’ll choose the items for your TOS footer.

Open the Credibility Footer widget. Under “Footer Menu,” select the new “menu” you created that contains the link to your Terms of Service page. Then select any options you want to include in this new footer bar.

Save your changes to finalize and publish the new credibility footer to your site.

For reference, here is how mine came out:

Terms of Service - Credibility Footer Scacca Site
Here is how your new credibility footer will look… if your name is the same as mine.

Wrapping Up

Like I said earlier, the Terms of Service page is not exciting nor is it anything spectacular to look that. But just because it’s boring doesn’t mean it’s something that should be ignored. Whether your visitors actually take the time to read it is not something you should worry about. What matters most is that you’ve clearly defined the terms of using your site in order to keep your site and business out of harm’s way legally.