Website Compliance Standards In Digital Marketing

Whether you are just launching your own startup or you are running a successful company and planning on expanding to other countries, you need to follow certain website compliance standards and legal requirements.

No matter your industry of choice, legal regulations are something you simply can’t ignore. And if you do, consequences can go from a simple shutdown of your website to a complete shutdown of your entire organization. Not to mention fines and other expensive hoops you will have to jump through.

For the most part, there are three main types of regulations you need to look into, depending on your industry and the region you are operating in:

  1. Industry-specific regulations
  2. Data protection policies
  3. Accessibility requirements

So what does this mean? Let’s break them down.


Website compliance standards and industry-specific regulations

Website compliant standards are not much different than folowing rukes and regulation on the physical market. And, depending on your industry, what you are offering, and the countries you are operating in, these laws will differ.

For example, in Denmark, one can’t advertise or sell alcohol to minors under 18 years old. That is unless the alcohol content in a beverage is under 16.5%, in which case that beverage can be marketed to minors above 16 years old.

Similarly, tobacco products in many countries can be marketed to adults over 18 years old. But in Denmark, shops are not allowed to use images of tobacco products or of different devices and accessories that may come with such products regardless of their target audience or channels.

However, while these two examples are a bit more extreme, other products like over-the-counter medicine or vitamins could fall under some sort of soft regulations. For example, a medication that does not require a prescription, such as allergy pills and nasal sprays can be advertised online to virtually anyone – as long as they come with a disclaimer that is clear, direct and concise.

How to avoid sanctions for industry-specific regulations on my website?

The first thing that we recommend is to consult with a legal professional that has experience with your industry specifically. The more niche your industry, the more complex or confusing regulations are, and not all law firms or legal advisors would know how to help. But an expert in your industry should be able to tell you which digital marketing strategy is allowed, and how to change your strategy and follow the rules.

Another must-have, especially for industries targeting adult users like tobacco vendors and even some online supermarkets is using an age gate. These are simple blocking systems that require your users to verify their age – hence the name age gate – before entering your website or online shop.

example of age gate on websites

Also, depending on your offerings, the complexity or how strict your age gate is will differ. The example above is for a tobacco vendor, so the user is required to validate their age manually. But, for online supermarkets such as the Danish online shop Nemlig, a tickbox should be enough.

Lastly, use disclaimers as often as you think necessary and update your Terms and Conditions as often as possible. Once again, you will need a legal advisor here, but to start with, you should be able to find an example of T&C from your competitors for example and follow their steps.

And don’t forget to put a link to this in your footer so it’s easily accessible for any user.

Data protection regulations and policies

This is nothing new. One of the most important website compliance standards for every website operating within the European Union is to follow the GDPR rules and regulations. But as a refresher, GDPR regulations are a set of rules that came into effect in May 2018 and are meant to protect your users and their private data from misuse and misconduct.

Simply put, GDPR makes sure you only collect actually needed data from your users, and they are aware of what data they share with you, your third-party partners and how will that data will be used. More importantly, GDPR requires you to delete personal user data for inactive users or if a user requests it.


How to avoid sanctions from GDPR?

Keep in mind that this is only a high-level description of GDPR rules, and depending on your industry, how your website or webshop operates etc. the rules differ. So, similar to before, an industry-experienced legal advisor is needed to help you write your Terms of Use, Privacy policy and Cookie policy pages so you comply with GDPR.

Also, remember to have your Cookies box and cookies policy clearly shown on the website so that your users can easily read and accept or reject your cookies. And keep in mind that the more data you collect the more complex a cookie box you will need.

Finally, make sure you regularly remove data from users that haven’t been active. And you should do so every few months, since, according to the European Commission, you can only hold personal data for a “reasonable amount of time” or for as shortest amount of time possible.

This sounds a bit vague, but basically, it all depends on what data you collect and for what reasons. Also, if you can anonymise it, you should do so. For example, you might run a webshop and you want to keep user orders for several years. But that data doesn’t need to include personal data.

A simple order number and the details of the actual order are enough to identify it. Therefore, you can anonymise the user data and keep the rest indefinitely. At the end of the day, you just have to be reasonable.


Accessibility requirements

Accessible design is not something all business owners are aware of, or follow. So, as a brief reminder, accessible design is the practice of designing a web or mobile app with every user in mind, so regardless of their abilities, disabilities or situation, they can easily navigate your website and content.

We say abilities and disabilities because your users don’t have to have a permanent disability to find it difficult to move through your page. Simply put, accessible design makes everyone’s life easier.

And, depending on the country you run your business in and/or your industry, you might be legally required to follow accessible design practices as part of your website compliance standards.


How to avoid sanctions for accessibility regulations?

Different countries have their own set of rules and regulations when it comes to accessibility, and these rules apply in the digital world as well as the physical. For example, since 2010, the U.S. has adapted their ADA rules, to include the digital realm, and these apply to any company with more than 15 employees.

There is also a global content accessibility standard called the WCAG which every website should follow. And while this set of principles is not enforced by a governing body, it is enforced by search engines when determining the score and domain authority of your website.

In other words, not following this standard will affect your SEO and search position. Similarly, other regions and countries have their own rules for which you will need both a web development expert and a legal advisor.

That said, being inclusive in your design should not be a practice just to avoid fines and sanctions. Including screen reader support in your website development helps users with visual impairments consume your content. But it can also help users hear your articles while driving and allow them to keep their focus on the road.

Adding subtitles or captions to your videos helps users with hearing disabilities. But it also helps users speaking a different language, or users who can’t use their headphones for example.

Similarly, allowing your users to navigate your website using the keyboard helps with motor disabilities but also if a user’s wireless mouse ran out of battery in the middle of an article. 

Not to mention, all of these practices will boost your SEO, increase your search engine rank, bring more traffic and build your domain authority. It is worth the trouble in the long run.

Be aware of regulations beyond your borders

As you can see, most website compliance standards mean to have an inclusive, non-invasive and accessible website. But what happens when you plan to expand to other countries? 

Well, the answer is basically the same process as above, but with different rules.

Depending on your industry, you might not have to do anything. For example, Wiredelta is a web and mobile development agency. We do not provide sensitive or age-targeted products, and we run in very open industry. So, our website is available worldwide, with only a few small requirements such as a basic cookie box.

Our partners at EGN on the other hand run a multinational network that collects personal data from their members and use it to run behind the scenes. This means that their data policies have to be on point, and as expected, their cookie box is quite a bit more complex than ours.

And then we have Philip Morris International (PMI), for which Wiredelta manages and maintains several websites, including two of the Danish and the Swedish IQOS websites.


How other companies comply with international regulations

To clarify, IQOS is one of Philip Morris’ alternatives to smoking also known as the “heat-not-smoke” alternative. So, on their webshop, IQOS sells both tobacco products and devices to use with these products.

And this is where it gets fun.

The tobacco industry is one of the most strictly regulated industries in the world, and in Denmark, the law states that companies cannot show any tobacco-related products or accessories. As a result, the danish IQOS website is quite an interesting one to market.

This is because IQOS Denmark have to be very careful with everything that might entice non-smoking users, especially minors. As a result, their website is not allowed to have images that show or depict the tobacco products in any way, their devices, or people using these devices.

However, other countries have different regulations, like, for example, in Sweden where IQOS is allowed by law to show the decisive, as long as no actual tobacco products are in sight.

So, to not get in trouble with other countries, IQOS is also required to use something called a geolocation gate.

example of geolocation gate

The geolocation gate ensures that users outside a specific country cannot visit a website that is not intended for them. So if you were in Sweden and trying to visit iqos.dk, you will see a similar screen. On top of this screen, IQOS also uses an age gate, thus blocking users under the age of 18.


Final thoughts

To sum everything up, no two countries follow the same website compliance standards, rules and regulations when it comes to website compliance. And while most will have similar standards, you should always seek legal help for your specific industry. 

Keep in mind that personal data should be handled carefully, if not for your users’ sake, at least to stay away from the hefty fines GDPR can bring down on your business. 

Also, be inclusive with your design but make sure you don’t just let anyone in if the law doesn’t allow it. And you might be thinking “Well, if I put an age gate in place, nothing is stopping the user to put in a different age”, or ä VPN can easily bypass a geolocation gate, it’s what they do”. Both of those statements are true but, at the end of the day, you want to do whatever is possible so your website is safe and easy to navigate.

And finally, transparency and accessibility are two of the greatest principles any website or business can follow, and if you keep those two up, your users will keep coming back again and again.

We hope this article was helpful. and if you need help bringing your digital ideas to life, our team is here for you. Simply follow the link below, book a free consultation with one of our experts and let’s start building your digital future today.

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