Designers and webmasters should give their terms and conditions pages the attention they need to ensure their website or app offers the intended experiences.
When it comes to designing or improving the UX of a website, how often do you consider your terms and conditions page? My guess is hardly ever.
It's essential to improve the UX of your terms page to build trust in your brand, avoid consumer backlash, and protect you from a lawsuit. This article offers six no-hassle ways to get started.
What Is a Terms & Conditions Agreement?
The purpose of this agreement is to protect both owners and visitors and ensure the website or app offers the intended experience. While there is no overarching law requiring every website to have a terms of service page, without one, a website is legally naked in terms of protecting its ownership rights over its content (designs, articles, etc.).
Before we dive in, we must remind you that the tips below do not substitute professional legal advice. It’s always best to consult with an attorney first before making any major changes to your terms and conditions.
3 Reasons Why to Improve Your Terms & Conditions Page
If you haven’t paid much attention to your terms page or don’t think there is any value to doing so, consider the following three reasons why you should fix up your terms and conditions page.
1. Build Trust in Your Brand
When visitors are able to understand a terms and conditions page, they feel reassured that they can explore a site without fear of being taken advantage of or scammed. It shows that the company actually cares about its users.
If visitors have a hard time just getting through the first paragraph of your terms page, they begin to question whether the company even thought about or cared about their users’ understanding of the terms. Moreover, if they can’t understand the rules that guide the operation of the business, they are more likely to demonstrate caution about using the site.
2. Avoid Consumer Backlash
People pay attention to the "boring" language of terms and conditions pages, and when they see something that is unclear or confusing, they will speak up.
For instance, in 2012, Instagram faced an uproar from its users when they noticed there was an attempt to change its terms and conditions to allow the company to sell uploaded pictures to advertisers.
The company received a barrage of angry tweets and emails with hashtags like #Instascam, #Instafraud, and #leavinginstagram. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom chalked it up to a misunderstanding and apologized for the “confusing” language in the company’s terms, which he promised would be replaced with precise wording.
Although Instagram survived the backlash, a small- to mid-sized business may not fare nearly as well under negative pressure like that.
3. Protect You From a Lawsuit
In extreme cases, major inconsistencies in a terms and conditions can result in legal penalties.
For example, in 2015, grocery store chain Safeway was ordered to pay a total of $30 million to its Class Members. Customers were angry when they noticed that prices on the online store were higher than the prices in Safeway’s physical locations.
The lawsuit stemmed from confusion about whether the word “store” in the terms and conditions referred to Safeway’s physical or online store.
Safeway is just one example of the wave of cases that are beginning to arise as consumers continue to get savvier and more conscious of internet laws.
6 Ways to Improve Your Terms & Conditions Agreement
Below are six easy ways inspired from examples around the web to improve your terms and conditions page:
1. Add a Table of Contents
Including a table of contents may sound simple, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to improving the readability of your terms of service agreement. A table of contents makes it much easier for visitors to navigate your terms and find exactly what they are looking for.
Streaming service Spotify’s Terms and Conditions offers a straightforward table of contents.
While there might not be any flair to Spotify’s table of contents, users don’t have to scroll through page after page to learn about the guidelines on payments and cancellations; they can just click on the section they need.
Adding a table of contents to your terms takes just a few minutes but can help visitors save hours.
2. Include TL;DRs in Each Section
A main reason people have trouble reading through terms and conditions agreements is they are often written with legalese that only an attorney would understand.
Companies are beginning to address this problem by including a “Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL;DR), or “short”’ version. A TL;DR cuts through the legal jargon and gives visitors a brief, easy-to-read summary.
For example, TLDRLegal’s terms of service organizes its page with the legalese version on the right and the shorter version on the left.
Adding a TL;DR gives users an organized, understandable summary of the section on the right.
Software development platform GitHub’s terms of service does something similar by including a "short version" at the start of every section.
The short version gives a brief overview of what is covered and allows users to skim through the page faster.
3. Use Question Mark Popups
Another way to help people maneuver through the complicated legal jargon on your terms page is to include FAQ-style popups like you see below:
With these popups, people can hover over the terms or phrases they don’t quite understand and read a quick explainer that clarifies the definition.
4. Sprinkle in Icons & Images
A plain wall of text page after page puts a strain on the eyes and can get boring quickly. Icons and images can be used not only to make your terms and conditions agreement more visually appealing but to also help readers navigate the document.
Marketing automation platform Mailchimp uses icons to make it easier to discern the six different legal policies on its site:
The icons help users find exactly what they are looking for.
Another example is Imperial College London. Since it is an educational institution, its terms and conditions are far more robust than that of the average website. Instead of having one long webpage, Imperial College breaks its terms into separate category pages using a menu of easily identifiable images.
While most websites’ terms and conditions appear daunting and boring, the images on Imperial’s page make the terms feel more friendly and welcoming. Prospective students can find the specific policies they need without hassle and can get back to focusing on school.
5. Pay Attention to Fonts & Spacing
Kinja’s terms agreement is the obvious winner. It uses a large font and enough space between lines to avoid making paragraphs look like an overcrowded block of text. On the other hand, Huffington Post’s font is way too small, and it doesn’t use a space between paragraphs, which makes its terms a nightmare to read (I had to use my finger to make sure I didn’t lose my place).
If you’re looking for the ideal font, most recommend sans serifs fonts for online reading.
6. Use an FAQ Format
When most people visit a terms and conditions page, they come with questions. So instead of having them sift through paragraphs in search of an answer, why not have your terms address their questions upfront?
Instead of simply labeling a subsection “Content Ownership,” BBC rephrases it as a question, “Who owns the content I post or upload?” which is a common question users have. Formatting your terms this way makes the page more user-friendly.
Improving the UX of Your Terms & Conditions Page is a Must
Most of the changes listed above can be done in less than a day but can make a big difference when it comes to how visitors perceive your website. Remember to check with a lawyer before making any changes to the text to ensure that you are still legally covered.
About the Author
Erik Episcopo is a product manager and small business expert at Termly.io, a company that helps other websites and apps create compliant legal policies. Erik works with a team of lawyers and online legal specialists to ensure that online business owners create policies that are up to date with all state, federal, and international laws.