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8 Tips to Protect Your Business and Stay Out of Legal Trouble Online

gavel and keyboard internet lawThe WWW in a URL used to be thought of as an abbreviation for “Wild Wild West” when it came to legality. But the law is finally catching up to many of the ways people and companies can harm or take unfair advantage of others online. Current laws protect against deceptive or abusive emails, online privacy violations, online copyright infringement, and much more.

Knowing the basics of what you or your business legally can and can’t do online can help you avoid a lawsuit or government enforcement action, saving you lots of money, time, and stress. But you also have rights that can help you protect yourself from other businesses or individuals from taking financial advantage of your efforts.

The following tips are based on a legal guide from Law Soup, a site I founded where you can find tips on many other areas of law. If you think you are violating any of the following laws but aren’t sure, or if you believe someone else is violating your rights, you should speak to an attorney who specializes in internet law.

1.     Sending unsolicited emails

It’s generally legally acceptable to send unsolicited commercial email to people, as long as it isn’t deceptive or abusive, and you include three things in the email: (1) identify that it is an advertisement, (2) include your physical address, and (3) include an easy opt-out or “unsubscribe” link.

2.     False or misleading advertising on the internet

You may already know you can’t engage in false or misleading advertising, but did you know that even “liking” a user’s misleading Facebook comment could be seen as legally the same as if the comment came from your business? One pharmaceutical company recently got in trouble for doing just that.

3.     Privacy policy

If you don’t have a privacy policy for your website or app yet, or haven’t posted it, you really should as a matter of good business practice. However, if you have any users under the age of 13, you are required to have and post a privacy policy and follow a few other rules, which you can find on Law Soup. Many states have additional privacy requirements for both adults and children, which you can find here.

4.     Blocking your internet access

Have you ever gone to a hotel and tried doing some work using your personal wi-fi hotspot (usually from your cell phone company), but the hotspot doesn’t work, so then you have to pony up around $10+ for hotel internet? It may be because the hotel blocked your hotspot, which is illegal. A Marriott hotel recently got in serious trouble for this. Nobody can block another person’s wi-fi hotspot.

5.     Copyright on the internet

Most things you or your employees create and post online, such as writings, art, or photos are your intellectual property and others may not use them without your permission. Obviously you also can’t just copy this work created by others. A quick way to force websites to take down your materials is to send them a “DMCA Takedown Notice” which you can find out more about here.

Sharing a post on social media or linking to a page is not considered copyright infringement, and most content creators obviously want people doing this anyway!

6.     Hacking

If you have evidence that you were hacked and can identify who did it (or is continuing to do it), the law allows you to get authorities to take immediate action to disable the hacker. Contact local law enforcement and/or the Internet Criminal Complaint Center.

Almost all states also require you to notify users when their personal information was stolen in a hack or data breach. See your state’s requirements here.

7.     Online sales

If you sell products on the internet, you must ship the goods within the time frame you state (or within no more than 30 days), otherwise the customer has the right to cancel the purchase. But aside from legality, it’s also bad customer service to promise something and not deliver (no pun intended).

8.     Cybersquatting

Cybersquatting is when someone buys a domain name that is the same or similar to someone else’s trademark, for the purpose of taking financial advantage of that trademark. For example, buying the domain “campbells.com” to get web traffic from people looking for the soup brand would be cybersquatting. It is illegal unless it is done for non-commercial purposes, such as political activism. The penalty for cybersquatting involves potentially millions of dollars in fines.

For citations and more on these laws, check out Law Soup’s guide to internet/social media laws.

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Do Nofollow Backlinks Help SEO Rankings?

Ugg & Lee - Marketing and Backlinks

Do your nofollow backlinks help position your site in search engines?

That’s the question Cemper’s new survey at LinkResearchTools is asking SEO experts and webmasters.

The SEO community is divided on this matter. Some will praise the indirect benefits of nofollow backlinks on Google and the direct effects they have on other search engines — like Yahoo! — that still use nofollow links for ranking. Others condemn nofollow links as a waste of time and money and will deem them risky for internal links and perhaps even blog comments.

You really heard it all about rel=nofollow, didn’t you? :-(

But nofollow backlinks do NOT harm your SEO campaign

If you read Bosmol regularly, you may have learned in one controversial article I wrote last year that nofollow links are not the evil.

Although you may still be wondering if they help with SEO rankings at all, you can rest assured there is nothing to fear from nofollow backlinks– they are actually quite useful to build buzz around your brand and get targeted traffic through guest blogging.

All in all, if all you’re after is traffic and conversions — and not search engine placement — nofollow links are your thing.

The Truth About Anchor Text Diversity

Gotch SEO published an interesting case study on how he got an exact match .COM in the Pills niche to rank without repeating anchor text more than once. This is a good reminder for SEOs and webmasters who think they can only get results by repeating the same anchor text over and over again.

However, the case study didn’t mention nofollow links.

Believe it or not, older case studies on building natural backlink profiles by mixing of dofollow and nofollow links are still valid. Varying anchor text is important for all links, follow and nofollow, branded and non-branded.

In fact, people don’t link out all in the same way, unless they use a brand name (Clazzio) or naked URLs (http://GetPlusFollowers.com). Anchor text and linked pages, by definition, vary.

This is natural and good and it should be sought out. For example, if you run a link building campaign, don’t set a number of follow against nofollow links, but let the webmaster choose. That way, you’ll earn a real natural profile with anchor text that is editorial and not artificially constructed.

There isn’t just Google out there

A backlink that Google doesn’t count for scoring in the SERPs is a backlink that another search engine may (actually, will) count.

As I said in the article from last year, SEO is not about Google, but about search engines— all of them. You really want your site found by every media, not just Google.

In any case, I have good news for you: pages linked to with nofollow are indexed.

It’s a myth that Google doesn’t crawl and index nofollowed documents– they do get indexed, they just don’t get ranking boost.

This is important, because it makes your backlinks worthwhile. And users still see those links and click them.

I think I don’t need to remind you that without users — who realize that “conversions” goal in your list — SEO is useless.

Links are links are links

They join websites together.

They make the Web… the Web.

Nofollow links break the link graph for Google, but they don’t for people, just like note citations aren’t less worthy than in-text or bibliographical citations.

It’s a matter of perspectives.

Also, if we agree with Carter Bowles’ case study about ranking on Google without backlinks, then nofollow backlinks may still help you rank indirectly and provide a ‘launching pod’ to get you found (and linked!) by other websites.

Backlinks from social media sites are mostly nofollow, yet they’re highly sought after.

Wonder why?

Take Pinterest as an example– it doesn’t matter that outbound links are all nofollow, because the traffic potential is huge and webmasters know that quality traffic is also a big drive for quality links.

And to make it even clearer…

… I found many quality sources linked in this blog post through nofollow links. ;-) Honestly speaking, nofollow worked like a charm for these webmasters– because they earned an editorial link here.

What is your experience with nofollow links? Did they help you — directly or indirectly — position your site on search engines?

Share your thoughts!

Image by Craig R. Kirkby (Creative Commons)

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