Editorial independence can be a thorny subject in an organisation that relies on advertisers for its revenue, yet it’s something we live by for the sake of our users. Here, Head of Content, Jade O’Donoghue, explains why…
It’s no secret that our business model is based on educational establishments parting with money in order to appear on our websites. We’d never hide that from our users and we’re always happy to explain how our sites work to anyone who asks. However, while advertising revenue will always be what keeps the lights on and our salaries rolling in, without our loyal user-base and our commitment to giving them the best help in finding the right course, we’d have no business at all. Therefore, it’s vital for us to remain editorially independent so that we’re not pushing anyone on the cusp of making a big decision about their future into something that simply suits our business needs.
1. Building trust
We are determined to give prospective students the best information to help them choose the right course. We want to provide them with a comprehensive, unbiased view of what it is to study different subjects and at different institutions. This is key for us in building trust in our brands, and, ultimately, ensuring people keep coming back to our sites every time they need to progress or learn something new.
2. Remaining unique
Another reason we remain independent is so we can retain our own unique corner of the market. A good example of this can be seen on Whatuni. It’s the only website that listens to what students say about their universities through student reviews and creates content based around this. If we churned out articles that are already elsewhere on the web, what would we be adding? For our advertisers, there would be no reason to be on our site over others and for prospective students, there would be nothing new they could learn from. By staying independent we’re giving prospective students an insight into what it’s really like to study somewhere, not what the marketing copy might say. If the Student Union isn’t up to scratch, we’re going to tell that story unapologetically.
3. Keeping Google happy
There’s a third reason we do this though, and it’s a technical one: SEO (search engine optimisation). If the likes of Google and Bing see that we’re creating unique content, our sites are likely to appear higher in search results. If we’re using duplicate content from other people’s websites, such as copying university prospectus text, or lifting text from press releases, we risk being penalised and those pages not showing up when potential students search relevant terms.
By remaining independent, with our own viewpoints, we ensure all our copy is unlike anything else you’ll find on the web. Our users win because they’re getting something different, our advertisers win as their names stay up high in the search results and we all remain in Google’s good books.
Now, this isn’t to say we don’t include sponsored content. Many websites and bloggers are doing this since it’s a valuable revenue stream and provides a different viewpoint, which can always be insightful. Where we do though, we clearly label it as such.
We also use our advertisers as sources of information when we have specific articles planned, but when we do, it’s always on our terms. We cannot be bribed. If they don’t have the information our editorial needs, we will go elsewhere!
Here’s to journalism, not churnalism!
Is editorial independence important? For us it is. Without it, we’re just creating churnalism and my team are talented writers who would balk at the idea of doing that. So now when you see us question whether an apprenticeship is even worth doing or read suggestions of what additional things we think universities could do to improve student satisfaction, you’ll know no one’s paid us to say any of it; it’s all come from the heart.