The truth about online advertising & why this blog is non-profit

The Young Money Blog is non-profit – so you can trust all posts are in your interest, and not governed by SEO or advertising tie-ups! Read on to find out more…

Iona Bain

I was recently told I’m a “sellout” because I occasionally publish guest posts from other young writers. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I can see why people might reach this (false) conclusion, so let me clear some stuff up – and share a few shocking truths about the murky world of blogging.

Ever since I set up the blog, I’ve written the vast majority of posts, but I’ve also done all I can to encourage people to send guest articles. This allows me to offer a diverse source of information and opinion about every conceivable subject relating to young personal finance.

These days, the bulk of my guest posts come from real young people going through a rough time and wanting to share all they’ve learned with the rest of us. In the past, I have posted advice from reputable financial firms, from those that help with accountancy for young entrepreneurs to those with tips on how to start out in investing. Now, this blog wouldn’t be much cop if we didn’t hear from figures inside the financial industry from time to time. I’m no oracle about money, and it’s sometimes very wise to defer to those with more experience and expertise in certain areas.

Musée Fabre, Montpellier
Musée Fabre, Montpellier

I am no oracle, folks

But I will admit that I have been on a learning curve. When I first started blogging, I didn’t realise why a company would want to publish a guest post on my website. I was flattered to be approached and so long as the company wasn’t explicitly unethical in my eyes, it seemed like a no-brainer to publish these posts (occasionally).

I now understand that if a post comes from a company, it is almost certainly pushing an agena that might not be in my reader’s interest. Even if all the information in the article is correct (and there is no guarantee of that) it still won’t be the whole picture and it will almost certainly be nudging readers towards buying products that might not be right for them.

Besides this, I now believe that companies who expect bloggers to give them a free advertising platform are exploitative – pure and simple. That is why I have stopped accept guest posts from companies and will only quote companies within purely editorial articles I have written. This ensures that YOU get the expert wisdom that I cannot provide on my own but that it’s presented in a balanced, vetted and journalistic context.

I don’t accept any payments from companies that are quoted on my blog, I don’t link back to companies through links and I have never recommended any companies in return for payment. Not now, not ever.

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There are so many reasons why trying to monetise this blog would be counterproductive for me, let alone for you!

Firstly, I’m pretty busy as a freelance journalist, speaker and author. I have also set up my own journalism agency, so I’m getting more work outside the blog than ever before. I write for companies and charities who want to engage in an ethical and authentic way with young people. That means I don’t have to ruthlessly turn my blog into a money-making machine (mwah ha ha).

I blog in my spare time because I love writing. Weird but true! Call me a nerd, but I’m fascinated by the financial plight facing young people and I like to pore over all the issues we face.

I use the medium of blogging to express opinions and share information that can’t necessarily be found elsewhere. That might be because the information I find doesn’t serve commercial interests and certain media channels don’t want to cover issues that predominately affect young people.

I’m also an optimist, not at all jaded by writing about these problems every day. I have some hope that we can make our lives better by being armed with all the right knowledge and a cunning plan, Baldrick-style. Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.

The blog has also been an excellent way for me to hone my skills as a journalist, from researching to the actual nuts and bolts of putting together a post. It’s been a super vehicle for me to discuss these issues more widely. If I hadn’t been writing online, who knows where my career would be now? Allowing the blog to flourish as a non-profit website will reap honest rewards for me as a real journalist in the long-run. So I don’t have to compromise its independence for a few measly quid.

I take a different attitude to young writers who aren’t working for companies and simply want to get exposure. If I think a blog is well-written, relevant and genuinely in young people’s interest, I’ll publish it. I apply the same criteria across all guest posts – if it’s not interesting, thought-provoking or entertaining to read, forget it. Journalists who want to showcase their writing can approach the blog, safe in the knowledge that this is a respectable platform for their work with quality controls in place.

However, you’d be amazed at how many atrociously written articles have been sent to me from firms selling dodgy products. Every day, I’m approached by a seemingly independent “content writer”, who’s actually on the payroll of a dubious financial firm.

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When I first started blogging, I didn’t know what the deal was, and assumed they were just passionate financial journalists who were starting out and looking for a platform. How wrong could I be! It’s about as naïve as believing Donald Trump’s hair is real.

Most of these posts were barely literate, let alone fit for any kind of publication. These writers often just copied and pasted lazy efforts from another blog, totally unaware they weren’t suitable for a young audience. Some were for an American readership, rendering them completely useless for a UK blog. All of them were trying to flog me products that wouldn’t be in anyone’s interests in a million years.

I find myself asking; why do they get away with this? The sad answer is that there are blogs out there who will accept posts (either for money or to just fill up space) which are simply glorified advertisements or purely there for SEO. For those of you who aren’t internet geeks, SEO posts seek to appear higher up your search engine rankings but they’re often just there to sell you a product. When badly done (which is a lot of the time!), they end up mangling the English language in an effort to please the overlords of Google.

Yes, SEO can serve a perfectly useful purpose – how else can you find the information you need? But many blogs are now cobbled together in a mechanical fashion just to sell a product. This practice is an abomination against blogging, journalism and all that’s liberating about the internet.

I’ll always remember being contacted by a writer called George, offering to knock up a guest post that would be suitable for the blog’s young readers. He conveniently offered me some links to recent articles he did, including one where he seemed to pose as a female student called Beth. She (or he) “studies finance companies from payday loan providers (cue big old link to company) to mortgage lenders”. Hmm, not sure what the ethics of pretending to be a student are.

But that’s nothing compared to his other article. He actually had the audacity to include a link to a company called Payday Loan Bank, recommending it for students WHO’VE GOT INTO DEBT.

The article (and website) have now been taken down but I remember being appalled at the dangerous advice being dished out at the time. Whatever you might think about payday loans as a viable financial product, nobody with any conscience would tell a student who’s struggling with money to take out a loan at 2670%.

The article said the product would “to help you get your finance [sic] back under control”. (It looks like you need to get your grammar under control, apart from anything).

What about the Citizens Advice Bureau? Or the Consumer Credit Counselling Service? Surely if you’ve gone into the red, you need proper help, not more debt?

In 2012, Wonga was forced to take down a page advocating payday loans for students after an outcry from the general public. Yet I keep finding variations on this depressing theme, as shameless companies succeed in infiltrating blogs with pimped-up adverts for potentially ruinous products.

That’s why we need independent websites that don’t just care about whether their content is helpful and accurate – but actually show a shred of compassion for their readers too. Is it really too much to ask?

What do you think? Tweet me @ionayoungmoney or leave a comment below…

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