The 2016 SNO Distinguished Sites Application Season Is Now Open!

Between now and May 31 you can (and really should) apply for any (or all) of the SNO Distinguished Sites badges representing six key components of a modern news website:

  • Continuous Coverage

  • Site Excellence

  • Story Page Excellence

  • Excellence in Writing

  • Multimedia

  • Audience Engagement

Not a contest with winners or losers, the SNO Distinguished Sites program recognizes those sites that meet the standards in each of these core areas. For each set of standards reached, a badge will be displayed on the SNO client list next to that publication’s name.

News staffs are welcome to tackle the badges in any order, striving to earn as many as makes sense for their publication. A site that earns badges in all six core areas will be designated as a SNO Distinguished Site. Any staff that earns the SNO Distinguished Site designation will be permanently recognized on SNO’s Award Winners page.

Last year, in the program’s second season, 103 sites piled up nearly 178 individual badges, with 14 programs earning the honor of Distinguished Site.

If you’re a new program and just starting out, you can use these standards to chart your course. If you’re an experienced program already doing these things, then what are you waiting for? Apply for your badges today.

Submissions will be accepted through May 31, 2016, and you can reapply as often as necessary. Badges will be published on our client list as soon as we review your site.

To learn more and to apply, please visit the the SNO Distinguished Sites page.

The SNO Report: Check your users list for hitchhikers and get ready for SNO DS

Last spring, Gravity Forms (the developer of our very excellent Form Builder add-on) came out with an important update to patch a security flaw in the plugin. We sent out a note at that time to encourage our customers to update their plugins immediately — in general, the more diligent you are about running your updates, the more protected you’ll be from hacking attempts. We’ve been alerted to a few sites, however, that didn’t run this update in time and were consequently infected with malware.

Luckily, SNO’s virus-busting support tech team is standing by, and fixing this problem takes us less than an hour. You can help by checking your site right now for one telltale sign that your site may be hacked: a user in your users list by the name of WPUpdateStream or WPWhiteSecurity.

Please take a moment to review your list of authorized users on your site. You can do this by navigating to Users–>All Users in your admin menu. Make sure that you recognize every user, and that each user is set to an appropriate role. If you notice a user named WPUpdateStream or WPWhiteSecurity in your users list, notify us immediately. We’ll do a full cleanup of your site to remove all malware files, change your passwords, and ensure that your site’s secure and safe to use.

Get your site ready for the SNO Distinguished Sites program

This week, as you’re making lists and checking them twice, we have a couple things for you to add. When you’re ready to take a break from your holiday break, why not start prepping your site for the SNO Distinguished Sites program? Check out the criteria here. If you nab all six available badges, you’ll become one of this year’sDistinguished Sites.

You don’t have to have your site in tip-top shape by the new year, though. The Distinguished Sites program will be open through the end of May, and sites that don’t quite make it on the first attempt can adjust and resubmit during that period. Best of all, it’s not a competition, so take off those boxing gloves–we have plenty of badges to go around!

The SNO Report: Getting griddy with it

Getting griddy with it: possibilities for the new grid template

Ever wanted to try a “Humans of New York”-style feature on your site, using multiple photographs and short anecdotes or interviews for each? You’re not alone! We’ve gotten zillions of questions about the best way to design these stories, and after scratching our heads for a while, we’ve come up with a story page template that makes creating “stories within stories” a snap. Meet the grid template!

This template has more moving parts than your average story, so it can be a little confusing at first to set up. Just follow these guidelines, and you’ll be on your way.

Like the longform and side-by-side templates,the grid template requires a “container” story as well as “chapter” stories in order to work properly. You should create the container story first. When you create the chapters, you’ll need to make sure each is associated with the container–you’ll be able to choose this from a drop-down menu when you select the grid chapter template.

Your container should be set to at least one category, as usual. Your chapters, however, should remain uncategorized, to prevent them from displaying individually in your category widgets.

Use crisp, clear featured images for each chapter. You’ll get the best results if all of them are the same size and horizontally oriented.

Your container can make use of an immersive featured image. If you decide to go this route, make sure the featured image is larger than normal (we recommend 1500×1000) so that it doesn’t get blurry when expanded.

Having trouble viewing the final product? Make sure all pieces of the story (chapters and container) are fully published.

You can see some more information about the grid template on our help site. Not feeling the Humans of Wherever thing? That’s OK! There are as many possibilities for this template as there are stars in the sky. (Well, almost.) Check out The Little Hawk’s story on freshman athletes to watch.

The SNO Report: Social media tips

On social media, show there’s a person behind the post. You’re busy, and you want to promote the new content on your site. The simple solution appears to be a plugin that will automatically post to Facebook and send a tweet whenever a new story is published. Resist the temptation! Readers want to see a little personality. That means crafting the posts and tweets individually.

Show your personality. Have a little fun with the headline. Pose a question. Pique the reader’s interest. Make sure there’s enough context to get a click.

Take advantage of the benefits of each platform. Twitter allows just 140 characters, meaning a pithy tweet. Facebook provides more than 63,000 characters. You don’t need to write that much — a few sentences are great. Include a picture. Ask a question. Provide context.

Preschedule the posts. Get in the writing zone for an hour and bang out a few dozen posts. WordPress allows you to schedule stories to be published in the future. Social media tools like Hootsuite or TweetDeck allow you to manage multiple accounts and schedule tweets — with images — to be seen when your audience is active — even if you already went to bed. Experiment with different times to see which gets clicks.

Resurface older content to fill the calendar. Try a “ICYMI” (In Case You Missed It) post from earlier in the week, or from a couple weeks ago. Preschedule these for weekend mornings and Sunday evening to bump up your traffic. Find a balance between craft and efficiency.

Want more tips? Read this. And this. Or this.

Get ready for next semester with a SNO Training Session

Whether you’ve just begun exploring the world of online-first journalism, or you’re a seasoned pro looking to kick your site up a few notches, SNO offers four personalized training sessions to meet you and your staff’s needs. Feeling overwhelmed by WordPress and not sure where to begin? Our adviser and stafftrainings will walk you through the basics and get you on the road to publishing your first stories. Want to add some pizazz to your homepage so it stands out in a crowd? Our design training will show you how to customize the look and feel of your pages and stories. Maybe you’re ready to dig deeper–our advanced training will help you fine-tune your site to glorious perfection.

Our trainings last up to an hour and are conducted over the phone. Using a screen-sharing program, you’ll follow along with one of our experienced and friendly trainers. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask all your burning questions. And we guarantee you’ll leave the session with renewed confidence and excitement about the possibilities of your site.

Order a training session today–we’ll make sure you get the information you need. All for just $75.

The SNO Report: SNO pins, you win!

Pinterest: it’s not just for recipes and craft projects anymore. We use the popular website to keep tabs on interesting, innovative things that SNO customers are doing with their sites. On the boards we’ve created, you will find a creative header showcase, full page site layouts, unique design elements, tools for better online publishing, and links to stories on Best of SNO.

You can use this page as a place to find examples, inspiration, and ideas. Best of all, almost everything you’ll see on our Pinterest page was accomplished using the same tools that you have on your SNO site. See something there that you love and want to replicate, but aren’t sure how? Just send us a message or chat, and we can give you some design tips!

Check out our Pinterest page here!

See you in Austin

The ACP/CMA National College Media Convention is coming up in just a few days–Oct. 28 through Nov. 1! Will you be there? We will. Stop by the SNO booth and say hi. We love meeting our customers, and we just might have some swag for you, too!

The SNO Report: SNO Resources To Boost Your Knowledge And Your Teaching

At SNO, we take care of the technology, so you can focus on the journalism. Many sources offer journalism curriculum — lessons on conducting an interview, taking great photos or polishing your lead — yet few sources exist to meet the specific challenges you face in managing a scholastic news website.

You don’t have to start from scratch or spend a lot of money. As your partner in publishing online we’ve developed some resources for you. Our growing list ofclassroom tools such as job descriptions, story and design checklists and even a workflow chart (all as PDF files), gives you a sense of best practices for online newsroom management.

SNO Team members have presented instructional sessions at conventions from coast to coast, and look for us at national conventions this fall. If you have not been able to attend these sessions, we’ve made the presentations available at Slideshareto view online and for you to use with your staff. You missed us in person, but this is the next best thing!

Even better than a 50-minute convention session is a full day of in-person training customized to the needs of your staff or other group. On these SNO Days we come to meet your staff, a group of advisers in a school district or region, or present a strand at your upcoming conference. In July, our team helped more than 30 schools get a jump start on the school year with a SNO Day in Dallas. Those teachers smartly teamed up to organize the training and share the expense, making the training a real value. Is a SNO Day right for your staff, group, or convention? Contact Kari at to discuss fees and possibilities.

No matter your budget or location, SNO has a resource to help you improve what you do as a teacher and adviser.

The SNO Report: All about analytics ?

You probably know that all SNO Sites come with access to Google Analytics, a platform that allows you to know who’s visiting your site, how many hits you’re getting, and what your most popular stories are. Or maybe you’ve never heard of Google Analytics, or you’re not quite sure how to process the different types of data you’re seeing. Wherever you stand with Analytics, here’s a quick lesson in “Why does Google insist on using such obscure words and what exactly do they mean?” in order to help you get the most out of your site’s analytics reports.

But, before we get started, you might be wondering– how do I access Google Analytics? Check out our help site article on accessing your Analytics account. You should also be receiving weekly email updates from Google Analytics– or maybe you were, but they’ve stopped. If you need your email subscription renewed, just let us know, and we’ll take care of that for you.

Now that you’re in, let’s start with something you should definitely be paying attention to: “Acquisition,” or, “how people are getting to your site.” Last week, we sent out aSNO Report detailing ways to get your site more traffic; here’s a great way to check if your social media promotion paid off! Common ways audiences access your content are through direct traffic (or knowing your URL by heart), organic search (thanks Google), Referral from another website, and Social Media. This will let you know what you should be focusing on in terms of promotion; aim for Social Media, Direct Traffic, and Organic Search to be the top three.

Now, you probably want to know how many hits you’re getting. You would also probably like to know what is getting the most hits, which pages visitors are viewing the most, and what kind of content seems to drive readers to your site. The “Behavior” section of Google Analytics will be your new best friend. Here, you can track the number of hits each story gets to help determine what your readers care about most. You can also look at how many hits you’re getting on any given day, or how consistent your traffic is over the span of any given time period. You should aim for more of a constant ebb and flow, rather than large traffic spikes after sudden “content dumps.” Posting new content consistently will ensure a more regular traffic pattern.

You’ll also want to learn a bit about your audience. Good news– there’s a whole section for that. Under the Audience tab, you can learn some crucial traits about your beloved readers. Are most of your readers mobile visitors? Make sure your mobile site is fully functional (maybe even consider investing in a SNO Mobile App.)  You should also keep tabs on how many new visitors– and how many returning visitors– you have. A 50/50 split between new and returning visitors is ideal; new visitors are great, but returning visitors implies that you have a solid readership. Having an even mix of both is right where you want to be.

Google Analytics is a great way to monitor everything that’s happening on your site; what’s working, what’s not, and what your audience really wants. Use this knowledge to make your site even more alluring to your readers, and watch those traffic numbers rise.

The SNO Report: Building buzz about your site

So, you’ve got a website. You update it consistently, you’ve adopted an online-first mentality, and, it looks pretty good, if you do say so yourself. You’re doing everything right– so why aren’t more people visiting your site?

The work doesn’t stop once you’ve launched your site. You’ve got to go the extra mile to get the traffic you want; after all, people can’t visit a site they don’t know about. So how do you get the buzz going? There are a few things you can try:

First, know that social media is key; it’s one of the best ways to drive traffic to your website, and can bring you a lot of new followers. If you don’t already have established social media accounts, you should definitely set them up; here are some tips from JEA Digital Media on how to get your social media sites up and running.

If you have an established social media presence for your publication, that’s excellent! Let’s talk about how you can use those social media sites to score some more site views.

First, Facebook.
Facebook is generally the top driver of traffic to school news sites, and by strategically posting your content here, you can significantly increase your traffic. It’s a great way to tease your stories, share relevant local and school news, and post pictures of your staff in action. You can also easily share your videos here, and Facebook’s extremely interactive commenting feature is a great way to interact with the readers of your publication.

Tweet Tweet.
Twitter is an excellent way to engage with your audience; replying to tweets, or retweeting relevant sports updates, announcements, or comments will get your readers more involved, and motivate them to visit your site regularly. Twitter is also a great way to establish yourself as the go-to source for all breaking news updates; the faster you are able to tweet out brief updates, or relay important announcements, your audience will start viewing you as the primary source for all school-related news. And don’t forget those hashtags– they can be a great way to ensure that your tweets are showing up in as many places as possible.

Snap some pics.
Instagram and Snapchat are great visual ways to draw people into your site. Instagram is the best platform to add the supplemental photos your staff has taken that maybe didn’t make it onto your site; and hey, if the photo’s you’re posting just happen to be one of many (the rest of which you can find online at (insert your URL here)!) that’s a pretty good way to drive people over to your site. Snapchat’s “story” feature is a great way to reach students, too; adding photos of articles posted on the site, or videos of sporting events and pep rallies; even adding the occasional fun video of your news staff “hard at work” is great advertisement.

And while we’re on the subject, advertisements can come in many shapes and sizes. Buttons? Stickers? T-shirts? Fliers? All great places to advertise your URL. Does your site have a custom logo? Spread that brand around the school like wildfire; print your logo on as many items of clothing you can. Make some lanyards, if you’ve got the budget for that sort of thing. Homemade products are great, too; posters, pins, hand-stitched pillowcases– if you can dream it, you can do it.

And, of course, keep your site updated! People won’t want to check your site if there isn’t new content, so make sure you’re keeping it fresh.

You can….

Add “fun” content amidst all of that hard-hitting journalism.
Try incorporating some lighter elements to your site, like a daily horoscope, or a weekly editorial or political cartoon. There are things that are commonly found in print papers, so why not take it online? Plus, they’re extremely easy to advertise via social media, and it’s a great way to draw in readers who may have never thought to check out your site in the first place. And chances are, once they’re on your site, they’ll stick around for a bit; especially if you’re utilizing the Side Rails template or therelated stories box.  You can also keep an updated events calendar on your site– ideally, you’ll end up being the go-to site for all the school’s happenings, which will improve both your readership and your reliability.

Bribe them.
No, really. Give them food. Block out a section of time in your computer lab or library for students to come in and “preview” the site…while earning some kind of sweet treat as a thank you. Sure, quite a few of them will only show up for the chocolate bars or donuts you’re handing out, but they’ll also have to at least glance over the site while they’re there.

Share that stuff.
Make your content shareable! Click the “show sharing buttons” on all of your stories before posting them– it’ll be much easier for your student body to spread the news that way, which will reach a broader audience, and take some of the work off of your hands. It’s a real win-win.

You can always check your site’s traffic by logging into Google Analytics; it’s a great way to gauge how many people are visiting your site, how they’re getting there, and what they’re looking at. If you don’t have access to google analytics, or you’ve forgotten how to access it entirely, just let us know.

Best of SNO: now open for submissions

Best of SNO showcases the best student journalism from members of the SNO Network (that’s you!) Why? We believe in recognition and inspiration–by displaying excellent work, we hope to inspire students with fresh ideas and new approaches to traditional news material. Many educators also use examples from Best of SNO as teaching tools in their classes.

Best of SNO is now open for submissions! We post new content daily, so we’re always on the prowl for great writing, original images, video, audio, and whatever else you’ve got up your sleeve. Stories submitted to Best of SNO should be previously published on your own news site. Simply put, we like good journalism–engaging, concise, and relevant–but for more detailed dos and don’ts, check out our guidelines here!

And it’s never too early to start thinking about the SNO Distinguished Sites program; with the school year in full swing, you’re no doubt curating and cultivating tons of great content– so why not get recognized for it? Starting in January, submissions for our Distinguished Sites program will open, but you can start working towards those badges right now.

SNO’s Distinguished Sites Program is composed of six separate badges, each representing a component of a successful news website. The badges are:

  • Continuous Coverage

  • Site Excellence

  • Story Page Excellence

  • Excellence in Writing

  • Multimedia

  • Audience Engagement

We’ve even come up with some new goals for you; because of our two new story page templates and SNO Story Elements, we’ve made some updates on the requirements for the Story Page Excellence badge. Out of the eight stories you submit for this particular badge:

You can apply for the badges in any order; for each set of standards reached, a badge will be displayed on the SNO client list next to that publication’s name. A site that earns all six badges will be considered a Distinguished Site. You can find more information about the Distinguished Sites program in our customer portal!

Congratulations, Mitch Eden
Longtime SNO friend Mitch Eden of Kirkwood (Mo.) High School has been named the Dow Jones News Fund’s 2015 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. Mitch advises the award-winning Kirkwood Call.

The SNO Report: Add your site to Apple’s News app

This week’s release of Apple’s iOS 9 includes a new app called News. Articles in the News app are pulled from a wide range of sources, and you can easily add your site to that content pool by following a few simple steps.

Start by going to Once there, create or sign in with an Apple ID for your publication. Next, follow the sign-up steps in News Publisher.

You’ll deliver content to the News app via an RSS feed. To get your feed URL, click on the RSS feed icon at the top of your site or simply add /feed/ to the end of your URL like this:

After you set up your feed, the next step is to upload a type-based logo. Your logo is used throughout News to identify your content, so make sure it’s clear and easy to read, even when scaled down. Apple recommends the following parameters:

  • Horizontal (all on one line) rather than stacked

  • Full-color transparent PNG

  • Required height: exactly 256 px

  • Recommended width: up to 2048 px (8:1 aspect ratio)

  • Maximum width: 2560 px (10:1 aspect ratio — note that some scaling will occur in logos that use the maximum width)

  • Maximum file size: 2 MB

  • Cropped or trimmed to remove extra space to the left and right (padding is applied automatically)

That’s it.  Once approved, any content published on your site will be available in the News app on every Apple device.

Need more help? Visit Apple’s support site or send us an email.