Making your SNO website pay off

When Matt Rasgorshek signed up his students’ website for the SNO Ad Network in September 2013, he said he didn’t expect to make much money but thought it would be good to get in on the ground floor. A few months later, Westside Wired was at the top.

The site from Westside High School in Omaha was the top performer in the SNO Ad Network during the fourth quarter of 2013, earning more than $750 and easily paying for the renewal fees for next year with leftovers supporting travel to conventions.

Making money off advertising is the byproduct of the unusually high traffic of this site. Rasgorshek said his staff placed the SNO Ad Network advertisements on the home page and in the sidebar of the story pages then left them alone while concentrating on content. The traffic paid off with thousands of page views, each earning a micropayment. But they add up.

Sites in the SNO Ad Network directly benefit students because 70 percent of the revenue is shared with the schools, first as a credit toward renewal, upgrades or training, then as a check to the journalism program.

While Westside Wired is the default page for the school’s one-to-one MacBook program, fresh content is what keeps Westside students clicking through the home page to read stories.

“As a publication, it’s our goal to have new content posted at least daily,” Rasgorshek wrote in an email message.

National ads aren’t the only revenue for Westside. The team has developed an advertising package for local advertisers who want a message both in print and online.

“They can advertise on newspaper, yearbook, online or broadcast, or you can spend a little more and advertise on all four,” Rasgorshek wrote. “It’s quite the incentive for them. We’ve gotten good feedback from advertisers.”

While not all news websites should expect this kind of immediate success, Rasgorshek’s recipe to get there is simple: Cover topics that have high interest.

“Look closely at your analytics/data,” he wrote. “Find out what your audience is interested in.”

He also encouraged engagement. “Be interactive with your audience, too,” he wrote. “Crowdsource ideas. Have them submit photos or story ideas. (We’re still working on that part).”

Getting started with the SNO Ad Network is easy. Just completethis form. All ads SNO places on sites are appropriate for a student audience.

“I can say firsthand that SNO is very cognizant of the content that goes up on the ads,” Rasgorshek wrote, “and, quite honestly, that’s more important to me… knowing that they have our back.”

Here are tips to increase traffic, engagement and maybe even your payoff.

  1. Use analytics. If you’re not already signed up to receive free reports from Google Analytics, submit a SNO Support ticket to get started. Then review the reports to learn your site’s high-interest stories, referral sources and length of engagement.
  2. Post often. Ideally, your students should have new content daily. Don’t wait until your print paper is published to dump a bunch of stories online.
  3. Use the story with sidebar, if you aren’t already. This means the ad will show up with each story, not just the home page. Save the full-width and long-form templates for content that deserves special treatment.
  4. Promote with social media. Use hashtags to be discovered in search. Post when your audience is online (evenings, weekends). Select a few stories each week for  “Best of” or “In case you missed it” re-posts.