NYFA Student Resources Online Center
First conceived of by my former manager at the New York Film Academy, Simon Sedorenko, and launched in May 2014, the Student Resources center was instrumental in helping me to double and nearly triple NYFA's YOY search traffic over the next two years. Originally overseen by myself, Sedorenko, and Eugene Farber, I was primarily responsible for the hub for its entire second year, which saw a marked increase in traffic and links pointing to the various articles on the site. Covering the Academy's 14 areas of study, we initially split up our responsibilities amongst the three of us, as each area of study had three subsections: How-To articles, Q&A's with alum and independent actors and filmmakers, and Industry Trends that contained general articles on topics like Acting and Filmmaking and which made up the bulk of the content as they were the easiest to engineer and articles like "7 Adobe Photoshop Plug-Ins You Need" earned a mind-boggling number of links that pushed the overall links to Student Resources into the six figures.
By the time of my departure in May 2016 and having been solely responsible for the section for nearly a year, we had published over 500 expertly SEO-optimized articles that helped expand the Academy's search visibility across hundreds of thousands of keyword- and query-guided searches. For the majority of my last year, Student Resource articles made up over half of the most visited pages on the NYFA site on a monthly basis and provided the site with a remarkably effective means of generating new links to the site through the creation of evergreen content alongside trending topics. Simply put, when I'm making an argument for the value of content marketing in an SEO campaign, this is one of the first examples I point to in demonstrating just how doable a project of this scope is.
Content Marketing Strategy
As the Academy was a for-profit institution, it definitely led many of its peers in its SEO campaigns, although the nature of many of the institution's links were dubious at best. When I first arrived at NYFA in September 2013, my main focus was cleaning up the tens of thousands of URLs pointing to the site, either contacting web masters to remove links or disavow whole domains in the process of rectifying a manual penalty generated by the Penguin 2.0 algorithm. While NYFA had dodge a penalty during the first rollout of Penguin, the second version's focus on guest posts made NFYA a perfect candidate, having commissioned hundreds of articles with obvious keyword anchor text pointing back to the site ("film school" and "photography school" were big ones).
Thus, once we had cleaned up the entire site and lifted the penalty, we turned our attention to content marketing strategies that were infinitely more effective and efficient than the concentrated link building of NYFA's past (though it took them a while to finally realize that whole days spent chasing one or two links wasn't the best use of our time).
As the above screenshot shows, our content strategy combined researching and repurposing the most popular topics as indicated by tools like BuzzSumo along with our own sensibilities as to providing a well-rounded content hub that didn't seem like it was pandering to keywords (indeed, the "Best TED Talks" template was one of several used across the sections and were regularly amongst our most-linked articles). It also shows that my personal lack of interest in photography and being responsible for 14 areas of study--not to mention I only had one to two days of the week to work on Student Resources (or SR for shorthand)--resulted in some sections receiving considerably more attention than others.
While I am personally not a big fan of contemporary games, editing this section and working with a reliable writer was one of the many pleasures derived from running SR as I know way more about the inner workings of Steam or the annual trends at E3 than I should. In setting up Student Resources, it was clear that we could not be personally responsible for generating content as the prospect of each of us writing 15 articles a week on top of dealing with everything else Search Marketing requires was just not feasible. That's not say I wasn't allowed to indulge my own interests in article form from time to time.
While NYFA's author attribution was wonky at best--indeed, of the 200-odd articles attributed to me, I likely wrote between five and ten--we assembled a reliable base of writers, many of whom were specialists in the field and thus were able to produce articles that students were actually able to learn from. One writer, Vivian Cummings, was especially memorable as she started out turning in highly forgettable articles on broadcast journalism, but once asked to step up her game, she did so that had her articles being recommended to students by instructors.
As seen in the above screenshot, she was exceptional in providing a balanced palette of industry-focused advice pieces alongside incisive and timely insight into the debates fueling contemporary journalism. Of course, when it comes to earning 30,000 links, journalistic ethics tend to get you more in the realm of 3, unless you put the necessary time into creating an authoritative piece on a particular subject. In the below example, I worked with the writer Zeke Iddon to cull together nearly 100 broadcast journalism terms to craft a piece that continues to generate new links in the forms of online syllabi from other colleges and bloggers.
While trending topics might earn you a high concentration of clicks in a short period of time, it soon became evident that in the case of Student Resources, it was best to focus on evergreen content, or topics that would be relevant regardless of the year or season, making them ripe for internal linking. Linking to previous articles and having extensive and comprehensive navigation is a perfect way to circulate the link juice of your best performing pages to help those that are less popular to be crawled more regularly by search bots and appear in more searches. How do I know this? Because when I would go back and look at an article's performance, those that received the most internal links often saw a noteworthy inflation in traffic, even if the subject matter isn't the most glamorous (although as the below example illustrates, a topic like cinema verite will be mentioned in nearly every documentary article, making it a perennially ripe target for internal linking).
In conclusion, the Student Resources center was not only an ideal way to increase site traffic and earn links to NYFA.edu, but also as something of a lab to test different content ideas and see how they are received. When working for a brand in a specialized sector like education, it's paramount that quality is always preferential to quantity and thus, through investing in a wide-ranging content experiment like Student Resources, NYFA will be receiving dividends for years to come in terms of search traffic and potential leads. And hey, who doesn't like to earn links by writing about King Kong and special effects?