Harley Quinn: The SEO Strategy.

Last weekend saw the release of a major DC release for 2020, Birds Of Prey: (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). I saw it on the opening night, and to be honest I hadn’t really noticed how long the title of the movie was. A few days after the release though, DC certainly did, revenue was well below what was expected, and it turns out, the lack of organic results meant fewer people were finding the movie to book tickets or view times. This is certainly not the only issue in the performance, but it has contributed.

Now, since the movie was announced, in my head it was always called ‘Birds Of Prey’. Why? Because that’s what the title is before it loses my attention. Nobody was going to walk up to a box office and say “Hi, one ticket to Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) please”. Instead, it’s “One ticket to Birds Of Prey please”, and as it turned out, this, alongside “Harley Quinn” is what most people were searching for. Let’s look at the search trends.

Harley Quinn? Right at the end of the movie name, so not great for SEO.

To be super clear, getting your keyword at the beginning of a title isn’t the key to SEO success anymore, but when so many searches are being completed for a phrase, it also shouldn’t be at the end. What we saw happening was people searching for “Harley Quinn”, and instead of getting movies times and ticket options, they were getting character summaries and Wiki results, so the studio took the highly unusual route of renaming the movie AFTER it was released. It’s now called ‘Harley Quinn: Birds Of Prey’. Why? This is what the studio had to say in a statement to The Verge.

In a statement to The Verge, a Warner Bros. representative says the name change is part of a “search expansion for ticket sites.”

The name change was literally designed to facilitate organic results on both search engines and also on ticket websites. How much did this cost the studio in ticket sales? We can’t be sure. How much did it cost to rebrand the movie title? Probably more money than we care to think about.

What Are The Lessons Here For SEO?

Whilst this is certainly a lesson in branding for Warner Bros., They also have a lot to learn about SEO. Here are some takeaways.

What Are Your Audience Searching For?

This seems like a really basic requirement for SEO, and it is, but it’s more than just keyword research, it’s audience insights, it’s working to understand the intent of what your audience is searching for. Calling a film “Birds of Prey”, and having the main character name shoved at the end doesn’t make logical sense. People know “Harley Quinn” considerably more than they know “Birds Of Prey”, which is the comic book series that the movie is named after.

Never Presume That Search Engines Are Intelligent

Organic search was an afterthought in this marketing campaign and branding exercise and it showed. People are so used to just finding what they’re searching for, even when the query isn’t exactly right, that it’s making people lazy. It’s a presumption that the Search Engine will work it out for you.

Every Search Query Is A Question

Even when it’s not a literal question, the search query is still a question. Everything you search for needs an answer. Here are some examples:

Searching for a movie? Are you looking to watch the trailer? read reviews? buy tickets? find showtimes?

Searching for a product? Are you looking for the price? to read reviews? to find out where you can buy it?

Searching for a service? Are you looking for prices? to find out which companies can provide you with the service? how are the reviews on companies that provide the service? when you can have the service?

You might not be typing or asking a question out loud, but you are looking to answer the question in your head, the intent behind your search.

If you’re relying on organic search for revenue or exposure, you need to ask yourself the ultimate question first. “When executing this, will I be providing the answers to the questions the audience may not even realise they’re asking?”. If you cannot answer yes, it’s not ready. If you can, then you’re already doing a better job than a billion-dollar movie studio!

P.S. – Go and watch this movie because it’s two hours of neon-tinged fight scenes with the most kickass group of female leads probably ever.


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