What Harley Quinn Has Taught Us About SEO

Erik Helm
February 26, 2020

Despite jumping off to a fairly respectable start with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the DC Extended Universe has had trouble getting off the ground after a series of underwhelming attempts to expand the world. Despite critical success with their most recent release, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulousness Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, initial box office numbers suggest the studio has another flop on their hands.

As a result, movie theaters took an unusual approach to solve their mistakes and changed the name of the movie after opening weekend to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. While the studio’s involvement in the change has been questioned, Warner Bros. exec Sue Kroll said the name hasn’t officially changed but online listings have been modified so fans can “find it more quickly.”

Despite not outright saying it, that sure sounds like a change with SEO in mind. As a result, we decided to look at what Dr. Quinzel could teach us about digital marketing.

1. Don’t bury the lede

You think this is something DC would have realized, considering Ewan McGregor’s character Black Mask makes a joke about it in the movie, but it’s important to not bury the lede. Harley Quinn is the face of the movie: she’s the main character, she’s over the posters, she’s featured in the trailers, and the movie is probably 80% her story. But instead, the studio named the film with Birds of Prey in mind, relegating “Harley Quinn” all the way to the ninth and tenth words of the title.

As SEO experts, the title tag is one of the most vital parts of any optimization, both in search engine’s crawling process and as a first impression with any potential visitor. As a result, we’ve learned to put the important parts first while using the end for lesser details.

DC didn’t get this message in their initial naming and instead decided to advertise the film as primarily a Birds of Prey movie, and a Harley Quinn movie second. As a result, average movie-goers that might have seen a Harley Quinn movie decided to skip it entirely.

2. Match your title to the content

Why exactly the Harley Quinn movie has disappointed at the box office is up for debate, but experts have theorized a variety of reasons, including superhero fatigue, distrust of DC movies, and poor trailers. Arguably the most likely, however, goes back once again to the name.

For those who have seen the movie (and based on ticket sales, you probably haven’t), the name focus on Birds of Prey comes across as particularly weird as the trio doesn’t form until 3/4 of the way through the movie. Until then, it’s inarguably a Harley Quinn movie.

From an SEO & content perspective, not matching the title to the content is a deadly mistake for performance indicators. On the SERP, this discrepancy leads to high bounce rates and eventually decreased rankings. For DC, naming the movie after the Birds of Prey instead of one of their most valuable characters likely lost them millions of dollars.

3. Trailers as meta descriptions

Let’s go back to another possible reason the movie has underwhelmed: poor trailers. Much like recent superhero hits Deadpool and Logan, the studio decided to give their film an R rating to allow for more adult content. Unlike those two, however, no red band trailers were released for the Cupid of Crime, preventing the studio from advertising what drew critics to it: extremely well-done, violent fight scenes that add enough style to make it enjoyable. Instead, the trailers came across as just another superhero movie that doesn’t dare to do anything different.

In a way, trailers and meta descriptions are exactly the same: a condensed synopsis to draw you in and encourage further participation, whether it’s clicking a link or buying a ticket. For SEO purposes, the meta description is an essential first part of optimizing any content for your website as you offer visitors a glimpse and a promise towards what you’re offering them.

Birds of Prey essentially decided to give their movie a poor meta description that resulted in a low click-through rate (ticket sales) and are now unable to optimize for it.

While SEO gets the benefit of going back after the fact to optimize to increase traffic, DC is seemingly out of luck and appears to be headed towards another bust. Here’s hoping they learned their lesson in time for The Suicide Squad.


Looking for an industry update? Look no further! Check out our post on Facebook’s roll out!

Curious about what SEO expert can do for you? Check out our services to see how we can improve your website.

Erik Helm
Manager, Search Engine Optimization

Erik Helm is an Ohio native who once spent nine hours at the Louvre in Paris. His favorite drink is a Bourbon Old Fashion Sour and he’d love to geek out with you about all things concerning baseball statistics.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Our digital marketing services will take your business to the next level.

Start your journey with a free site audit.