Warner Bros. Birds of Prey is the latest Comic Book film adaption to hit the big screen. Unfortunately opening weekend numbers were not a rousing success. Where investor projections placed opening weekend ticket sales between $50 – $55 million domestically, Birds of Prey only generated $33 million. In an unusual turn of events though, Warner Bros. blames SEO.

In the wake of lackluster marketing and poor outreach, most potential movie-goers either weren’t aware that Birds of Prey was released or (and more importantly here) they simply had no idea what the movie was about. Being perfectly honest, Birds of Prey isn’t the most well-known of comic book superhero/villain teams out there.

Birds of Prey Brand Recognition? Nope, None of That

Birds of Prey isn’t as well known as Justice League or Teen Titans (or conversely The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy if you’re thinking Marvel comics). As such, there is no cultural knowledge-baseline for Birds of Prey as a DC Comics property.

So in terms of a user’s experience, if there has been virtually no (or poor) marketing and the film’s pending release isn’t very well covered, people were seeing “Birds of Prey” listed among online ticket sale options and most likely asking themselves “Birds of Prey? Is that an R-Rated documentary about hawks and falcons?”

While scuttlebutt seems to indicate that these concerns were well-voiced within Warner Bros. studios before the film’s release, the movie fell victim to the scenario regardless and ticket sales took an unexpected hit.

Context, Context, Context

However, as an SEO I recognize that there is more at play here than just branding/franchise awareness. One of the most crucial aspects of SEO that people are just starting to grasp is context. Google analyzes a myriad of factors to determine both user-intent and content context – i.e. the best way to match a user’s keyword searches with a piece of content on a webpage.

At RankScience we’re always telling people that appropriate SEO works from the interior to the exterior – from inside to outside. Your optimization efforts have to hinge on a page’s context. In this vein, context is what the actual substance or core of what your content is about.

In regards to Birds of Prey, the fact of the matter is that the actual context of the film is solely placed on Harley Quinn. The first quarter of the movie follows her, the impetus for most of the plot sequences is her, and it’s really only her character-psychology that the movie explores. None of the other characters experience as much narrative development as her. Based on that context, it’s not a Birds of Prey film, it’s a Harley Quinn film.

However, choices to try and have the film compete with other heavy-hitting superhero team themed movies seemed to have been the external impetus for shoehorning the “Birds of Prey” team name (and creating this issue Warner Bros. is in). Like I mentioned before, appropriate SEO begins from the inside to the outside, not the other way around. The internal context of the film should have been the driver for the user-facing title and not trying to compete in the super hero team film space.

It’s Never Too Late for Good SEO

Approx. 4 days after the films released Warner Bros. changed the films name from “Birds of Prey” to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.” Quite unprecedented to have a film’s name changed after it’s release (as I can’t think of another instance where this occurred). In terms of SEO though this should help the film recover from it’s less than optimal opening weekend.

“Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” as a title should convert both segments of user traffic: branded and non-branded. Obviously the branded aspect is people who are looking for the film, but the crucial aspect is non-branded. Someone seeing “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” without any background on the film, will most likely give him or her enough information about the film for them to make a choice. But on the other end, people conducting Google searches for “Harley Quinn” will also learn about the film. This maximizes exposure and can ensure that regardless of less than optimal outreach, SEO can help close the gap and get ticket sales back on projections.

If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s that getting SEO done right can make all the difference. RankScience has the tools and know-how to help you do just that. If you’re working on a piece of content and you want to get as much search traffic out of it as possible, check out our Content Insights Tool. If you’re interested in SEO Testing and want to split test different Title Tags or Meta Descriptions to see which performs better on Google, then our A/B Testing Tool is perfect for you.

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.

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