The Antihero’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

October 10, 2018

Perspective

Written by David Lovett | SEO lead at Periscope

This is not your typical SEO success story. There are many excellent articles, case studies and long reads into such subjects. This is not one of them. This is about when we did the worst SEO that we could. On purpose. With the client’s permission. And why.

It started with a landing page on a Tumblr site for a new line of “Deadpool”-inspired Trolli gummies, marketed and released to correspond with the film’s release. I heard a line I hear too often: “The SEO doesn’t matter for this site.” Who has heard or said that one before? If you’ve been working in advertising or digital marketing — or especially SEO — then you’ve almost certainly encountered the above statement.

Here are a few more statements dismissive of SEO that most people reading this have either heard or made throughout their career:

  • “We just finished building this site. Can you do the SEO?”
  • “What are the right tags for SEO optimization?”
  • “We’d like to do SEO, but it can’t interfere with the strategy or content.”
  •  “If search matters, we can always run ads.”

I’ll admit that sometimes SEO is hard to justify. In this case, we found ourselves unable to justify a conventional SEO approach for a temporary time-sensitive microsite for an established brand whose main purpose is to accompany an interactive experience and social campaign.

And so we said:

Let’s do the worst SEO ever. On purpose — not as laziness, a sabotage or a protest. As a strategy that’s integrated into the campaign, which starts to anti-mainstream brands – “Deadpool” and Trolli Candy.

The result? An evolving self-referential title tag that spoke directly to the audience referencing the NSA and the film 27 Dresses.” A title tag written from Deadpool’s perspective. A metastasizing meta meta-description that eventually reached 5,000 characters. Keywords that held the keys to secret contests. Hidden text throughout the webpage, coded entirely as H1s to ensure Google wouldn’t like it.

All of this added up to one thing: Very bad SEO.

It was on-brand, yet entirely new — Deadpool is the Merc with the Mouth. He has a line in “Deadpool” about breaking the fourth wall. It engaged with the audience on a deeper level — involving them in a hidden contest with secret hashtags and cryptograms. We engaged with users not just on a deeper level, but on their level — creating niche content that speaks their language.

Did it work? It really did.

There are four main lessons that I think can be taken from this. These lessons apply to brands, SEO teams, creative directors and anyone else who touches an SEO campaign — or even any marketing campaign:

  • Know thy audience. Meet people where they are. Give them what they want.
  • Stop valuing being correct over being effective. This tip might mostly be SEO-focused, but it’s a real problem. You can run the best technical audits of all time but it doesn’t matter if the people receiving the audits can’t decipher them. You can be pedantic and factual and idealist, but at what cost?
  • Don’t isolate your SEO. Integrate it. SEO cannot live in a vacuum. It cannot be relegated to the silo with the other misfit disciplines. Search engines are a key aspect of how your customers will make their decisions, so they must be embraced as such.
  • Redefine everything. Don’t rely on what things have been done before. Explore and define: What does all of this mean, here and now?

SEO used to be about getting the most visitors to a website. Now, SEO is about getting customers to interact with brands via search engines. We live in the world of voice assistants, invisible search, the Google Knowledge Graph and heavy localization of all searches. SEO cannot live in a silo. It has to be integrated throughout the entire process — just like every other aspect of your campaign and brand has to integrate into your SEO.

I want to close by making one thing clear: I am not just an SEO guy but also a Deadpool fan, a redditor and a guy who likes metafiction. This could be the most important aspect of this. It helps to know your audience when you are your audience.

And no, we didn’t do anything crazy with the metadata in this article.