Titles are important across all genres. Book titles, movie titles, meta titles. They’re all important at explaining what something will be about and setting expectations. Making a title too obscure or esoteric means that no one knows what they’re in for. Make it boring, and nobody wants to read, watch, or click.
In the history of cinema, there have been a few major film flops that happened largely because of the name. The Shawshank Redemption performed terribly in theaters and most critics cite the name as the primary cause. John Carter, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and several others have underperformed largely because of a name.
Recently, there has been a lot of press about a change in the title of the recent DC Universe film Birds of Prey. The biggest issue at play is that the title makes it sound like the next episode in a Planet Earth documentary, rather than a superhero (anti-hero?) movie. This sequel to Suicide Squad had the lowest opening at the box office of any DC Universe movie ever. The reason? The title isn’t SEO-friendly. Harley Quinn has name recognition. Her backup band, the Birds of Prey, do not.
Within a week of their less-than-stellar opening weekend, the title now reads Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, a far more fitting title for a popular DC character helmed by Margot Robbie. The fact that the title didn’t include Harley Quinn’s name in the first place was cause for consternation among industry insiders. A similar problem seemed to happen for Dark Phoenix, the X-Men movie, as it failed to mention X-Men anywhere in the title and it too fell short of box office projections.
So what does that have to do with SEO? Warner Brothers admitted the name change was “to boost search engine optimization (SEO) to make it easier for fans to find it online as part of a ‘search expansion for ticket sites,” the Verge reported.
By simply adding Harley Quinn’s name to the title, it instantly became more searchable and provided a better understanding of what the movie is about. How often have you searched for something and used a search query like “new Harley Quinn movie” or “suicide squad sequel”? That fits how human behavior uses search and remembers titles. By making it more SEO-friendly, when users search for “Harley Quinn movie,” they’ll find showtimes for Birds of Prey. If you Google “birds of prey,” you get an interesting mix of showtimes for the movie, pictures of eagles and falcons, birds of North America, and articles about the movie. By streamlining the title and making it more SEO-friendly, they have effectively fixed the issues with how the film shows up in SERPs.
Be careful with your titles and your descriptions, whether you’re writing the next great American novel or producing a blockbuster or even just titling a page on your website. SEO matters, searchability matters, and by focusing on searcher expectations you can maximize performance.
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