Off the Radar - Insights from Stealth Creative

SEO in the Age of Voldemort: Rethinking Analytics in an Anti-SEO World

Run for the hills, You-Know-Who is upon us! Heralded by an army of data-eaters, Lord Voldemort has entered the world of marketing to do what he does best: Sowing chaos throughout the land. 

No, we aren’t talking about the arch-villain from the famous J.K. Rowling book series (although he would probably approve of his name being applied to such a diabolical concept). We mean the recent popular trend by webizens to purposefully communicate in ways that mislead or subvert analytics algorithms.

It’s called “Voldemorting.” Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. It’s fairly new and is only just now being seriously discussed by academics and entrepreneurs alike.

While it might sound silly, there’s nothing fictional or magical about what this means. In a marketing world obsessed with SEO and its many uses when combined with data analytics, this charming little trend could spell the end of digital marketing as we know it if it catches on.

Hold on! Hold on! Don’t get your dragons in an uproar. We, here at Stealth, have an eye on the future and a hand in crafting a better today.

So get your quills out, and prepare to learn all about Voldemorting, and how you can be the Business Who Lived.

Avadaka-Data! How 'Voldemorting' Works

Ok, we know what you must be thinking: “You have GOT to be joking.” Unfortunately, we are deathly serious. User data is a hallowed topic to many consumers, and after the illuminating revelations of Facebook and Twitter’s most recent mismanagement of user data, it’s no wonder the internet has created a “Dumbledore’s Army” of sorts to fight back against corrupt data gathering practices.

Voldemorting gets its devious name from the Harry Potter novels, where characters would replace the name “Lord Voldemort” with phrases like “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

So how does it work?

According to a recent article, the appropriately named Voldemorting involves users deliberately communicating with language that is easily understood by message recipients, but that changes targeted SEO terms just enough to slip by the algorithms.

For example, if you’ve been following the recent controversy over Gillette’s new ad, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that some particularly angry people are using #Girlette on Twitter as a form of protest.

The usage of the term #Girlette doesn’t immediately register on Gillette’s radar as being related to their brand, so unless they have people doing a deep dive into social media, Voldemorting has allowed people to have a negative conversation about their brand without Gillette being aware. Now Gillette has the resources to dedicate a social media team to search for this stuff. (But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) Unfortunately, your business may not be able to devote as much time and effort to this.

This doesn’t necessarily impact your position in the search rankings, but instead functions to hide damaging conversations about your brand from your company while allowing them to appear to the general public. In essence, the nature of your SEO has been weaponized against your business. 

It’s important to note that the people who are typically engaged in Voldermorting already have a negative disposition towards whatever brand they’re targeting. This means that Voldemorting will almost always result in possible public relations crises being hidden from you. It’s hard to defend your brand when you don’t know your brand is under attack. Sounds like the kind of scenario that keeps your PR manager awake at night, doesn’t it?

This also means your social media analytics (keyword mentions, page views, etc.) are shot. How can you do consumer research and AB testing when internet users are using guerilla tactics to thwart you? If you’re a coffee company and your consumers rebel by exclusively using the term “Bean Juice” to discuss coffee online, where to you turn to for consumer feedback?

It gets worse.

Researcher Emily van der Nagel claims that users aren’t just actively avoiding tripping algorithms, they are also looking to alleviate what she terms “forced connections.” These can be innocuous, like the friend and group suggestions that Facebook offers to more intrusive targeted advertising. Voldemorting obscures user interest, leading to wildly inaccurate consumer targeting.

So now, instead of the sudden replacement of “Coffee” by “Bean Juice” impacting market research, you’re also completely blind as to where to target your advertising.

The good news is Voldemorting has only impacted social media, meaning your Google analytics should still be safe.

But...

At best, this means all that money spent on digital advertising on social networks isn’t as effective as it was. At worst, this means consumer touchpoints are much harder to identify, and consumer acquisition becomes as difficult as catching the Golden Snitch.

Bottom line: Regardless of how frivolous it might sound, the rise of Voldemorting is nothing to laugh at, and certainly something you want to keep an eye on going forward. 

Solution 1: The Goblet of Web Search 

So now that you know a little about Voldemorting, it’s time to roll up our robes, and come up with a solution. Sorry Ron, it won’t be as easy as following the spiders this time. We have to blaze our own trail in this brand new world of anti-SEO. 

Interestingly enough, a possible solution might come from the very book series that named the scourge we now fight against.

In The Goblet of Fire, a massive goblet is installed in the great hall of Hogwarts to take applicants for a massive wizard tournament. There is an age requirement that all applicants must meet to be entered, and the goblet is enchanted to reject minors in a…shall we say percussive…manner.

Anyway, long story short (and in a spoiler far, far away…), Harry Potter gets picked to compete without being the proper age. The reason? Someone changed the criteria to enter Harry’s name in the goblet.

Now think of SEO as the Goblet of Fire. Any digital marketer worth their salt will tell you to be targeted with your keyword list. The more nuanced, the better.

Voldemorting is so effective because it targets this aspect of SEO. By changing words or phrases ever so slightly, it can pass right through without tripping any alarms. To stick with our metaphor, it works as intended and ensures that only certain people can put their names in the Goblet of Fire.

But what if you were to go against every marketing instinct in your body, and make the SEO terms more general? You wouldn’t even have to go crazy with it, just widen the specificity of SEO terms slightly. Similar to what happened in Goblet of Fire, more people could put their name in the goblet, widening the target audience.

This might take the form of focusing on keywords within your SEO phrases that aren’t easy to change without changing the meaning (e.g., generic descriptions of services, verbs like “does” or “has,” etc.). Or you could simply go more generic.

Sure, you might be picking up conversations that really have nothing to do with your brand, but it’s better than being shut out of the discussion altogether.

While this might be the least efficient method of dealing with Voldemorting, it is the most cost effective.

However, if you have the resources at your disposal, you might just try…

Solution 2: The Half-Blood Algorithm

Ooh! Just reading that gave us chills. 

No, we’re not implying you should use some black magic ritual to conjure up more customers. We’re talking about making cyborgs! 

Well, kinda.

Algorithms are cold, unfeeling things. They run on heuristics that are programmed based on data available at the moment of creation, and then turned loose into a landscape that changes faster than Professor McGonagall in a transfigurations classroom.

That is why algorithms are so vulnerable to Voldemorting. The nature of the internet allows for people to create infinite combinations of letters and terms; so that new Voldemorts will be appearing constantly. And algorithms can take a lot of time to update if they don’t know what needs to be changed.

That’s why we propose a hybrid approach. It’s fine to use your initial keyword list with their initial SEO heuristics to start. But to keep up with the ever-evolving nature of the internet, you should really have some flesh-and-blood staff devoted to seeking out the weak points in your digital marketing strategy, and fixing them as they appear (sorta like what we discussed with Gillette earlier). You could even make this an extension of your social media department, since that’s were Voldemorting occurs most anyway.

Facebook kinda already does this with its questionable content review system; though its unlikely your business needs to go to such lengths to meet your marketing needs.

Be warned: Depending on the size of your business, this could be quite an investment of both time and resources.

We know this isn’t ideal, and it really is only intended as a stopgap measure until someone develops a more effective method of dealing with Voldemorting. But considering this problem is only just starting to emerge, that might be some time coming.

However, this is quite possibly the most effective method for combating Voldemorting to date.

And unless you want your business to end up as dead as Dumbledore (we’re still shock over that one), you might consider taking a hard look at your current SEO practices, and preparing for the battle to come.

Still terrified He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is out to get your business?

Stealth can help!

We have years of experience in both SEO tailoring and social media management. As one of the first in the industry to have Voldemorting on our radar, we know how to give you a wand up in the digital market. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.

As always, stay tuned for more tips and tricks (and spells ✨) from Stealth next time we go Off the Radar. 

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