From Captain Jack Sparrow to Boris Johnson, the power of search is more important than ever
Search has evolved to become a powerhouse insights tool that’s credible enough to be used as evidence in a court of law, says Laura Rudd, Head of SEO and Insights at No Brainer.
Boris Johnson and Johnny Depp are search strategists. Yes, you read that right - but just hear me out.
Let’s start with Johnny. We all intently followed his recent ‘duelling defamation’ case with his ex-wife Amber Heard on the back of an op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post - and that it was televised in its entirety across the globe.
Like millions of others, I watched the trial. But there was a particular moment that I could have jumped out of my seat: when Doug Bania took to the stand to testify about the effect that Heard’s op-ed had on Depp’s career. To my utter surprise (and delight), he used Google Trends as the primary data source of his analysis!
As part of Bania’s testimony, he explained that he’d analysed search data both before and after the op-ed. It was fascinating to see (and strangely surreal) to see something that I use every day for my job also being used as vital evidence/testimony in one of the highest-profile cases ever.
Once Depp’s team had finished their questions, it was time for Heard’s team's cross-examination. They prodded and probed at the data, even asking whether there was a way to understand just how many searches this data represented - I may have leapt up yelling “yes there is!” at that point (whilst simultaneously firing up my keyword research tool).
But it did get me thinking.
The power of ‘search’ is more important than ever - it has evolved to become a powerhouse insights tool that’s credible enough to be used as evidence (a big leap from 15 years ago).
But on the other hand, knowing what I know, it can be manipulated.
While Johnny Depp leveraged search data to prove levels of interest (or search volume) over time, others approach organic search to monitor negative sentiment around a brand, topic or person - then come up with a strategic approach on how to smooth things over by using digital PR, SEO and content.
All to ensure that more positive content ranks on page one, effectively hiding the negative from searchers and even potential buyers. Essentially they’re leveraging Online Reputation Management (or ORM).
So how does BoJo do it?
This brings me nicely on to Boris Johnson and in particular, Partygate: the massive political scandal about parties that government staff held when there were restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic. Downing Street staff joked that it was just ‘cheese and wine’ - you probably already know the rest of the story!
A key thing to note about that was the word ‘cheese’: in mid-May, during an interview where Johnson encouraged people to return to the office, he mentioned that when he tried to work from home, he was too easily distracted by coffee and cheese. This generated a lot of coverage in itself (The Independent, Huffington Post and the Guardian to name a few).
A quick Google for ‘cheese Boris’ or ‘cheese Boris Johnson’ and page one of the results is predominantly about that interview via highly authoritative news sites - but slide into pages two or three and you’ll see the scandal coverage that was there before. That’s a good spot of ORM Bozza...
Now you may think I’m clutching at straws with this one, but there’s been rumours in the industry that Boris is trying to manipulate search for years. Another example would be around buses - I’m sure you remember Boris’s negative association with buses in the past. Going back to June 2019, Boris was interviewed by TalkRadio and mentioned his love of painting model buses. This had the exact same effect.
Whether Boris is doing this coincidentally, or if he’s become somewhat of an online reputation expert - his words have power on search. Going back to Johnny Depp, we have a clear view from Google on the impact of his reputation, which is valid enough to become key evidence in a trial.
We’ve explored two high-profile examples of people leveraging the power of organic search as either data-based evidence, or as a strategy to protect a reputation in future.
If Boris Johnson and Johnny Depp are savvy - surely brands around the UK are waking up to the power of search beyond just rankings, right? Well, not so much.
Before this approach reached the stratosphere of A-listers, it’s been providing massive opportunities for brands to improve and/or recover their reputation, as well as demonstrate and track brand awareness for some time. But not all brands are leveraging search beyond just rankings - a significant missed opportunity, especially for crisis communications strategy.
To paraphrase Jack Sparrow - if you’re looking for the opportune moment, this is it.