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The Brand That Must Not Be Named: This Trend Curses Branded Traffic

Published: October 29, 2019       Updated: April 21, 2024

3 min read


Harry Potter holds a special place in my heart. I grew up with Ron, Harry and Hermione. When the final book came out, I was the same age as the trio. I spent hours and hours waiting in line to get my hands on the books as fast as I could. Little did I know it would intersect with my life as an SEO practitioner.

For those familiar with the Wizarding World, Voldemort needs no introduction. The villain is most known for murdering muggles (aka humans) as well as witches and wizards who don’t share his vision of a muggle-free world. As such, the vast majority of witches and wizards use euphemisms to refer to Voldemort (You Know Who or He Who Must Not Be Named). Initially, this is done out of pure fear. However, by the final book, using the phrases becomes a matter of survival. To root out those resisting his rise to power, Voldemort casts a tracing spell that locates anyone using his name. 

Tracing Spell or Search Algorithm?

We don’t have tracing spells in the muggle world...or do we? Search algorithms are becoming more and more adept at finding content that users are looking for. While this is true for search engine behemoth Google, it’s also true for search within platforms. Whether it’s a complaint or well-earned praise, mentioning a company or brand on social media platforms often results in direct outreach from a social media team, even without actually tagging the brand. This is because a good social monitoring strategy includes scanning for any varied mention of your company’s name or handle. When it comes to mentioning well-known public figures or celebrities, you might not hear from the individual, but a legion of loyal followers will reach out in their stead. 

Recently, to avoid rewarding the company or individual with impressions and to remain under the radar of social media teams and followers, many people are using euphemisms in a very similar way to the wizarding world. In fact, SEO professionals have started to refer to this practice as “Voldemorting” (and deemed by WIRED as “the ultimate SEO diss”). Birdsite, faceborg, 45 and other terms are easily understood, but with the use of these phrases shifting everyday, it’s much more difficult to track and measure. Similarly, a popular way to Voldemort your way to an off-the-radar mention that can’t be searched is to replace letters with asterisks; like “I went shopping at T*rget today.” 

What Does This Mean for SEO?

From an SEO perspective, you want to see mentions, backlinks and traffic that would inevitably signal that your brand is being discussed. After all, these are the metrics that marketers pay attention to - impressions, mentions, reach. But it doesn’t end there. Marketers, PR pros and social media strategists all want to know what is being said about their brand, and their competitors, so they can address customer complaints. 

How does a brand keep track of these nicknames and phrases? Delivering excellent customer service, online and off, will do a lot to prevent unwanted mentions in the first place. Ultimately, it would be impossible to track every possible euphemism or altered mention of your name that people might be using (the internet can be fairly clever). Be as proactive as possible and remember, in the end, good brand experiences triumph over the bad. 

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