The central question of the War of the Five Kings is why did the Starks lose and the Lannisters win? How was the noblest and most popular family in Westeros betrayed and defeated by the least popular? The answer is that the Lannisters understood SEO, while the Starks did not.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the technique used by companies to optimize their online presence. Companies that use it wisely can be found on the first pages of Yahoo!, Bing, and Google. Just like a top ranking company, House Lannister understood how to manage its reputation, alliances, and battle strategy during the war in order to maneuver itself into a the heart of Westerosi politics, while the Starks drove themselves into the political wilderness.
What is SEO?
Search engines like Google don’t search blindly. They use what are called “spiders” to crawl and categorize online content. The spiders classify and rank websites based on their keywords and popularity. Spiders analyze site content to determine keywords, the number of clicks, and links in order to determine its popularity. The more time that passes between when users click on a site and when they leave, the more popular it becomes. The more websites that link users to your site, the more popular it is perceived to be. Popular sites with relevant keywords are most likely to appear first in search results with the right techniques.
Internet, or the Lack Thereof, In Westeros
As a medieval fantasy realm, Westeros does not have the luxury of the sophisticated search sites like Google, but it has two functions that replicate its effect. The first is the raven network. Ravens can travel approximately 100 miles in a day, which allows citizens to communicate quickly other over large distances. The second is gossip. Gossip is an informal communication network outside the control of the nobility and the primary way of gauging a ruler’s popularity is to listen to what the small folk are saying. Their opinions are the search results, which is why the great houses work so hard to influence them.
The most common methods is with the sigils each house adopts as their primary keywords. House Stark: a silver dire wolf. House Lannister: golden lion. House Targaryen: a fiery dragon. Each of them brings up specific associations. Silver like snow, gold as in rich, dragons for fire, a simple way of projecting power into their subjects’ minds. The house mottos serve the same function. House Lannister is blessed by having two: “Hear me Roar!” and “A Lannister always pays his debts.” The second is unofficial but more advantageous. It is a long tail keyword – a keyword made up of multiple words that link users to unique content, the Lannister promise to repay their friends and punish their enemies.
End of the Long Summer
What would an internet search in Westeros uncover? Under Aegon Targaryen would be the keywords “Conqueror,” “Dragons,” and “Field of Fire.” Under his descendants would be “Insane,” “Tyrant,” and “Mad King.” These poor search results were the primary reason why Robert Baratheon was able to rally the noble families to him with the keyword “Rebellion.”
Robert’s victory at the Trident River seals his reputation with the small folk, who forever classified him under keyword “Warrior.” Sadly, Robert is not any better at SEO than his predecessors. Though the small folk are fond of the tournaments he throws, the nobility are unimpressed by his personal habits, classifying him under the keywords “Fat,” “Drunk,” and “Spendthrift.”
Unlike his friend Robert, Ned Stark has a good handle on SEO in A Game of Thrones. His strict adherence to principle during Robert’s Rebellion and in the North has associated his family with the keywords “Honorable” and “Just.” His position that is only intensified by the enormous number of links he has built up between his subjects in the North. Peasants, nobles, and small folk all shelter in Winterfell during the long winters. The close proximity means that there is no one in the North not linked to the House Stark, and this proliferation of connection has cemented their popularity.
At the start of A Game of Thrones, House Lannister is badly in need of some content and keyword revitalization. Though Tywin Lannister revitalized their ranking early in his reign with the destruction of the House Reyne (keyword “The Rains of Castamere,” a long tail keyword spread by minstrels). His extensive gold mines and military proficiency associated them with the keywords “Rich,” “Gold,” and “Ruthless” until his resignation as Hand of the King.
His only significant content update during Robert’s Rebellion was the Sack of King’s landing, a long tail keyword cross indexed with “Massacre,” “Rape,” and “Murder” in the minds of Westeros. As a result, Tywin has difficulty getting the other major houses to create links with his. His most promising connections are to disreputable families like House Clegane and Robert Baratheon, via his daughter, Cersei.
Unsurprisingly, Cersei is a bad SEO manager. Links need to be updated to remain strong but she lets her connection to Robert grow stale. When A Game of Thrones opens, Robert makes it no secret that hates his wife and despises his children by her. Worse still, the Lannisters are faced with destruction when Ned Stark discovers Cersei’s affair with Jaimie Lannister and threatens to reclassify her and her children under the keywords “Incest” and “Illegitimate.”
War of the Five Kings
Tywin begins the War of the Five Kings by invading the Riverlands. Militarily, it is a strong move, but it leads to a SEO disaster. Rob Stark counterattacks and defeats the Lannisters at the Whispering Woods and Riverrun and earns himself a new nickname, “The Young Wolf,” a strong keyword, unique to the Starks, that wins Rob a high search ranking for the duration of the war. The new content Rob introduces completely overshadows Tywin’s and sends in scurrying away in humiliation.
However, the Lannisters are cleverer in retreat than attack. His soldiers raid Rob’s supply lines, creating a stream of constant updates as Rob sits idle at Riverrun. In King’s Landing, Tyrion ably manages the most valuable site in the Kingdom and keeps it under the Lannister domain with his spirited defense against Stannis Baratheon. When Stannis spreads of Cersei’s incest, Tyrion is smart enough to create an SEO campaign of his down that confuses the search results, accusing Stannis of being cuckolded by his court jester, Patchface.
Meanwhile, Rob Stark hurts his cause by failing to follow-up on his early victories. His raid into the Westerlands, the Lannister home region, is flashy but fails to deliver on its promise. Rob fails to share his mission statement with his sister sites in the Riverlands. They stop Tywin from returning home, accidentally revealing that Robs lacks the substance to follow through on his promised capture of Casterly Rock, an enormous disappointment to his subscribers.
Next, he and Catelyn create a series of exclusive content geared towards no one but themselves. Rob marries Jane Westerling instead, which alienates Walder Frey, while his mother frees Jaimie Lannister, which alienates the army. Rob’s problems are further exacerbated by Rob’s decision to sever his link with Theon Greyjoy. Theon returns to the Iron Islands and then immediately attacks Rob’s home site, Winterfell, which forces him to rely on his sister sites for links and content for the remainder of the war.
As the Stark’s search rankings begin to fall, the Lannister’s rise. After Renly’s death, they take advantage of Stannis’ impetuous advance to create an exclusive link with the powerful Tyrell family. Then they defeat Stannis’ in the Battle of Blackwater, which becomes another long tail keyword exclusive to the Lannisters. The victory prevents the small folk of the city from being looted and raped, making it an immensely popular content release. As the Lannisters rocket up the search ranking, families fight to associate themselves with them, including Stark subscribers House Frey and House Bolton. As secret sister sites for the Lannisters, they engineer the final destruction of Rob Stark without associating Tywin with the keyword “Red Wedding.” This face saving measure is the final victory for House Lannister. His competitor site is removed from the rankings, their new content is the talk of all the small folk, and all of Westeros’ major providers are linked to them. They now at the top of the search page under keywords “Saviors,” “Victory,” and “Powerful.” With rankings like that, can anyone doubt their right to rule?
The first rule of A Game of Thrones is “You win or you die.” Fortunately, the real world stakes are not so dire, but they aren't unimportant. A high search ranking is not only a measure of a site’s popularity, but often of its profitability. As the Lannisters understood, high search rankings lend momentum. They increase visibility and clicks, which translates into increased business. However, it is important to keep in mind that they are not an end but a beginning. SEO is an ongoing process, as Cersei learns to her detriment in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Content, links, and keywords always need to be updated to keep pace with a changing market and a changing audience or soon the shadows might begin to gather as they did for the Stark, Baratheons, and Targaryens.