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How Fyre Festival Ran A Black-Hat SEO Campaign


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Described as the “greatest party that never happened” Fyre Festival, in digital marketing terms is the music festival equivalent of a black-hat SEO campaign. Led by con artist Billy McFarland, the festival promised thousands of millennials a luxurious music festival in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the expectation of beachfront villas was soon overcome by a dismal reality that seemed eerily similar to a zombie apocalypse or just as bad; a black hat optimised SEO website.

If there’s one thing the catastrophic Fyre Festival should teach digital marketers, it’s that consumers value genuine content.  Ultimately, consumers are lacking trust in traditional methods of marketing and the Fyre Festival is the perfect example of why.

Fyre Festival - | SEO Agency Sydney - Black Hat SEO

Fyre Festival vs.  Black Hat Techniques

Fyre Festival’s deceptive marketing strategy is similar to the unethical black-hat SEO technique.  Black-hat SEO techniques disregard users by prioritising rankings and traffic over actually making a decent product/service and accompanying website. Which can essentially have you banned from Google.

Although using a black-hat SEO strategy may achieve short term success, it will eventually damage the credibility of a site.  Therefore, in order to achieve long-term success in SEO, it is best to adopt a white-hat SEO strategy. This ethical approach to SEO will be of better value to users and thus Google which in turn rewards by generating organic rankings and traffic.

Fake Clickbait vs.  Fyre Promotional Video

Clickbait is a technique that aims to drive traffic to site attracting the attention of users through the misrepresentation of content.  Through Instagram, Fyre Festival were able to use this technique with their infamous promotional video, which similar to clickbait, misled users into buying tickets.

Instagram played a pivotal role in the success and failure of the Fyre Festival’s marketing strategy. Through one promotional video, the Fyre Festival brought the fabricated world of Instagram to life; promising a once in a lifetime experience to millennials.

Cloaking vs.  Deceptive Marketing Techniques

Cloaking is a black-hat SEO technique that manipulates search engines in an attempt to increase traffic to a site. Additonally, cloaking generally directs users to a site that is different from what was promised. This technique is akin to Fyre Festival promising something that was completely different from what consumers were anticipating.  

All it took was a few influencers to post orange tiles on Instagram to seed excitement from the public, failing to mention it was a paid advertisement. This misled consumers into thinking the Fyre Festival was an organic endorsement rather than a deceptive marketing strategy.

Instagram is a powerful platform, and if used right it can have an extremely positive impact on a sites SEO. Instagram is a great way to authentically push brand messaging and engage directly with consumers. This can generate organic referral traffic and if done correctly can send positive social SEO signals and thus improves your SEO.



As the old saying goes “actions speak louder than words” and content creation can only take you so far.  Words can easily attract audiences, but it is through action and authenticity that you can generate trust and consequently conversions. The initial Fyre Festival marketing campaign did arguably achieve success to a certain extent. However, it was promoting something to a level that it never was, similar to cloaking.

Paid Links vs. Paid Influencers

Users engage with authentic content, so when they see a paid post they can become withdrawn.  In regards to honest SEO practices, paying people to exchange links is similar to paying an influencer to endorse a product, it loses its authenticity.  Therefore, it is more beneficial to earn links through genuinely engaging users. This can be achieved by creating meaningful content and meaningful organic relationships that drive organic links.

As notoriously stated in the documentary: It took one video and a few orange tiles on Instagram to instantly generate global buzz.  In the same amount of time, it took one person with 500 followers to tweet an image of a cheese sandwich to end it all. Because in reality, consumers trust and engage with authentic material rather than paid posts and traditional marketing methods.

fyre FESTIVAL blackhat seo | SEO Agency Sydney

The Importance of Authenticity & Prioritising The consumer

Consumers are demanding brands to engage with them authentically, and the key to this authenticity has been influencers.  According to a MuseFind report, 92% of millennials trust social media influencers because they view them as people similar to themselves.  

Google aims to deliver a “great user experience” by prioritising their consumers over results. This earned them the title of the 3rd ‘Most Reputable Company’ in the world. However, the creator of the Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland, was so consumed by greed that he failed to consider the consumer. In order for a business to strive and build authentic relationships, the consumer must always be the first priority.

fyre festival black hat seo | SEO Agency Sydney

Over time, Google Algorithms have evolved in an attempt to “deliver the best search results” for its consumers.  The outcome of the festival could have been prevented with the most recent update of the Google Algorithms.  In 2017 the Google Algorithms were easier to deceive and more focused on smaller issues like pop-ups and small blogs with spammy content.  However, the 2019 update stresses the importance of authentic content that is of value to the consumer by focusing on content quality

Quality Over Quantity

The overall outcome of the Fyre Festival displays the importance of preserving brands integrity through authentic, honest and high-quality content. Rather than focusing on providing a great experience for consumers, they were too driven by results and greed which led to failure and disappointment.  By avoiding black-hat SEO techniques and taking an authentic approach to digital marketing, your company will have better long term results.

At SEO Sydney, we pride ourselves on our authentic approach to ranking strategies. If you are looking for an SEO provider, contact us to find out how we can help you.


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