When it comes to SEO, Flash can be a polarizing topic. Whenever I’m speaking with clients about their SEO initiatives (along with their creative and technical staff), it only takes one mention of flash to suddenly get a mixture of angry, excited, and confused looks.
When you break it down, some brand managers love how engaging flash can be, designers love the boundless creativity it offers, IA directors can do without it, SEO’s cringe at the thought of it, and C-level marketers don’t know who to listen to! But one thing is clear. Flash isn’t going anywhere…as you can see by the massive number of websites that employ flash content.
I bring a somewhat unique perspective. I started developing with Flash in 1997, and yes, I once developed highly interactive and engaging flash movies that would make most SEO’s go for my jugular. My roots are in interactive development, and flash was a key tool in my arsenal.
Today, I still understand the power of flash when used properly, but I also know the incredible power of SEO. I’m not against the use of flash, but you better believe I want it optimized if it’s going to be used by my clients. I like to think I’ve come a long way.
Since I have a broad background in flash development and have developed hundreds of flash movies and applications over the past 12 years, it’s been interesting to delve deeply into flash SEO to see how it has evolved. Although I’ve written previously about using SWFObject to provide crawlable alternative content for flash (along with flash video content), I’ve also been heavily testing and analyzing how the engines index flash (SWF files).
Personally, I’m tired of showing clients the big blank cache of their flash sites in Google! It’s a great visual and is usually a jaw-dropping experience for them, but that simply can’t remain the standard. That’s why I was excited last June when Adobe, Google, and Yahoo announced their partnership.
Improved Flash Indexing, June 2008
In June of 2008, Adobe announced that it was working with Google and Yahoo on improving flash indexing. As you can imagine, I was chomping at the bit to test and analyze how the engines were indexing flash, based on this announcement.
Just to clarify, Google was indexing SWF files prior to the partnership, but they weren’t working with Adobe on streamlining and improving the process. I can remember one of my clients a few years ago sending me a link to one of their SWF files in the SERPs, along with one line of text, “What the heck is this?” What was presented in the SERPs wasn’t exactly pretty, but it was a start.
My goal since the announcement has been to make some sense out of how the engines index flash, what are some best practices you should follow when publishing flash content, and what are some things to watch out for as you develop more flash content.
After yet another round of testing over the past few weeks, I decided to write this post so I can help lead you down the right path. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that last sentence sounds since this is a highly dynamic area of SEO… It has even changed since July and I fully expect it to keep evolving. That said, I’ll provide some findings and guidance below.
First, since I’ve heard every flash pun in the world over the past year, let me get something out of the way:
This post will not be over in a flash, nor will it be a flash in the pan, hopefully your seo life won’t flash by before your eyes, and Flash the superhero won’t be helping you with your projects… OK, enough with the flash puns! Let’s jump in.
GOOGLE IS CRAWLING FLASH, FORGET ABOUT SEO, LET’S DEVELOP EVERYTHING IN FLASH, WOOHOO! But wait…
I remember a flash designer commenting on one of my blog posts about flash seo saying, “Your post is now irrelevant! Google is indexing Flash! Let’s all binge on flash.” Not in those exact words of course. I think my first reaction was “hold on a second buddy…” Nothing has been perfected yet, and actually, this was just announced! By the way, I was right. It wasn’t perfected yet. It was a step in the right direction, but there were other factors that impacted how your flash files were being crawled, namely how you publish your flash content.
In addition, all flash content was obviously not being indexed so it would be premature to think you could disregard providing the engines with alternative html content (which has been a standard practice from an SEO standpoint). It would be crazy to think that Google and Yahoo would instantaneously index all flash content on the web, right?