Flash and SEO – Using Flash on Websites
Flash movies can be a great thing. They can help catch eyes that are otherwise bored with static looking pages, and they can help tell a story better than plain text. However the use of flash must be tempered with the ability to rank in search engines. This article describes some of the considerations and recommendations when using flash on a website.
Disney does it. And so does Oprah. Even my favorite pizza place does it. That is embed their primary navigation and important content inside a flash movie. In fact in all these cases, a good part of the sites home page is flash, rendering that section of the page invisible to search engine crawlers.
Granted these are extreme cases of sites which use flash extensively, but there are other cases where even a little flash can be improperly used. There are also cases where flash is not only appropriate, it is recommended. The question then becomes how to best use flash without affecting search engine rankings.
Much like the early settlers of the Wild Wild West we are the frontiersman (and women) of a new community – the World Wide Web community (notice the WWW analogy) – which has seen its birth in the past couple decades and has really experienced its growth happen in the last 10 years or so.
And throughout that time there have been many ways to display a website and its content. Some were more successful than others. But there is one aspect of web development which has been hotly contested between designers of websites and those who position them. That is the use of Flash.
Flash has been around for some time now and while it is pretty (for lack of a better word) it can seriously hinder a websites ability to position well in the search engines. This is because most search crawlers can not see nor effectively index flash or its contents. Therefore anything contained within the flash, including page content or more importantly site navigation, is invisible to them.
Yet flash does have it’s good points as well. As I mentioned above, it can turn an otherwise bland looking site into something unique and refreshing. So the question becomes – where does one balance the need for search engine indexability with the need for impressing customers?
Well here’s a rule of thumb for you – less is better.
Less flash occupying the page is better, as well as having as little content embedded within it as possible. Further, where the flash appears on the page can have an impact on its ability to deliver the intended message.
Let’s have a quick survey – how many of you, upon coming to a site, tune out the top 1/5 of the page, and even a couple inches on the right of the page – especially if you see flashing or movement?
Just as I suspected, most of you. I do it too. And we do this because these are the places we typically see banner ads, therefore we associate that space on many sites with advertising and tune it out.
But there are cases when sites place important messages, via flash, in these locations. But if many people tune out these locations, they are also tuning out that important message. Hence the reason the flash doesn’t do so well on the page.
So there’s tip number one: Don’t place your flash where it will be ignored – namely those spots on the page normally associated with advertising.
My second flash tip – don’ t take up most of the screen with it. Keep the screen real estate it occupies to less than ½ the screen, preferably on the left side. There are many reasons for this:
Too often, as people are orienting themselves to the page, their eyes scan the page and are all over it for a few seconds, and then fixate on the top left of the page. If you have a flash movie running (and especially if its one without controls) they have missed a few seconds of that message. And we all know what good a message is that’s incomplete?
Another reason for minimizing flash usage: While more and more people are adopting broadband every day, still close to half of the US uses dial up. Which means everything takes longer to load. And if these users are waiting for a flash movie to load, they could navigate away from your site in frustration because the page is taking so long to load.
Some other recommendations:
Don’t use the flash to tell the story, use it to enhance the story. If you are trying to sell a product, leave the important information in the HTML of the page, but use the flash to emphasize the product by either displaying it, or pointing out the benefits. your flash should be complementary and not too overwhelming.
Finally, did you know you can also externalize the code required to display the flash? This is something that can help improve page load times which could improve spiderability.
As you can see, based on this article, is that flash isn’t all that bad, provided its used properly. That means it shouldn’t be too overpowering or occupy too much of the page. It should be complementary to the message the page is intending to give, and should be located in places that people will look at, and not in places normally associated with advertising.
If you follow these simple rules, your flash can become an essential selling point to your site. One which could provide your customers the little push they need to move from browsers to buyers.
Rob Sullivan of Text Link Brokers is an SEO Specialist and Internet Marketing Consultant.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!