Q and A: How do I Optimize Flash?

Question

Hi Kalena…

I have a question about SEO and flash. We insert flash headers into our web pages sometimes and also use it to insert video into site pages now and again, but we don’t do entire sites in flash. Are there any recent tips or tricks to optimizing the type of flash we use for our sites? Are there any standard coding tips we should be implementing?

Thank you!
Amy

Dear Amy,

As you are aware, fully Flash websites present a major problem for SEO. Traditionally most flash websites do not rank very well (if at all), and despite recent improvements in the ability of search engine spiders to crawl Flash, this is still mostly true. These days, even though search engines are able to navigate through flash sites, idenify content and locate (and follow) links, it is still (as far as I am aware) not possible for search engines to link to specific sections or “pages” within a flash file.

Flash Optimisation

The approach that you have taken – using Flash elements within a traditional page – is the best way to make the most of the Flash functionality and still maximise your ranking potential. Once I would have recommended that if you use flash for navigation you should also provide a text based navigation alternative, to allow search engines to crawl the site. However, I believe that this is no longer necessary as I am starting to see pages indexed by the search engines that are only linked from within flash – proof that crawlers are in fact able to navigate and index them successfully.

There is less evidence however, to show whether search crawlers are able to associate relevant anchor text in the flash file with the link (as they would for a text based link for example). There are also fewer constructs within flash to allow you to associate additional keywords to links, so text links are still likely to be better for optimizing your site. By all means use Flash elements if you need or want to but be sure to also include plenty of other non-flash content.

Flash Video Optimization

Optimization for Flash Videos is much the same as optimising any video. Even though search engines are getting better at understanding video – and I suspect it may be sooner rather than later that they will be able to automatically transcode and decipher comtent for the audio track of videos – this is not yet the case, so you should ensure that any pages containing video content also contain relevant text based content and keyw9ords (and preferably a full transcript from the video).

As for other tips and techniques for optimizing Flash – it’s really too big a topic (and probably to technical) to cover in this blog – but you may like to take a look at this Flash Website Optimisation Strategies post by dgm in Sydney.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting SEO Services (Australia)

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Q and A: Are Flex (Flash) based websites search engine friendly?

QuestionHi Kalena,

I am planning to build a website completely in Flex. What type of SEO can be done on it? Is it crawlable?

Shailendra Sial.

Dear Shailendra

Building a Flex (Flash) based website has always been the bone of contention between website designers and SEO professionals. While website designers argue that it provides great interactivity and a chance to explore the boundaries of creativity (which is quite true), SEO professionals contend that it is not search engine friendly. This scenario was greatly altered when Adobe announced that it is working with Google and Yahoo to enhance indexing of Flash file formats (SWF). This information was echoed in a post made on Google Webmaster Central Blog; a major shift in how search engine treated Flash based websites.

But the picture is not as ‘rosy’ as it may seem. While search engine spiders, especially Googlebot, are capable of indexing flash (SWF) files, it is far from perfect. Jill Whalen made a perfect case out of it – Are The Search Engines Really Indexing Flash?

So “Is it crawlable?” – I would have to say both Yes and No for an answer. It would depend on how you would place content within Flash (SWF) files. Anything that is static will be indexed by search engines whereas anything that is fetched dynamically will not be indexed.

Search engine spiders are interested in data that is present on the webpage and do not care much about the surrounding markup. In case of Flex, the primary source of content is XML (dynamic content) and therefore ‘may’ not be indexed. The common workaround to this issue is XSLT, which can be used to transform XML data into various formats like HTML that can be readily indexed by crawlers. This is how far I can take you with my technical ‘know how’. I would recommend you read Flash & Search Engines : Indexed in a Flash, a mega post that deals with all aspects related to Flash websites.

Once you have digested all the information provide above, I am sure you would have a fair bit of idea on where your website would stand from an SEO perspective. Personally, I would recommend that you use Flash in moderation; search engine spiders are still best at crawling (X)HTML architecture. It would ensure that you website has enough ‘food’ for crawlers. For parts of website built in Flash, I would recommend you refer to this detailed post on beu blog, to make it as search engine friendly as possible.

Good luck!

Saurav.

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Google is Indexing Flash. Who Knew?

Big news: I just found out that Google has integrated better indexing of Adobe Flash files into their latest bots.

The indexing of Flash files has been something that designers have been begging Google to improve for many years so this is the equivalent of the graphical web designer’s wet dream.

Google can now index any kind of textual content embedded in Flash files. They can also discover URLs. From the official Google blog post:

“In addition to finding and indexing the textual content in Flash files, we’re also discovering URLs that appear in Flash files, and feeding them into our crawling pipeline—just like we do with URLs that appear in non-Flash webpages. For example, if your Flash application contains links to pages inside your website, Google may now be better able to discover and crawl more of your website.”

The new technology was made possible in part due to Adobe’s Searchable SWF library:

“We’ve developed an algorithm that explores Flash files in the same way that a person would, by clicking buttons, entering input, and so on. Our algorithm remembers all of the text that it encounters along the way, and that content is then available to be indexed. We can’t tell you all of the proprietary details, but we can tell you that the algorithm’s effectiveness was improved by utilizing Adobe’s new Searchable SWF library.”

As a SEO who repeatedly bashes heads with web designers who worship at the Almighty Altar of Bells and Whistles, this is great news. Maybe now I can co-design web sites that both look good AND get indexed without finding myself at the bottom of the design team’s Christmas card list.

Thanks to the delightful Karon Thackston for the heads up.

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