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Flash and SEO – No Simple Answer

By | April 24, 2007 2:55 pm

There is no industry consensus regarding the use of Flash on a web site when it comes to the issue of SEO. The general problem with Flash is that the search engines don’t see the text embedded within those files so they can not rank these files. But Flash has can produce beautifully and highly usable websites.

So the designer, SEO, and site owner have to work together to deal with this issue IF it’s important to “solve” this issue. Here are the major of choices one is faced with. However what technical solution you should use will have a lot to do with the present design of the site.

The big question is the site 100 percent Flash or does it have Flash as an insertion within an HTML file(s). It’s the 100 percent flash file that represents the bigger challenge. Here are some of the major approaching to dealing with SEO for Flash enabled sites.

Redesign complete in HTML. Some designers feel that a complete redesign is required. They feel that Flash is a complete disaster and should not be used at all. These designers point to a number of issues:

  • In Bound Links are a problem because you have to decide where to send them; the HTML alternative page or the Flash page.
  • If you don’t redo your pages you can only add a limited amount of keyword rich text to the metadata like the title and description tags.

Here is this is a link presenting this perspective:

http://www.flashkit.com/tutorials/Tips_And_Techniques/Flash_SE-Ashley_P-1360/index.php

On the other end of the scale are those that advocate the use of the MacroMedia Flash SDK. Using the Flash SDK you can see if how the search engines will see you files. Macromedia developed this SDK because it realized the search engines weren’t reading their .SWF formats. They offer the SDK to the Search Engines to encourage them to be able to index .SWF files. Here are some details about the limit of this approach:

  • Flash search won’t read traced text or text that has been broken apart, so don’t make the letters a shape even if you’re temped do this is for letter spacing, which designers tend to do for critical text titles.
  • It will also ignore dynamically loaded text. Be it from external files or dynamically generate from the myText.text function.
  • HtmlText — any URLs assigned using this function will be pulled while the rest of the content will not.
  • It should be remembered that each Search Engine may be using the SDK or do their own implementation, so mileage with vary.

Here is an article that talks about taking this approach:

http://www.straightupsearch.com/archives/2006/02/flash_and_seo_s.html

IP Cloaking – This method of serving up different content for the search engines spiders vs. end-users has long been considered a black hat, unethical, SEO tactic. This is accomplished by keeping a current list of the IP signatures of all the known spiders on the web and comparing it to the IP header information as HTTP requests are received. If the IP is on the list then the text version is sent to the spider. If the IP isn’t on the list then the Flash page is sent.

  • There are legitimate uses of cloaking. For example the New York Times uses IP Cloaking to send full content to the spiders so it can be indexed. The regular reader doesn’t have access to The Times achieves because they have to purchase individual articles or subscribe to the service.
  • If the content of the Flash and HTML versions of the pages then the use of IP Cloaking wouldn’t necessary be considered a misuse. However, in the past IP cloaking has been used as a bait-and-switch technique so it has a bad reputation with the SEs.

Another approach is to use the free Javascript script called SWFObject() which detects when browsers has the Flash Plug-In. If SWFObject detects that the Flash Plug-In is present then the code assumes that this is a real browser and serves up the Flash version of the file. Since most search engine can’t deal with Flash, they’ll only see the primary content. This content is regular HTML content; like links, text, headers, images, etc. coding that is normally added to an ordinary HTML page. It is this part of the file that is edited and styled to be SEO friendly.

A good reference for SWFObject can be found here:

http://www.jehochman.com/articles/seo-friendly-flash.shtml

Not everything has to be a technical solution. The site may have been designed with a high income audience in mind right from the start. So the “solution” may have nothing to do with ranking well in the organic listings. Do a PPC campaign instead of trying to build organic traffic may be a better approach.

None of these methods address the problem that you have to do the site twice, one for Flash and another for the HTML version. So if you do any of this after the fact you will undoubtedly have created more work for yourself.

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