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Flash content – the spice of SEO?

Alex Christie

8 April 2009

In July 2008, a flash searchability announcement by Adobe sparked a wildfire of speculation around the SEO community that Google was almost fully-indexing Flash content. Adobe explained they were working with Google and Yahoo to allow indexing of Flash by allowing them to use their new Adobe Search Player (Ichabod) which would allow Google to go through the Flash file’s different visual states (when a Flash file changes image/text) and extract text and images from it. Nine months after the initial hoopla, can Google now index Flash and to what extent?

I started with search for ‘car insurance’ with Google’s Advanced Search set to look for .swf file types.
One of the first results was the Coversure.co.uk’s Bognor Regis flash page indexed. Promising start,but how does the page fare when I don’t specify .swf file types? For a search ‘car insurance’ it appears nowhere. An even more specific ‘car insurance bognor regis’ search shows Coversure site’s HTML pages
appearing at #25 and #26 but the site’s Flash page nowhere to be seen.

It is clear that Google can index Flash pages and Google can also read text if it is placed in static and dynamic textfields of the Actionscipt. Similarly, it can also read links if they are placed in textfields (see the excellent video on Flash and SEO) Like HTML pages, Google can pass Page Rank to a Flash page and it can also pass Page Rank from a Flash page link. Are these reasons enough to recommend Flash on a site which wants to rank on Google? Certainly not. Google is a search engine that is continually placing more emphasis on content, related content and with searches getting longer, Flash just doesn’t provide enough content for Google. Nor, is it readable by mobile browsers (on an iPhone it appears as a blue square),
on a Flash-disabled browser or a text browser. If a site really needs to use Flash, then use it with NOSCRIPT and provide a HTML alternative. To paraphrase a French SEO Blog, if Flash were a type of food, it would be a spice or a herb – something that can complement a larger offering but certainly not something that should be offered on its own. 

Trés bons mots indeed.

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