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Tips to Optimize Flash Sites for Search Engines

Alex Christie

21 May 2009

Perception is very important when it comes to buying any product – If it looks great it must be great.  Even If you have the best product in the world, if the package is ugly people are less likely to buy it. Same goes for website.  If your website is good looking, flashy, eye-catching it will definitely attract more visitors and most likely convert more visitors into buyers.

Flash sites provide a very stimulating user experience that can definitely increase search into sales. A visually stunning site attracts customer to buy the product.  Also people like interactivity and Flash let the visitors to get more involved.

But from Search engine ranking point of view Flash sites have darker side.  As search engine process texts not images nor flash content. Clients want visually attractive site yet optimized for search engine.  I found few tips for optimizing Flash based sites and are as follows.

Use Flash movies, not sites

A better way to incorporate Flash, if indeed your client must have it, is to first create an HTML site, and then use Flash movies in place of images, buttons, and banners. These areas are usually of little importance to a search engine anyway, so it seems fine to do it this way. In which case, optimizing this type of site is no different than optimizing a plain ole HTML site.

Use Splash Pages Sparingly and Appropriately

As search engines dont like redirects so dont use Flash intro splash pages to send visitor to the actuall content. rather allow visitor to skip the intro to and advance to the content at their own.

Also dont have a single splash page as site entry point that has all the movies on the same page. This will cause users to return to the initial page to navigate the other parts.  Rather create seperate pages and let each page has its own flash content and optimize each page.

The Macromedia Software Developer Kit (SDK)

Macromedia’s Search Engine SDK includes an application that is called swf2html, which extracts links and text from a flash movie, then returns the data into an HTML file. Users of this SDK can add functionality by adding Flash file decompression, parsing, and indexing features to their server-based search applications. While Macromedia is working with a number of third-party search engines in this regard, they haven’t announced any specific search engine support.

The Macromedia Search Engine SDK is designed for search engine application teams. What this means to you, the SEO, is an insider’s view to what the search engines actually see. Do your homework: simply to know which search engines utilize the SDK, and optimize the site for those specific search engines.

You can obtain a license for the Search Engine SDK, and extract the text from a flash site itself, so that you know exactly what these types of search engines will see. Usually, the first line of text extracted is perceived as the title, so it is extremely valuable for you to know how to place the text in the flash file. Will this require you to become an expert Flash programmer? No, as long as you are able to convey what you want effectively to the Flash developer.

Be familiar with the filetype operator in Google (filetype:swf typed after a search term). Try any search in Google with this operator. This will demonstrate that this content is extracted from the Flash itself. But just how deep does this extraction go? No one is certain, but with the SDK, you can get a pretty good idea. We do know that all the text from top to bottom is read, which is tested this way: choose an exact search term that’s near the end of your movie, the run your swf2html application. You will see your search term show up in your HTML output file.

You can find more information about Macromedia’s Search Engine SDK at: http://www.macromedia.com/licensing/developer/search/faq/

Increase your Link Building Strategy

There is more to SEO than just your content. If you must give up some of your crucial text in favor of the slick Flash content, then it is even more important for you to concentrate on your linking strategies. Of course, every SEO should concentrate on this area, but it’s even more important for the Flash site. Use anchor text properly (i.e. “Best SEO Tip” versus “Click here”), link to relevant and complimenting sites, and achieve those precious one way links.

If it is indeed harder for a search engine to find your Flash site, then make it accessible to them by back links. This will also help your traffic when you are not being indexed the way you like in the search engines, especially for those search engines that do not incorporate the SDK technology like MSN.

Build an HTML site, and incorporate Flash later

Some web developers choose to develop a website in HTML first, then once they’ve established search engine positioning and PageRank, add Flash later on. While this sparks a bit of controversy in the ideology of this method, it appears that established sites that already index well who add Flash to their sites at a later date do not seem to suffer the same effects of a new site done in Flash. It would be a good topic of discussion in the SEO Chat forums.

Better yet, create a low-res HTML version of your Flash site, and let the users choose their preference. That way, you have the best of both worlds: a Flash site for the visitors wanting the glamour, and an HTML site for the search engine spiders and for those visitors on dial up.

Other Tips

  • Use accessibility features in Macromedia’s Studio MX to enhance the Flash. This will help accessibility readers purvey the content to visitors that rely upon the options in their browsers.
  • Make sure Flash links point to HTML pages, not other Flash pages. While the ability of a search engine to follow links in Flash is improving, it may not index content if the link just points to another Flash page.
  • Use static text in a Flash movie, so that these instances are not duplicated, and then are perceived as spam.
  • Recommend to the Flash developer that he use motion tweening as much as possible. Tweening is a term that comes from “in between”. Motion tweening is used when an animation occurs between two keyframes, and the Flash application creates all the frames in between. This also reduces the occurrence of duplicate text.
  • Leave the user with the ability to skip or turn off sounds and animations.
  • Never try to hide text within Flash.

You may have to educate your client on the downside of using a Flash site, and persuade them to use other methods of designing their website, but if you must optimize a Flash site, all hope is not lost. In fact your chances of your Flash movies being read by search engines are very good, and improving all the time. I do believe that the text in a Flash movie can indeed be read by those search engines that implement the SDK technology, whether with support from Macromedia, or with similar technology being utilized.

Tags: Flash, SEO, SEO, tips
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