Saturday, June 17, 2006

SEO: A Solution For Handling Flash Better

Most readers are probably well aware that there are some issues with Flash and SEO... but many folks actually believe that there is some sort of ranking penalty or other major drama that ensues for those who use Flash.

The problem with Flash as "content" for search engines isn't that search engines can't read them. The major search engines can all read Flash files.

The problem is pretty simple: it's all about trust. With Flash, it's not possible for the search engine to easily determine what content is visible to humans and what isn't. As a result, search engines can't rely on (trust) what they find in a Flash movie file, and an "all Flash" web site (no HTML content) will be a problem.

When it comes to SEO on a site that uses Flash, you have a couple of choices:
  1. Use HTML for static elements, and Flash for cool interactive ads, games, and everything else that Flash is good for. In this case, Flash is simply used as an embedded object, much like an animated GIF or PNG image. Users who don't have the Flash plug-in installed will just see a weird looking box.
  2. Provide alternative HTML content for the Flash elements. So for example, if you have a really cool drop-down menu that uses Flash, you also provide an HTML menu so that users without Flash (like search engine spiders and many humans) can still use the site.
Jonathan Hochman has written up a nice summary of seo-friendly Flash design and the reasons why you would want to follow door #2, and the tools that are available. Much of the approach he describes relies on a Javascript toolkit called SWFObject.

If you do have to replace a Flash menu with HTML, you might want to head over to A List Apart, and take a look at some of the cool, groovy, and utterly bitchin' stuff that J. David Eisenberg has to share about CSS, DHTML, and DOM Design Tricks. How cool? How about an explorer-style navigation menu based on HTML lists, that will degrade perfectly in older browsers, and allow spiders to see the entire menu. Sweeeet. There's plenty more to see on that site, and any web designer who isn't aware of it yet is missing a great resource.

Several folks have emailed to ask where the newsletter has been... unfortunately, with a staff of one (1) (me) the newsletter doesn't always go on schedule. Maybe I need a ghost writer. :p


At 4:42 AM, Blogger Goofy said...

Hey Dan, I've been looking at using html and css within a flash file, then use actionscript to load the html content. What's your opinion on search engines indexing a flash site containing html content?

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Dan Thies said...

Don't count on search engines to trust what's in the Flash file. If you have HTML content on the page, that isn't relying on something in the Flash to load it, you can expect the HTML content to be indexed.

Search engines have a lot of stuff they need to get a handle on. Flash is one, AJAX is another. I don't envy the folks who have to figure that stuff out.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger SEO SNAFU said...

Flash is just not a SEO friendly option. Although it can provide a reasonable amount of eye candy, and be utilized properly (read: not only link navigation option) it can still be part of the plan. I think flash, when used sparingly, and intelligently, isn't as evil as Jakob Nielsen has tried to suggest.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Chas said...

I think the main reason to run is the limited testing options you have. A flash of light here or there may trigger a grand mal seizure now and then. You'd want to do eye tracking studies or multivariate testing to watch for such results.

I'd just avoid Flash in favor of testable conversion rates myself.


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