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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Optimizing Flash Sites

If there is a really hot potato that divides SEO experts and Web
designers, this is Flash. Undoubtedly a great technology to include
sounds and picture on a Web site, Flash movies are a real nightmare
for SEO experts. The reason is pretty prosaic – search engines
cannot index (or at least not easily) the contents inside a Flash
file and unless you feed them with the text inside a Flash movie, you
can simply count this text lost for boosting your rankings. Of
course, there are workarounds but until search engines start indexing
Flash movies as if they were plain text, these workarounds are just a
clumsy way to optimize Flash sites, although certainly they are
better than nothing.

Why Search Engines Dislike Flash Sites?

Search engines dislike Flash Web sites not because of their
artistic qualities (or the lack of these) but because Flash movies
are too complex for a spider to understand. Spiders cannot index a
Flash movie directly, as they do with a plain page of text. Spiders
index filenames (and you can find tons of these on the Web), but not
the contents inside.

Flash movies come in a proprietary binary format (.swf) and
spiders cannot read the insides of a Flash file, at least not without
assistance. And even with assistance, do not count that spiders will
crawl and index all your Flash content. And this is true for all
search engines. There might be differences in how search engines
weigh page relevancy but in their approach to Flash, at least for the
time beings, search engines are really united – they hate it
but they index portions of it.

What (Not) to Use Flash For?

Despite the fact that Flash movies are not spider favorites, there
are cases when a Flash movie is worth the SEO efforts. But as a
general rule, keep Flash movies at a minimum. In this case less is
definitely better and search engines are not the only reason. First,
Flash movies, especially banners and other kinds of advertisement,
distract users and they generally tend to skip them. Second, Flash
movies are fat. They consume a lot of bandwidth, and although dialup
days are over for the majority of users, a 1 Mbit connection or
better is still not the standard one.

Basically, designers should keep to the statement that Flash is
good for enhancing a story, but not for telling it
– i.e.
you have some text with the main points of the story (and the
keywords that you optimize for) and then you have the Flash movie to
add further detail or just a visual representation of the story. In
that connection, the greatest SEO sin is to have the whole site made
in Flash! This is is simply unforgivable and do not even dream of
high rankings!

Another “No” is to use Flash for navigation. This
applies not only to the starting page, where once it was fashionable
to splash a gorgeous Flash movie but external links as well. Although
it is a more common mistake to use images and/or javascript for
navigation, Flash banners and movies must not be used to lead users
from one page to another. Text links are the only SEO approved way to
build site navigation.

Workarounds for Optimizing Flash Sites

Although a workaround is not a solution, Flash sites still can be
optimized. There are several approaches to this:

  • Input metadata
    This is a very important approach,
    although it is often underestimated and misunderstood. Although
    metadata is not as important to search engines as it used to be,
    Flash development tools allow easily to add metadata to your movies,
    so there is no excuse to leave the metadata fields empty.

  • Provide alternative pages
    For a good site it is a
    must to provide html only pages that do not force the user to watch
    the Flash movie. Preparing these pages requires more work but the
    reward is worth because not only users, but search engines as well
    will see the html only pages.

  • Flash Search Engine SDK
    This is the life-belt. The
    most advanced tool to extract text from a Flash movie. One of the
    handiest applications in the Flash
    Search Engine SDK
    is the tool named swf2html. As it
    name implies, this tool extracts text and links from a Macromedia
    Flash file and writes the output unto a standard HTML document, thus
    saving you the tedious job to do it manually.
    However, you still
    need to have a look at the extracted contents and correct it, if
    necessary. For example, the order in which the text and links is
    arranged might need a little restructuring in order to put the
    keyword-rich content in the title and headings or in the beginning
    of the page.
    Also, you need to check if there is no duplicate
    content among the extracted sentences and paragraphs. The font color
    of the extracted text is also another issue. If the font color of
    the extracted text is the same as the background color, you will run
    into hidden text territory.

    Here is a
    that visually shows what from your Flash files is visible
    to search engines and what is not. This tool is very useful, even if
    you already have the Flash Search Engine SDK installed because it
    provides one more check of the accuracy of the extracted text.
    Besides, it is not certain that Google and the other search engines
    use Flash Search Engine SDK to get contents from a Flash file, so
    this tool might give completely different results from those that
    the SDK will produce.

These approaches are just some of the most important examples of
how to optimize Flash sites. There are many other approaches as well.
However, not all of them are brilliant and clear, or they can be
classified on the boundary of ethical SEO – e.g. creating
invisible layers of text that is delivered to spiders instead the
Flash movie itself. Although this technique is not wrong – i.e.
there is no duplicate or fake content, it is very similar to cloaking
and doorway pages and it is better to avoid it.

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