Flash is designed to grab site visitors’ attention, and it probably does. But the real question is, does it grab search engines’ attention? Flash is used for slide shows and flash movies on technological sites and to showcase multimedia content on art and entertainment sites. Websites need search visibility to be popular on the web and flash websites or flash elements on a website were unreadable by search engine crawlers until Google announced on June 30th 2008 that it improved its capability to index flash files and include them in their search results.
What are the problems with Flash websites or flash elements on websites? The following is a quick list:
- No Inner Page URLs: If your website is built on Flash, it will have just one URL which is the home page URL. The lack of inner page links means fewer opportunities for your flash website to show up in search results.
- Slower Page Loading Times: Complete flash websites or websites with a lot of flash content typically load slower. Although this problem has greatly reduced with improved internet download speeds and browser compatibilities, it still exists for most sites.
- Poor User Experience: Navigation on flash websites may be unconventional. This forces the user to spend more time looking for the right content on a flash website. When the user experience is compromised it is difficult to rank high in search engines, such as Google.
- Indexed by Google Bots Only: Google is the only search engine known to officially index flash. Most search engines are text based and index sites based on their HTML content. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Google can completely index flash websites.
- Poor On-Page Optimization: Flash websites or flash elements lack the presence of on page SEO elements such as header, image alt tags, anchor texts, meta title and meta description tags.
- No Link Value: Search engine crawlers fail to crawl links embedded in the flash. If the website is completely flash-based, it has only one link (home page) and no inner page links. These two reasons give no link value to flash-based websites.
- Difficult to Measure Metrics on Google Analytics: Most flash-based websites make it difficult to track user behavior on the site. It is difficult to know performance metrics of flash-based pages.
Research shows that over 30 to 40 percent of websites use flash. This does not mean that these sites do not receive traffic from search results. Some of the sites may be big brands that are made popular by other modes of offline marketing and hence gather natural links to their site. This enhances their search engine ranking. On the other hand, there are some not-so-popular sites that may need to infuse SEO into their flash-based websites in order to optimize it for search engine indexing.
The following are some quick tips for those sites that are completely or partially based on flash and need to optimize for SEO:
Use Multiple Flash Files:
Do not have your entire website designed in Flash. It makes it difficult even for the sophisticated Google bots to index the site. Try to split distinct flash content into separate files instead of one big file.
Add HTML Element to Flash Files:
Search engines look for text content and the text inside HTML is in a more readable form than that embedded in flash files. Moreover, flash does not display external links the way HTML does. Thus, it is important to add content in HTML format to your flash files for it to be indexed by search engine robots. As mentioned above, flash files are better served when segregated into separate files. Each flash file must have its own HTML page. Also, you must embed flash files into the HTML and add descriptive data to the site such as page title, header, image alt tags, anchor text and meta data. As a general rule of thumb, make sure you use HTML for the most important elements of the site and avoid flash as much as possible. Use regular text links wherever possible. Below is a sample of two flash objects embedded in HTML, thus facilitating search engine indexing.
Optimize Flash Sites for all Browsers:
Although the main purpose of this article is to know how to optimize flash-based websites for SEO, usability is yet another factor that must be on top of your priority list while building flash-based websites. Enhanced user experience eventually leads to search engine optimization of the sites. Optimizing your flash-based sites for all browsers ensures enhanced usability. You can use the Scalable Inman Flash Replacement method (slFR) or the SWFObject Method to change the flash content into simple vanilla in case the browser does not support flash.
Avoid Using Flash for Site Navigation:
Flash must not be used for navigation on the website for two main reasons: The first one, as already discussed, is to avoid confusing navigation options. This may interfere with the usability of the site. The second reason is that the web analytics used to track and measure your site performance may not give accurate data. It is difficult to measure data, such as visited pages, which parts of the site were viewed and the stage at which the visitor abandoned the site, on flash-based sites.
Use Proper Sitemaps:
Sitemaps facilitate the indexing of websites’ various pages by search engines. For websites using flash, XML sitemaps can be created and put into the root directory.
In conclusion, you must avoid using completely flash-based web designs as they are very difficult to be crawled and indexed. If you do use flash on your website always remember to associate it with HTML content so that it can get indexed easily and show up in search results for your keywords. If you use Google Analytics for your site performance tracking, enhance the tracking of the flash elements by setting up special case goals and funnels.