TopRank Marketing Editor

SEO for Flash: 5 Tips and Best Practices

TopRank Marketing Editor     Online Marketing, SEO, SEO Tips

flash seoSEO for Flash – is it a reality yet?

One of the most common issues for web sites with poor search visibility involves Google not being able to crawl and index a site’s content. Web sites made entirely with Flash are problematic because there are often no links for search engine crawlers to follow or HTML text to copy.

According to the Opera (browser) developer center, somewhere between 30% and 40% of all pages tested contained Flash files representing a lot of content that may not be included in search results or only partially indexed. Despite a large number of sites publishing content using this type of file format, Flash and search engines have been like oil and water. They just didn’t mix.

In the summer of 2008, Google announced it had improved the indexing of Adobe Flash files. Many Flash developers and SEOs across the globe could breathe an optimistic sigh of relief: Text in Flash files was now crawlable.

But what’s the whole story? Can a site be built entirely with Flash and expect to gain the same search benefits as an HTML site?

Consider these 5 points that Google makes in regards to SEO for Flash:

1. Google can crawl and index all of the text content users see as they interact with the Flash file. That’s a big step in the right direction, since ensuring a site is crawlable is the No. 1 SEO basic. A few points to keep in mind concerning SEO for Flash:

  • Google maintains that the text in Flash files is treated like text in HTML or PDF files.
  • If identical content is used in both Flash and HTML, Google will likely see it as duplicate content.
  • If a Flash file is embedded in HTML, you’ll be able to add meta information, but the content will be indexed as a single item.

The below image illustrates how a Flash site was previously seen in search results (without meta description text) and how it is currently seen (with descriptive text):

SEO for Flash

2. Google can discover links within Flash files. In other words, if a Flash file includes links to your website pages, you can increase your odds of Google finding and crawling more of the site – just as is the case with links that appear in HTML and other files.

3. Google can index external content that a Flash file loads and associate it with that Flash file. This capability is an update from the summer 2008 revision. Previously, if a Flash file were to load an HTML or XML file, Google would not associate that external content with the Flash file. This new capability, introduced just this summer, allows external content to appear in search results.

The image below shows the results to the query “2002 VW Tansporter 888.” Before the introduction of the new Flash search capability, this result did not appear because the content is contained in an XML file loaded by a Flash file:

External Content Loaded by Flash

4. Google supports common JavaScript techniques for embedding Flash. Another update from the 2008 revision, this capability also applies to SWFObject and SWFObject 2. Previously, if a page loaded a Flash file using JavaScript, Google wouldn’t recognize or index it.

5. Google can index sites scripted with ActionScript. That includes AS1, AS2 and AS3 versions. Google also maintains that is does not decompile Flash files or expose ActionScript code if it’s not visible to users.

All that said, Google’s ability to crawl Flash files is still evolving, so building a site entirely in Flash isn’t best practice. To create the right balance when it comes to using Flash and implementing SEO for Flash, consider these tips:

  • Don’t use Flash as the navigation.
  • Embed Flash files into HTML pages.
  • Use descriptive page titles and meta descriptions.
  • Don’t include an entire site in one Flash file. Instead, break the content into multiple Flash files with different HTML pages.
  • Use Flash for design elements and less-important content, and use HTML for the most important page elements.
  • Enhance web fonts in Flash files by using slfr, per a suggestion by SEO Zombie Blogger Justin Briggs. Because the Flash styles enhance the HTML content rather than replace it, the engines can still read titles.

For Flash optimization from the source, be sure to check out the Adobe SEO Technology Center web site, which was set up specifically to provide webmasters with what the challenges are and provides practical steps, examples, and best practices that you can follow to overcome them.

While Flash, Ajax and JavaScript offer enticing user experience, they continue to offer a less than ideal experience for search engine crawlers. What tactics or best practices have you found in balancing rich media and SEO?  Do you think it’s reasonable to for a web site to have an amazing Flash component and still be able to compete in aggressive search categories?

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  1. Thanks for clarifying this for me. I have been discussing the attributes of flash as a compelling visitor feature vs search-ability for some time. As a result my designers have incorporated only a portion of my site in flash.

  2. One critical point here: Google can crawl content in Flash but only if it's text, as opposed to images or symbols. Also, Google won't award it any structural relevance, since it can't distinguish between paragraphs, lists, links etc..

    Dropping critical content into Flash is iffy, at best, especially when you can embed bits of Flash in a page and provide nearly the same experience.

  3. I agree with portentint that Google can only crawl text based content in flash files embedded using Java script techniques.

  4. What to do? Use pages with flash or not?

  5. Google recently changed search term,Let hopes google had done lot with indexing flash websites.

  6. Avatar jessicaKlose says

    I also heard that Google can crawl on flash. And I am trying to search answer of it.. If anyone know then please tell us we can take the right way..
    credit union

  7. this capabality is limited,rich media will be more important in future,google and other search engines should do more about this……

  8. Overall good post but I wanted to comment on “If identical content is used in both Flash and HTML, Google will likely see it as duplicate content.”

    It is best practices for usability and accessibility to provide textual elements for non-visual or non flash users. In fact it would also open up a site owner to potential lawsuits if they didn't since disability laws require it.

    For those reasons I would be very surprised if Google imposed a penalty for supplying a text version of flash websites. I haven't seen any official word or research on this though so I could be wrong.

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  10. Hi Bill, there's no risk of penalty with duplicate content in the situation above, just one where the webmaster does not have full control over which version of the text Google will prefer, and use.

  11. Agreed. The best scenario for Flash and SEO is to embed rich media functionality within HTML web pages.

  12. Good news for quality sites that use a lot of Flash.

    I'd still say the major misuse I've seen with Flash, especially amongst non-English (in my case Taiwanese) sites, is that it adds absolutely nothing to the user experience. It just looks “cool”. But I guess the crawlability of the Flash on those sites won't help them much anyway.

  13. Very useful! Thank's!

  14. That makes sense and I agree. Its exactly because of issues like this that I avoid flash sites if possible.

  15. Avatar Scott Ellis says

    Excellent break down. I routinely steer “most” of my clients away from flash (at least much of it) largely for these reasons but I'm glad it's evolving too. Flash is a great platform but still not best practice for most sites…

  16. wow really an interesting point these points will really help me because i am about to start a work on flash website.

  17. Question for you, If I have a flash widget that other people embed on their site and it has a link back to my site inside the SWF file, is Google going to count this link for me and pass me some PR juikce?

  18. This is a really interesting read. Although Flash has improved a lot, I would still only use it to animate parts of my site and not build the entire site in Flash.

  19. Very useful
    Leading classified site….

  20. Its really good to know that Google is taking step in the right direction. Flash has changed the conventional website look and feel. I think, Actionscript is so powerful in Flash that you can even build a whole application using it. Thumbs up for Google !!
    SEO Optimization Blog

  21. Just started optimizing a flash site and it's still annyoing. Even though google said they're able to index more flash content, it's not good at all. obviously I, and every one else who works within SEO, know that it would make sense to NOT create the whole page in flash. But when design agencies show their fancy flashy concepts, most of the companies stop thinking and simply buy a flash site because “it looke so good”. vicious circle 😉

  22. What about frames in flash ?

  23. What about frames in flash ?