Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Search Engine Friendly Flash Web Site

By Scott Goodyear

Most SEOs and many web designers know that Flash based web sites are a challenge not only to get indexed but to even get the site or pages to rank well in the search engines. This article will explore a few of the challenges and provide a few tips that may come in handy if you are asked to work on a site or pages that include Flash based content.

First, consider how Flash is being used. Some web sites are nearly 100% Flash driven. These sites often have non-SEO traditional factors that help create popularity for them and in turn drive inbound links to the site through sources such as a national television/press campaign, a movie or DVD tie in, tremendous industry buzz including reviews, high profile news paper or magazine articles, or other factors that are not easily reproducible.

If your client has a site like this, consider the use of an HTML based landing page under the main URL and/or HTML container for the Flash content at a bare minimum. The object in this case is to at least have a title tag and meta content that can be indexed by a search engine. An example of an HTML container concept would be Warner video’s Gone with The Wind Flash page. Because it does use the term “official” in the title, meta tags, as well as in a brief description of the Flash page in a “no script” tag, this site actual ranks better for a search on official gone with the wind rather than simply gone with the wind.

As noted above, this site uses the ‘no script’ tag to describe the Flash based content. Others have pointed out that you can also use the ‘no embed’ tag as well as a ‘div id’ tag to add content about your Flash content. The goal behind these methods is to provide a bit of content for users who do not have Flash installed, have it blocked/turned off, as well as for search engines to index. This content should serve to represent exactly what is in the Flash file, not as a method to add extra content, keyword stuff, etc. Think of it much like a an alt tag on a normal web site. If I am displaying a gray car that has feature x, y, z in my Flash file, I should describe that… not go into a semi-unrelated dialog. A tool called ‘SWF2HTML’ is available through Adobe as part of a ‘Macromedia Flash Search Engine SDK’. This tool can be used to extract the text and links from a Flash file and output this into very basic HTML which can then be used to describe the Flash file. As this is much the same content that some search engines can extract from your Flash file it can help you to tweak the content within the Flash file too, just in case it is being extracted.

If you have a specific font/formatting style that you wish to use with certain portions of your site, consider using sIFR. Normally web designers will use a graphic to replace headline text or cascading style sheets (CSS) to set the font/style that should be used on a given web page or site. The problem with a graphic is that it can not be seen by a search engine, so you loose out on text that might otherwise help describe the page’s content. A problem with both graphics and CSS is that across different monitor/operating systems/browser combinations, the pages will not look the same at all. With sIFR, the same exact content is presented to both engines and site visitors with an improvement for site visitors as the sIFR content scales to the font that the Flash designer wishes to use and scales with the available space specified on the web page instead of relying on the browser/installed fonts to be interpreted through CSS. See this sIFR page for an example of the code in action.

In the most ideal of SEO circumstances, the entire site should not consist of Flash in and of itself. As has been discussed many times in previous articles, search engines rely on the text based content of a web site including on page content, title tags, image alt information, text based links, as well meta information to a much lesser degree, among other factors in order to index and sort sites for relevance. The ideal web site uses Flash to add to a visitor’s experience. There are certainly all Flash web sites that do quite well, but this is an exception and not a rule for the average web site. If you have a Flash web site, try turning cookies and JavaScript off as well using a program like Flash Block to view your site. Make sure that your site can work with out Flash from a visitor point of view. And that any information that would have been in the Flash content is available on the page.

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