Google + Flash: Indexing Text, Embedding, and More – What We’ve Learned

by Gravity on January 9, 2009

Because we work with clients on optimizing largely- or all-Flash websites, we want to be sure that we fully understand what Google will and won’t index.

So, we formed online experiments, with the goal of answering five burning questions:

  1. Will Google index text content inside a Flash movie, even if you have to click within the Flash movie to see this content?
  2. Will Google index content inside a Flash movie, regardless of whether it’s embedded with a standard javascript embed or a SWFObject embed?
  3. If Google indexes text inside a Flash movie that’s embedded using SWFObject, will it also index the alternate HTML content to that movie?
  4. Will Google penalize a page if there isn’t an exact match between the text it finds in a Flash movie and the alternate HTML text?
  5. Do the meta tags within Flash (movie properties – title and description, as well as clip properties) factor into Google ranks?

Here are our answers:

1. Will Google index text content inside a Flash movie, even if you have to click within the Flash movie to see this content?

Answer: Yes. We created a Flash movie on Flash Indexing Test Page 2, which displays the word “dogcarpetnail” only after you click on the word “froglipz” in the Flash movie. After waiting several weeks, we searched on Google for the word “dogcarpetnail”, and this is the result we saw:

dogcarpetnail google results

We can conclude that Google is able to emulate a clicking behavior within the Flash movie, read the text that follows, and factor that in its ranking algorithm. Notice how Google displays the word “dogcarpetnail” in its snippet description, which provides further evidence that it is able to see the text.

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2. Will Google index content inside a Flash movie, regardless of whether it’s embedded with a standard javascript embed or a SWFObject embed?

Answer: Yes. We created Flash movies on two test pages. On Flash Indexing Test Page 1, we embedded the movie using the standard javascript that comes out of the box in Dreamweaver. On Flash Indexing Test Page 2, we embedded the movie using SWFObject, which is a different javascript code (written by a third party), and is currently the SEO industry’s best practice for Flash embedding. . In both cases, when we searched on Google for words that were contained within the Flash movie, we saw the pages in the search results. You saw the “dogcarpetnail” results above. The results for Test Page 1 were for the word “nosegroggle”:

nosegroggle google results

We can conclude that Google is sufficiently able to run both standard and SWFObect Javascript embedding codes in order to find and index Flash movie content on a web page. (As we’ve stated in our Flash SEO Best Practices article, we like SWFObject embedding because it allows you to provide alternate HTML text.)

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3. If Google indexes text inside a Flash movie that’s embedded using SWFObject, will it also index the alternate HTML content to that movie?

Answer: Yes. On Flash Indexing Test Page 2, we included HTML alternate content to display if the viewer was without Flash. This content can be seen in Google’s cache of the page, here:

bizzle snizzle HTML alternate text content
We then tried searching for the word “yizzlewack” on Google, and this page shows up in the results, as seen here:

bizzle my snizzle google search results

We can conclude that Google is using both the text within the Flash move and the HTML alternate text as ranking factors.

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4. Will Google penalize a page if there isn’t an exact match between the text it finds in a Flash movie and the alternate HTML text?

Answer: We don’t think so – at least not automatically. Our pages seemed to do fine although there was no relation between the actual Flash text and the alternate HTML text. However, this would certainly qualify as spam if reviewed by a human being, and we expect that it would be penalized if the Google anti-spam team ever caught it.

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5. Do the meta properties within Flash (movie properties – title and description, as well as image or clip properties) factor into Google ranks?

Answer: Not that we’ve found. We invented made-up words and put them into the Flash movie properties (title and description), the name and description of an image inside Flash, and the name and description of a movie object inside Flash, and none of these triggered any results in Google. We also tried made-up words as titles within the embedding code, and they also did not show up as results in Google. We think it’s reasonable to conclude that Google does not factor these terms into rankings.

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The amazing thing about all of this experimentation is that it has had almost no effect on our Flash optimization best practices, which we’ve been following for well over a year! You can read more about how we recommend optimizing Flash in our article, Does Google Index Flash?

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