SEO Worst Case Scenario: An All-Flash Website
If your website was created entirely in Flash, you’ve got a serious SEO challenge on your hands. Follow this advice to remedy your situation:
Note, this article is really good, and the recommendations are solid. But if you’re looking for updates based on the 2008 indexing annoucement from Google and Adobe, you should look here: Ask the Experts: Does Google Index Flash?
SEO Challenge: A 100% Flash site, with all content and navigation contained within a single Flash movie embedded in a single HTML page. (If your website was built with multiple HTML pages with some embedded Flash components, your situation is significantly less difficult.)
Why is this a problem? A pure Flash site is a major disadvantage for SEO. For one, search engines will see the entire website as a single page. That means that you don’t have the opportunity to optimize different pages for different target keywords. And you also will not gain the inherent SEO advantage that having multiple pages brings to a website: every unique web page has, by default, some degree of search engine status.
Secondly, outside websites cannot link to interior pages within your site – they are forced to link to your top page. Some marketers think this is great: your visitors will always be led to your home page. But you will not be able to take advantage of “deep links” that could bring more visitors to your site and improve your search engine ranks. Deep linking is when other websites link to pages within your site other than your home page. For websites with an online shopping component, deep linking is much better than home page linking because users do not have to navigate (and risk getting lost!) on their way to making a purchase.
Last, while it is true that all the major search engines can index Flash, the content that a search engine spider will be able to extract from your Flash file will probably bear little relation to what your site visitors are seeing (Read our Ask the Experts response, Does Google Index Flash? to learn how to find out what your Flash site looks like to search engines). For example, consider a simple Flash animation showing a line of text moving across the screen. Your human visitors read it as a single instance of the text. But to a search engine spider, it may look like the same words repeated hundreds of times. This is just one example of the many ways that your text optimization can be thrown off in Flash.
What can be done. Here are some possible SEO strategies to improve the optimization of a purely Flash website.
- Break apart the site. You could rebuild your site, breaking up your Flash file and moving each of the major sections to its own HTML page. Flash elements would then be included as-needed on each separate page. From an SEO perspective, this would be a big help. But if you’re like most Flash website owners we know, you probably adore your website and spent a bundle on it, and there’s no way you’re going to break it up and rebuild it as a hybrid HTML/Flash website. At the very least, think about this approach next time to you do a redesign.
- Get smart with separate URLs. Even if you can’t or won’t break apart your Flash file into separate HTML pages, you can still reap the benefits of having separate URLs by implementing SWF Address like the very clever folks at Blitz agency labs. The blog tells you all about, down to the nitty gritty details that only Flash nerds will follow. Your users will enjoy the browser Back/Forward button functionality and the ability to bookmark your site, and the “linkerati” will still be able to tag pages on social bookmarking sites and deep-link your site. The Blitz folks called their solution “near perfect” and we are mighty impressed, too.
- Focus on off-page factors. “Off-page” factors, which have nothing to do with the optimization of your on-page content, are a major element of search engine ranking algorithms today. Without making any changes to your Flash site, you can still improve your search engine presence by convincing lots of other websites to link to your site. The clickable text that other sites use when they link to your site will affect your rankings for that text. For example, if you wanted to rank well when people search for the term “Flash Goddess,” then you would ask other websites to link to your site like this: “Mary is a true Flash Goddess.” (See our sample link building request letter for a hint at the right way to ask for links – or read our book, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, for more in-depth advice!)
- Take advantage of accessibility features. Your Flash files can be set up with accessibility features to enhance the user experience of disabled site visitors. These same features may also improve the search engine visibility of your content inside Flash. For example, accessibility features in Flash allow the developer to specify a Name and Description for any element in a Flash movie. See Macromedia.com Flash Accessibility and also this article: SWF Metadata in Flash for more information.
- Create HTML alternative content. Experts agree an HTML alternative is the best option for Flash SEO today. Making alternative content in HTML is not only helpful to the search engines, it’s also great for people without the Flash plugin and for visually impaired site visitors. Making alternate HTML content might be easier than you think, especially if you are using XML to feed content into your Flash files – you can feed identical content into an “alternate” space on the page. Specifics of how to set this up can get a little technical – see deconcept.com, “A Modern Approach to SEO for Flash” for detailed instructions.
- Create an HTML addendum. As a last-ditch-scenario, if you don’t wish to – or can’t – get your site to show alternate HTML content, at least create some alternate pages that users can manually click on. Beneath your Flash movie, add a standard HTML link or links to your most important content in HTML pages such as “Our Products,” “About Us” and “Contact Us.”
A Flash website has features that you just can’t get from other technologies. Follow the tips above and you just might be able to enjoy the benefits of Flash without suffering a major SEO downside.