SEO is not just a hobby for me. It is also a much-needed online PR tool. My job is to promote business online and to be successful I need to employ various online channels.
The search engines are still the most important promotion tools. It is a fact: sites not listed in the search engines (organic results or sponsored results) miss out important traffic and revenue.
Unfortunately Flash websites have fewer chances to rank high naturally in the SERPs. While they look amazing and they provide for great interactive tools (when designed properly they even increase user experience being really entertaining) they are not search engines friendly and they raise enough accessibility issues to make online PR experts avoid recommending them to their clients. SEO for Flash is not an easy task. While some search engines (including Google) are able to crawl and “read” (more or less efficiently) text inserted in Flash animation (obviously if the test is not inserted as an image), many search engines aren’t. They crawl instead the html files that launch the Flash files (Flash animations are rooted in html codes).
I was often accused of being an “anti-Flash advocate”. I am not. I simply consider flash better for other purposes: interactive CDs (for company or product presentations and other branding purposes), eCards, games, banners, even animated headers… but not complete websites.
Sites created with Flash raise too many problems. They are more expensive; sometimes you’ll rely solely on links for SEO and on PPC and other paid tools for advertising. Compared to standard html pages the ROI is lower, the page structure is often poor, scannable internal linking is almost inexistent, the screen readers and the search engines are often unable to “read” them, and the cons list could go on.
So let’s focus on what you should do to create an optimized site.
Use all the ethical SEO tools possible to optimize the pages. Don’t ignore the META tags (title, description and keywords).
Make your site all browsers accessible and make sure that the html code that launches the Flash is W3C standards compliant.
Since 2004 already Macromedia has launched a tool called Flash Search Engine SDK (swf2html). This tool will convert swf to html automatically. Use it to see what the search engines see when they spider your flash page and start optimizing from there.
Avoid the EMBED tag which is not valid according to the W3C standards. Like it or not, these are the standards for an accessible website recommended even by Google (and other search engines).
You probably know that many sites built on frames use a tag called NOFRAMES to make the text content scannable. A similar tag was created for Flash sites: NOEMBED.
Create an html version of the Flash site, preferably one html version for each Flash page of the site and offer this as an alternative to your visitors and the search engines. Some recommend that you create html pages and include the Flash movies on each page together with the non-flash content. But this will lower the dramatic effect of the Flash, so you should use it solely if your overall website design allows it.
Last but not least, the most important advice is: focus on branding. You’ll notice that powerful brands rank high even for all-Flash content. MTV ranks for “music” (this is not an all-Flash site, but it does have a short Flash intro that redirects you to another Flash driven page with some content), Starbucks ranks for coffee, Sony ranks for electronics, Ferrari for… Ferrari. These are brands, so powerful that they need no effort to rank high. Besides they rank for the relevant content and they don’t always focus on optimizing their pages for the SE, but for the users.
Alina Popescu says
I do prefer html sites to flash sites, but for different reasons: if the connection is not that great, you sometimes waste way too much time waiting for the site to load. But I honestly had no idea they made SEO so difficult. Another thing learned today. Thank you 🙂
Mihaela Lica says
Yes, you are right. They need a lot of bandwidth, especially if they have sound or movies, and this is a major con as well. I forgot to mention that. 😀
Its amazing what you find by following links after links. Voila, here I am =).
I am actually just now converting a flash website into html. The flash was horrible, so no points for style. But the last author was creative enough to hide two paragarphs worth of text at the bottom of the page. Tricky SOE stuff, or quick way to never find your site on Google again? The rest of the site is just a mess. Bad html is no fun to clean up. =)
Good advice btw.
Mihaela Lica says
Hello, Justin. Pleased to read your comment, but above all… pleased to read the “Letter to Romania” on your blog. 🙂 One day you’ll find my comments there.
Nice to meet you too. =)
Well that letter was really just meant for one person. =). She read it, she replied and now its been removed. Sorry! For some reason I think it too was lost in translation. But thats another story. =)
I am finding that working on cleaning up websites is alot more work than I had imagined. Whats worse is trying to explain to customer why using flash really does sort of kill your SEO. Though your advice would certainly help. And for some reason IE7 is not playing nice with flash. Someone explained ot me once why the new version is acting this way, but dont remember exactly what was the reason. Firefox is my new good friend. =)
Mihaela Lica says
That’s funny… I didn’t know about problems with IE, but this is another reason to “handle flash with care”.
I know it’s hard to convince clients to avoid flash. I have the same problems 🙂 … But I am very persuasive…
Well I’ve managed to convince this client to get rid of flash, but now we’ve a different problem. They had some time ago decided to use Black Hat SEO and burry some text at the bottom of their website with the same color as the set background color. I’ve been given the full contract and have started working on the site. Yet, once I realized this I told them I would remove this as its not something Google appreciates too much. =) Anyway, they are set on keeping it (which is fine with me), but I’m not sure its such a good idea. I’ve done enough studying of SEO to know its best to avoid that. Well out of curiosity I checked their Page Rank and they are up to 4/10. Pretty good for a site that is apparently not following SEO rules. The site is http://www.aubreygroup.com
In your opinion can this sort of SEO really hurt your ranking with Google, or is it just superstition. If it doesn’t hurt, I’ll keep it. Any thoughts on this? How do you persuade so persuasively? =D
Mihaela Lica says
The page rank doesn’t come from the hidden text, but from the age of the domain and from being linked from an edu site and another authority site.
Their meta tags are really bad and those pages are going to go supplemental (eventually). The copyright is outdated too… it will probably cause them problems (if a scraper site decides to get their contents). But the hidden text… that’s really going to get them banned out of Google. And then they’ll come back crawling to you to help them rank again. They really have it on each page!
You should really fix their meta tags and get them more links. The rankings don’t mean anything if they don’t bring traffic. Some better page texts and proper meta descriptions will do wonders.
Thanks for the good advice. I did all my prep work and have already finished changing out their first four pages. By the way, what did you mean by supplemental?
Any suggestions on proper meta descriptions? They seem to have just flooded the hell out of each page with stuff they must have thought was important. I left it the same not wanting to make any drastic changes yet. Plus this is only a 20 hour contract, so not much time for a major overhaul. =(
Anyway, here is one of the new pages http://www.aubreygroup.com/aboutus.htm
Let me know if the source seems better formated. I’m quite new at this, but am really enjoying it. As is, this is my first real contract. =)
Mihaela Lica says
Sorry for not answering sooner, Justin. I didn’t have time to look at the page till now. The new code looks much better – you should also validate it. Right now it has 12 small errors. Then place the CSS in a different folder and load it in the header with this command: < link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="layout.css" / > to push the content of the site higher. The search engines read the code from left to right and up to down. So it is better to have the page content as high in the code as possible.
It would really be better if you try a tableless design, but if you have only a 20 hours contract it is not worth the trouble.
“Supplemental” means that Google will no longer index those pages in the main index but in the “omitted” results index. And they are not going to show for a normal search querry.
The meta titles and descriptions… we’ll have to think about them when you are ready with the whole site. Each title and description should be relevant for the content of the page.
Hey, thank you very much for all the great suggestions. You seem so good at this I should just give you the contract =P. I’ll take everything you said into consideration, and if time permits incorporate it into the final layout. Thanks again =).
Fyurien (^Justin) says
Hi (again) =P,
I wasnt exactly sure where to post this, and since I couldnt find a contact email, I thought I would post it here. I was hoping (if you have time) that you might review a new site I started. Its pretty small and simple, so it shouldnt take too long hopefully. This time I really want to try and put all the SEO in that I can. I’ve done some reading but I still have quite a bit to learn.
So any suggestions would be very welcomed.
PS: Doesnt hurt to link the site =)
Flights to Mallorca says
I didn’t know that flash websites could also be optimised by SEO. SEO is really a very powerful tool, it helps a lot to make your site gain a better rank in engines. So guys, make the best use of SEO, its in your own benefit. Cheers
LOCC - Tha Most Gangsta says
Flash gets a bad rap, undeserved in my opinion, for harming search engine visibility. Why are search engine optimization (SEO) practitioners concerned about Flash, and how can we SEO Flash content? Flash content is often heavy on images and interactive features, and light on text. As of 2008, the leading search engines are heavily dependant on text to understand the meaning of pages.