I started as a Flash designer in high school (circa 1998). I thought Flash was possibly the coolest thing in the world (and at the time it just might have been).
I would show people websites like www.GaboCorp.com and www.Eye4U.com any chance I got – and they blew people away. They’re still pretty impressive. My own stuff? Well, let’s just say I soon realized that my strengths lie in other areas.
When it’s done well Flash can be jaw-dropping. It also powers many of the sites we use every day (YouTube.com, Hulu.com, Mint.com, etc). Without Flash the web wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is.
But Flash can create some real problems for your website’s search engine visibility. If you’re considering having your business website built in Flash there are a few things you need to know.
While Google announced last year that they were teaching Googlebot to index Flash the main problems still exist. I found it rather irresponsible of Google to tout their own Flash indexing abilities this way – it sends the wrong message, because the truth is that most Flash websites are still not SEO-friendly (or user friendly, but that’s another issue).
Good Flash developers know how to make a Flash website SEO-friendly. The problem, however, is that the people who hire developers don’t – and they’re probably not expecting the budget increase an SEO-friendly Flash site can create.
For the non-developer, here’s a simplified explanation of the problems Flash can create for your SEO.
The single URL issue
I’d estimate 95% of the business websites I see that were built in Flash behave this way.
What’s the problem?
The entire website in this case loads on a single URL. That means:
- One URL for Google to index
- One URL for users to link to or bookmark
- One URL that can (possibly) rank for a given keyword.
The principle of graceful degradation means your website should be built in such a way that when a browser without the highest level of support loads your page it is still functional.
As you step down in browser functionality the website should follow – offering up less-advanced versions until you hit the rock bottom (a plain vanilla HTML experience that still works).
In other words, if your website is driven by Flash a non-Flash version should be displayed for browsers without Flash support.
While I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush I must say that in my experience fewer than 5% of business websites built in Flash degrade gracefully.
The common argument against building your Flash site this way is that some 95% of browsers have Flash support – so there’s no real issue since 95% of your visitors will be able to use your site.
This argument makes sense if you’re not concerned with getting search engine traffic through relevant keywords.
Search engines are browsers without Flash support
So how do you combat this if you’re building a site in Flash? Enter Flash replacement.
The SWFObject method is another way to use Flash replacement to make your website visible to search engine crawlers.
Here’s a simple visualization of how this works:
The bottom line is that Flash websites can definitely be SEO-friendly – with the right steps. The two potential problems with implementing these steps:
If you’re looking to have a new website developed and are considering Flash it’s a good idea to understand all of its implications. Flash can make for a brilliant online experience, but many business owners haven’t considered the downside of missing out on search engine traffic or the increased cost of building an SEO-friendly Flash website.
Additional reading on the Flash SEO issue:
- A great article on “How to SEO Flash” by Jonathan Hochman
- Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz provides 7 reasons Flash and search engines still don’t mix
- GrowMap.com offers some great points and links on using Flash for web development