2008 was a bright year for Flash as Google and Adobe teamed up to provide flash indexing techniques for better search results. However, two years later and SEOs are still struggling to rank Flash sites high in search engines. Granted, we have lots of proof that search engines do index Flash text, images, and links. But unfortunately, many limitations still make it difficult to get the kind of rankings we enjoy with plain, old HTML. Indeed, SEO and Flash are like water and oil -- mixing the two has been nearly impossible.
Why Flash is Bad for SEO
While Flash is indexable by Google's virtual user spider, we have yet to see a great deal of quality rankings from completely Flash websites -- especially Flash sites for small, local businesses.
With most Flash websites, many pages are contained, dynamically, in one .swf file. Most Flash sites use a '#' to distinguish between pages. Sadly, Google doesn't treat different '#' URLS as separate pages. Consequently, Flash sites lose the extra SEO boost that comes from a multi-page website. Flex can fix the URL problem, yet many flash sites still don't utilize Flex.
Smart Phone Dilemma
Smart phone users increase rapidly, expecting to reach 1 billion this year. Flash websites without an HTML alternative will be missing out on a growing chunk of their market (Restaurant websites really need to catch on here).
Poor User Experience
This heading is debatable as many would argue that Flash allows for a richer, more interactive experience. While this is true, many inexperienced designers aren't in touch with contemporary Web usability. Flash adds a considerable load time that most users don't have the patience for. While long intros, blaring music, and hidden buttons may seem like a thing of the Internet past, many websites still employ these revolting techniques.
Flash websites typically have less indexable content. Let's face it; a long page of keyword-rich text has more SEO sway.
When to Use Flash?
In my opinion, only two situations allow for a flash website:
- Big Brand: Because big brands already have a truckload of links and a lot of search credibility, search engine optimization isn't such a big concern. Pepsi's principal revenue isn't generated through their website. Rather, the website acts as a branding tool -- much like an interactive television commercial. And, because Pepsi is such a big company and it has "pepsi.com," we are safe to assume that SEO is not among their priorities (although the website should at least rival Coca-Cola and appear somewhere on the 1st page for "soft drinks.")
- Link-Thirsty Content: Link-thirsty Flash is not simply a "cool" animation well-liked by the marketing committee. Link-thirsty content clearly has the ability to go social and thus it attracts links like a porch light attracts moths. Mono put a lot of creative effort into their monoface application and consequently, I've seen that link passed around quite a bit.
Games and applications might also be considered link-thirsty. Grooveshark's slick interface and its vast music database gives it the ability to focus more on link-bait and social media rather than SEO.
How to Build an SEO-Friendly Flash website
Here are your options:
- Use SWFObject: SWFObject allows you to place HTML code behind the Flash. It also keeps code cleaner by removing nasty object tags.
- Don't Call External Files with Flash: Google will treat external files such as XML files as separate pages. Make sure all of your text and links are embedded in the swf.
- Use Minimal Flash: Adobe uses a Flash banner near the top of its website while still including the bulk of the textual content in HTML. This Web development technique is a common among corporate websites.
While I've given Flash a good lashing, I don't mean to pooh-pooh it altogether. Flash is a powerful branding tool and also provides a good framework for application development.