Historically, search engines such as Google and Yahoo haven’t been able to index or "read" Flash (SWF) files very well due to their web crawlers’ inability to natively understand a flash object’s "language". Consequently, websites who have flash objects or whose entire websites are built in flash were not being ranked in search engine results or were limited to do so. Adobe, who owns the popular flash technology, has announced that they are making it easier for Google and Yahoo to better index dynamic Web content and rich Internet applications that include the Shockwave Flash file (SWF) format. This new technology acts like a virtual user going through the runtime of each Flash application and translates it into something the search engines can better understand. This all sounds great but when you cut through all the media fluff, you may come to the conclusion that…
Improved flash file indexing does not provide much help to webmasters
- Links within a flash file can now be followed by a web crawler but there is still no indication those links will ever pass link equity as HTML links normally do
- The improvement doesn’t give search engines the ability to index video flash files, i.e. you still need to submit to places like Youtube
- Images inside the flash files will not get indexed
- It’s not yet clear how to order and deliver text within a flash file, like you can with divs and CSS technology – this means search engines may still be taking your text out of context, which means lower than optimal rankings
- You can also tell Adobe’s announcement is a bunch of hype when many "search marketers" simply regurgitate the same press release information with no real purpose or added value other than hoping to skim some keyword traffic and look like they’re authoritative (we all know Adobe made the original press release, guys).
What to know before you act…
- I wouldn’t start designing flash based web sites – not for a long time. With adobe’s announcement, it may be easier for flash based files and sites to get indexed, however, not all web browsers have flash installed by default – so Google, for example, isn’t likely to start including flash files into their web search results for popular searches. More likely the case is that search engines will be able to discovery parts of the HTML based web that were never seen before, linked to only by the flash application’s previously un-followable links.
- Flash files in search results will still suck: When a flash file is indexed and then accessed via the search results, only the flash file is loaded into the browser and not the containing page – so you wouldn’t be able to get your message across, to a person, that normally appears on your web page in close proximity to the flash object.
- Until search engines have a dedicated search vertical for searching through flash content only, I don’t see flash files ever becoming a popular target for HTML based web searches
- Now there’s an idea… a vertical for searching flash
Search engines reap the benefits
I’d say improved flash indexing at this point is more of a shelf space increase activity for search engines to advertise their affiliates on, since it’s their goal to find new, relevant web pages and serve up potential ads. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google and Yahoo payed some big bucks for Adobe to do this. You might notice in Adobe’s press release that MSN has not been given the same level treatment as the other two big engines. I wonder why?