Posted July 1, 2008 9:13 am by with 38 comments

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For years, I’ve been able to convince web designers not to design using Adobe Flash. I personally believe that web sites built entirely in Flash make for a poor user experience, but I’ve been able to play the "Google can’t index Flash" card as a cover-up for my dislike of Flash. "Don’t avoid Flash because I say so, avoid Flash because your web site will be invisible to Google."

It worked like a charm. That is, until now. Google just ruined the web.

Thanks to Adobe’s new Searchable SWF library, Google has announced a new indexing algorithm that is able to crawl and index the content of Flash files.

The Google Webmaster Central blog answers questions on the new algo, the most important being:

Q: What content can Google better index from these Flash files?
All of the text that users can see as they interact with your Flash file. If your website contains Flash, the textual content in your Flash files can be used when Google generates a snippet for your website. Also, the words that appear in your Flash files can be used to match query terms in Google searches.

In addition to finding and indexing the textual content in Flash files, we’re also discovering URLs that appear in Flash files, and feeding them into our crawling pipeline—just like we do with URLs that appear in non-Flash webpages. For example, if your Flash application contains links to pages inside your website, Google may now be better able to discover and crawl more of your website.

So, Google can crawl the text and links found within Flash files. There are some limits–Flash images are still invisible, as is any Flash launched via JavaScript–but for the most part, Flash web sites are no longer the red-headed step-child of the SEO industry.

Now, before you all rush off to fire-up your copy of Adobe Flash, keep this in mind.

  1. Until Google can demonstrate that its Flash crawling capabilities are equal to its HTML crawling, you risk building a site that, while indexable, is not as "optimized" as its simple HTML cousin.
  2. If your Flash site is nothing but cool imagery and little else, you still won’t rank for much.
  3. If you build Flash web sites just because you have the skilz–and not because it’s a better user-experience–I will not rest until I hunt you down! 😉

PS. Yahoo’s ability to index Flash will also benefit from the Adobe update. Unfortunate it’s too busy figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up, so hasn’t announced support yet.

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  • I agree Andy, having taken cover from the same argument and also finding all flash far too inconvenient to me, a site visitor. It’s been favored by the web’s control freaks, not to mention devoid of conversational input.That’s the stronger argument for me now anyway. A combination of the great data delivery abilities of flash with some discussion tools could make for some compelling sites that now can be indexed.

    Roxanne Darling’s last blog post..Can Google get smart without the free-with-advertising model?

  • Although flash text and links can be spidered now, has anyone seen a big contextual flash page? Most pages in flash have minimum text with a lot of motion tween, and pictures. Most flash pages aren’t long enough dimension wise to fit some good informative text.

  • Andy, thanks for sharing this. Do you know if it just looks like a big text file or will you be able to have the readable text be full of bolds, header tags, and other design elements to create emphasis?

    Wil Reynolds’s last blog post..SEO Company Ratings are useless – and 8 ways to fix them

  • @Wil – sorry, I’m not a Flash expert, so I have no idea. If you can add these elements, I’m sure they’ll have an impact. However, I doubt Google will share granular details on what it does or does not consider.

  • This is very interesting news. It is however too early to go one way or the other. It is better to wait for a while and see. I look forward to more posts from you on actual user experiences.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Bill Gates: Dethroned!

  • WD

    I agree with your points. I think some of the comments on their blog post by flash developers point out how the indexing is still not going to be as easy as they made it sound (and it was also interesting how it was pointed out some of their recommendations are not accessibility friendly).

  • Google and Adobe are fobbing off the tech bloggers dressing up old technology as something new, but it still isn’t search friendly.

    Andy Beard’s last blog post..Opt-in Accelerator Warning – Security Risk – Read This First!

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  • I guess that is the next logical step after Google search results started giving people a link to skip the flash intro on sites.

    Mike’s last blog post..Search Engines Indexing Flash

  • I’m really interested to see how this propagates – will there be new SEO rules for Flash? Will more webmasters and business owners start using Flash unnecessarily, or will they use it more carefully in order to get the most SEO value out of it?

    Kari’s last blog post..5 More Business Social Media Sites You May Not Know About

  • You basically go on a rant about the annoying format of Flash without ever considering why people use Flash. Do you enjoy web video…welcome to Flash. Do you enjoy an immersive web experience…welcome to Flash. A good designer knows the benefits of Flash versus non-Flash, but now we don’t have to tell clients they can have a nice brand site section on their home page because it’s isn’t read by Google. SEO has long been the killer of innovative design.

  • Because the link analysis Google does is still pretty important to its algo, Flash sites still suffer a pretty major setback. How many external links point to a point on a timeline, or a individual section in a Flash file…? You’ll not be able to optimize for deep content, just the surface = no good for SEO anyways.

    Jason Billingsley’s last blog post..Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context

  • Wow, this is an interesting development. I am still not a fan of flash. I too believe that it often times diminishes the user’s experience. But, that said, I have a question: For my clients that already use flash, do I need to make sure that they update to a new version for their content to be indexed?

    Joe Hall’s last blog post..ICANN Hands Out SEO Gold Nuggets to Large Corporations

  • @Nate – I have no problem with the use of Flash–I use it myself. However, I’ve yet to see any convincing argument for a web site to be built entirely using Flash. Perhaps you have one you’d like to share. 🙂

  • Andy, the Taco Bell site sure does make me hungry.

    Maybe it is more appropriate for well known places that are planning on getting most of their traffic from type in instead of search.

    Mike’s last blog post..Search Engines Indexing Flash

  • @Mike – but many of the links open new windows, and just try bookmarking the nutritional information for your favorite taco–a tough task in Flash.

  • I actually wrote a post about having trouble linking to Taco Bell just the other day. I think an all flash site is a bad way to go just for that reason. But I doubt Taco Bell or McDonalds, etc, is really that worried about direct links…especially to their nutritional information 🙂

    Mike’s last blog post..Search Engines Indexing Flash

  • @Mike – I wouldn’t care about the links either, but I would care about the user experience for my customers–which, with that Flash site, is lousy. 🙂

  • While having Google index Flash sites is great, what happens when a query points to a “section” deep inside the Flash site? I’m pretty sure that their search query is still going to land them on the beginning of the Flash file.
    Even if Google has figured out how to land a user on a specific section within a Flash file (a bit unlikely), how will usability be affected? A site built on Flash introduces all kinds of “great” usability but can be very tight when it comes to linear navigation.

    Arthur Freydin’s last blog post..Xobni is a Bit More Useful with LinkedIn Integration, But Not Much

  • Una notizia davvero sconvolgente e sorprendente… vedremo quali sono i risultati reali sulle serp. Google continua a sorprenderci!

  • @tmdesigner I agree we will see if this changes anything through the SERPs.

    Joe Hall’s last blog post..ICANN Hands Out SEO Gold Nuggets to Large Corporations

  • Oh man, I fear clients now saying “look! we can do flash..yay”. You’re right, until proven that Flash is an HTML equivalent..forget it!

    Utah Search Engine Optimization’s last blog post..The Unwritten Laws of Social Media

  • Derek

    Andy…you said:

    “sorry, I’m not a Flash expert, so I have no idea.”

    So how can you put down the application so easily?

    There’s lots of ways that this can benefit sites created in flash as well as flex.

    I really do not see any logic in your argument besides the fact that you simply have an opinion that you do not like flash.

    It’s a step forward for flash and seo in my eyes.

    Both regular site design as well as flash site design have their place.

    “Google just ruined the web.” … i think that’s a little over the top.

  • @Derek – I’m not an expert in nuclear fallout either, but I know it’s not healthy. 🙂

    Flash is, mostly, a very poor option for usability and, until today’s announcement proves otherwise, SEO.

  • This is really good news for SEO expert but i think normal Static page is always better from SEO perspective.

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  • PS3

    I’ve noticed in the past that Google has indexed some flash elements on a page but never a whole site. Time will tell.

  • I’m with you on this one Andy . . . . yeccchhhh! Although, I wouldn’t worry about Google destroying the web this move (they already did that with AdSense). I don’t see too many SEO’s jumping into flash because of this. Most people that design flash sites, couldn’t care less about search engine traffic. They’re going for the cool factor. Or more likely their idea of “cool”.

    Top Rated Digital’s last blog post..The Top 10 Digital Cameras Ripped Apart

  • I personally like the idea for a simple reason. When I make a flash game and publish it on the web it gets stolen by let’s say 100 sites in the following 48 hours. The game contains a link to my site but that’s worthless because google can’t see it. Example: search for “astroflyer”. the official site is on the 14th page.

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  • The Nike+ website is the perfect example of a "love/hate? relationship with Adobe Flash. Sometimes I love what the software can do with my running stats and such. However, the load time sucks – even on cable. Sometimes the navigation on the site doesn’t make too much sense, either.

    WilsonHines’s last blog post..It’s a small world, even for Barak and me

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