Forget the Traditions: Optimize Your Flash

    August 11, 2004

The Optimizing Flash Content session at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose gathered a design-heavy crowd, but also included marketers, industry newcomers, and those interested in SEO. I figured the session would be a basic how-to for Flash designers interested in getting their sites ranked. It turned out to be much more.

Gregory Markel, founder and President of search engine marketing company Infuse Creative, kicked the session off by reminding Flash designers that if SEO concerns are not addressed, any embedded links or HTML – and basically the entire Flash site – won’t show up in SERPs.

Disucss Flash Optimization at WebProWorld

Breaking SEO Traditions....
Breaking SEO Traditions….

For proof of this, look no further than the website for the movie “iRobot” – . The website, which is available in eleven languages, is interactive and pleasing to the eye. It’s a safe bet that lots of money was put into the site, especially considering the blockbuster film release was well-marketed. However, when you do a search for “iRobot” on Google today, several websites show up – but NOT the official movie website. If you do a site search specifically, you will find that Google has found several of the pages from this site by following Flash links, but they’re not optimized; thus there are no keyword benefits and the information in the files is not searchable.

“Designers love Flash,” says designer George Shaw of divinePenguin. “Flash has a great user interface.” It allows for motion control and animation, sound, interactivity, scalability and load control. But from a SEO perspective, Flash is not easily crawled and the search engine implementation of Flash crawlers is uncertain.

Tim Mayer, Director of Product Management at Yahoo! even said, “If you create a Flash site you’re automatically at a disadvantage.”

Flash sites are also a marketing concern. In the case of iRobot, the Flash site proved to be a waste of money. Another problem is that the major search engines aren’t yet ready to follow, index or read “All Flash” sites, where deep linking is difficult.

Designers, Greg says, should ideally consider their targeted keywords before they ever begin designing the site. “If SEO is important to you, then your keyword strategy should be as important to you as your design.” He recommends laying out your keywords in a flow chart or Visio style chart then basically designing the website and page creation process around the keyword chart.

Some other tips:

– Don’t use your index.html pages to link to or redirect to your Flash content.
– Link to your site map from your index
– Avoid the traditional Flash design approach of calling multiple .swf files from one internal page. “Yep. Separate and multiple pages, and lots of em”
– Avoid framesets and “spawned” windows. Popup blockers could potentially block these windows or less experienced users might lose the window somewhere on their desktops and therefore lose track of your site’s content.

“If good rankings are important to you, then one solution would be to use Flash sparingly,” Greg suggests.

One example is “hybrid” sites, which “integrate Flash into HTML framework.” Greg says, “Flash and HTML CAN coexist when keyword marketing is important.” This technique allows most of the sites content to be crawled, while keeping the Flash benefits of sophisticated interactivity, motion and marketing benefits. In other words it’s possible to create “a happy handshake between Flash content and SEO realities or concerns.” On its website, as Greg pointed out, “Macromedia uses this same architecture – way to go, guys!”

Tim Mayer also agreed: “The best idea really is to create and HTML and Flash version of the site.”

Greg suggests running a keyword density tool; running a search engine spider simulation to confirm all pages can be crawled; creating a site map linked to from the index as well as internal pages; and including high quality inbound links.

“If you’re in a competitive space and you’re going after competitive keywords then all of the SEO rules still apply,” Greg said. “If you’re out to market freshly with lots of keywords then a traditional approach to Flash design is going to be a challenge for you.”

Brittany Thompson is an administrator for and contributes to the Insider Reports with her regular articles and interviews.