Getting Flash Sites Ranked in Search Engines

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Reader Question: What would be the best approach to make a whole Flash Web site indexable for search engines? I have thought of generating a database driven, artificial HTML structure-hierarchy with the right meta tags and content which would redirect the user to the appropriate Flash page/content.

Answer: In spite of all the hoopla surrounding the recent developments of Google and Yahoo being able to index Flash sites, I usually do not recommend building a Flash site if the business owner wishes to use search engine optimization (SEO) as an online marketing strategy. Additionally, some redirects are often considered search engine spam.

The following article explains the various search marketing strategies available for Flash sites.

Flash site with multiple pages

If a site only has a few, non-competitive keywords, then optimizing the Flash site can work. However, before actually creating the Flash site: do NOT create a single Web page with a giant Flash movie.

On the surface, it might seem a Flash site consists of many separate Web pages. Unfortunately, this assumption is wrong. Many Flash sites consist of a single Web page with a single Flash movie. Most sites have multiple means of entry. A Flash site often has only one means of entry.

The same optimization strategies apply to Flash sites. Optimize each movie and page with appropriate titles and content. In the absence of indexable content, make sure the pages have appropriate meta tags.

Unless your Flash site has a few targeted keyword phrases, split it up. It will help your optimization efforts.

Think Flash movies, not Flash sites.

Must a site absolutely, positively be formatted in Flash. All too often, designers and Web site owners want to use Flash, but the target audience might not want it. In fact, Flash can often be used on part of a site and still have the “WOW” factor of a 100% Flash-formatted site.

For this strategy, utilize Flash movies whenever appropriate, and put the movies on HTML pages with text for the engines to index, and a navigation scheme they can follow. For example, we might create a “Take A Tour” section of a site in Flash. We then create a page named tour.html and put the Flash movie in a pop-up window.

On the actual Web site, we will feature the “Take A Tour” link on the main/global navigation, and we might add some embedded text links or self-promotional banners as an extra incentive to click on the link. We will optimize the tour.html page for the search engines as well.

IKEA is a site that uses Flash well. On that site, IKEA uses Flash to show people how to construct various pieces of furniture, such as a bookshelf.

I highly recommend utilizing focus groups or usability testing before launching a Flash site. You might find that your target audience likes the Flash but only in a specified area of a site.

Flash site vs. HTML site

When in doubt, we create two versions of a Web site: Flash and HTML. On the home page, we allow visitors to select their viewing preference. Make sure the home page is not a splash page. Make sure the home page contains keyword-rich text for the search engines to index, a link to a site map (minimally) so the search engines can crawl all of the pages on the site, and the option to view the Flash or HTML version of a site.

Web analytics/site statistics software is imperative for keeping track of visitor preferences. If the majority of your site visitors prefer the Flash site, then keep it. If visitors prefer to view the HTML-designed site far more often than they prefer to view the Flash site, then you know not to format an entire site in Flash.

Only submit the HTML version of a site to the search engines.

Flash sites and search engine spam

The reader raised an important issue: what if he creates a series of entry pages in HTML and redirects them all to the Flash site? Unfortunately, this is going to be considered search engine spam. Here is why:

1. Both search engines and site visitors want to be delivered directly to the page that contains the information people are searching for. Search engines do not want to lose control over where they direct users. They have no way of determining that Flash content matches HTML content.

2. An “artificial HTML structure hierarchy” is also problematic because the search engines do not know that your HTML-formatted link architecture matches your Flash-formatted link architecture.

3. I can almost hear a programmers’ chorus of, “But it’s relevant.” The content might be relevant according to a programmer, designer, developer and search engine marketer. But this group does not determine relevancy on the search engines – the search engines do.

True story. My client’s main competitor designed his entire site in Flash. To get his site to rank well, he created a series of “entry” pages with redirects. I thought it was strange that a Flash site kept ranking well for a large number of keyword phrases – particularly when the keywords were nowhere to be found on the Flash site’s home page. The link development of the competitor site was not spectacular either. After digging around, I discovered the “entry” pages with the redirects.

I reported this site to Google and Yahoo. The site is no longer in either search engine. So even though the “entry” pages contained what the site owner believed to be “relevant” content, the search engines did not agree.


I understand the need to create aesthetically pleasing, interactive Web sites for your target audience, especially if you have an audience who genuinely wants to experience the interactivity. However, before you build a Web site, review your Web analytics software and utilize focus groups before launching a Flash site. You might discover that your audience has different ideas than your designers.

Shari Thurow is Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc., a full-service search engine marketing, web and graphic design firm. This article is excerpted from her book, Search Engine Visibility (http://www.searchenginesbook.com) published in January 2003 by New Riders Publishing Co. Shari can be reached at shari@grantasticdesigns.com.

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  • marilyn

    You reported them. How nice. So they developed a beautiful flash site, and then an html site with a redirect, since that is the only thing the search engines know how to index. Sounds like a wise business decision to me – they’re not trying to fleece anyone, are they – just trying to get the search engine recognition they deserve. And you report them. Again, how nice.

  • James

    Speaking of relevancy … I came to this article to find out how to optimize a Flash site for higher rankings. All you do is inform the reader that they should make an HTML site. I think this article lacks the relevance you state websites ought to have.

  • Bob Loblaws

    It’s incredible…these articles are always written by hacks who call themselves web designers. You come across them through Google or Digg while looking for valuable information only to be disappointed over and over again.

    The simple fact of the matter is you only have to visit Shari’s website – www.grantasticdesigns.com – to discover just how mickey mouse a designer she really is.

    She is your typical bedroom designer who is only ever hired by the uninformed / uninspired client.

    Sure, there may be obstacles today when it comes to indexing your Flash site with Google etc. But I’m quite confident that within a couple years time, Adobe and Google will have worked this problem out as it is obviously in both their interests to do so. When they have worked it out, us Flash developers will continue to be laughing all the way to the bank while Shari keeps turning out her Grade 9 (I just learned how to use AOL’s newest web tool) quality sites.

  • jk

    I wouldn’t be proud of letting everyone know you reported a website. While in theory you did nothing wrong since they were using “the wrong” methods to obtain a high ranking…

    However, what you did makes me question your integrity… what other methods do you use to succeed in life? You should be ashamed not proud.

  • Guest

    I recently attended SMX London and unfortunatly Shari was one of the people giving a presentation.

    Her presentation was bland and very ‘do what i say’ rather than informative and backed up with examples.

    Her real character began to shine however when it came to the questions and answers time, she was rude, dismissive and often talked over other panelist’s when they were asked the question.

    My advice.. Steer Clear of  Shari Thurow and her dodgy advice..

  • Guest

    I recently attended SMX London and unfortunatly Shari was one of the people giving a presentation.

    Her presentation was bland and very ‘do what i say’ rather than informative and backed up with examples.

    Her real character began to shine however when it came to the questions and answers time, she was rude, dismissive and often talked over other panelist’s when they were asked the question.

    My advice.. Steer Clear of  Shari Thurow and her dodgy advice..

  • Vlad

    I was realy angry when i read the part about the reporting issue. because i did the exact same thing (not report someone). I created a HTML copy of a flash site, but i did it with no harm intended. It alows the crawlers to index the links and then when a users clicks that link it’s being redirected to the flash version, with the exact same content. I would like to know miss Shari, why did you do it? were you gealous because the competitor had higher ranking? go f*** yourself!

    • Agreed

      I totally agree with the above. I’m doing the same, because it is what makes sense to me. My site is in Flash, I want the viewer to see flash, no exceptions and no matter Ms. Shari thinks is proper SEO or not.

      What you did is wrong, and it seems obvious (at least to me) that you did it out of spite for your competitor. What goes around comes around, if things aren’t going well for your business Ms. Shari you only have yourself to blame.

  • Cranium Fruit

    She, like many other old school html4.0 web designers out there simply couldn’t create a website in flash.

    Us flash designers are seen as graffitti artists or drop-outs!
    Its art you idiot – get over it! … Its only gonna get worse for you!

    The internet is the richest form of multimedia, people like this woman incist on trying to keep the web in some sort of imaginary bland html box –
    but Its already escaped!!!

    Im working on a full flash site that imports css styled html files as its main source of internal content. It can all be tweened and animated with actionscript, but the best part – all the content can also be indexed – even though your site is 100% Flash. All of the hyperlinks will have titles. All content in the flash movie can be restyled with a single css file!!!!!!

    What the hell is she gonna do then heh?

    I’ll post a link here when I have finished the site model –
    Its the future and – she cant mess with it!

    Cranium F



  • http://www.myiteam.com Arizona SEO

    I haven’t found very much information on SEO for a flash site.  It seems that most people have said use a little of the flash and html together, but not entirely flash.



  • http://www.rankbetterseo.com/ seo web design

    Been reading alot of stuff about flash, web designa nd SEO lately. This is another well written article about this subject.

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