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Use Flash, But Don’t Offend Google

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The Flash Player has been installed on millions of PCs worldwide, making it an attractive way for web developers to present content to their site visitors.

Use Flash, But Don't Offend Google
Use Flash, But Don’t Offend Google

As much as site publishers want to present the best possible presence to their visitors, they equally want to stay in the good graces of search engine spiders, and Google’s in particular. It presents a challenge to webmasters: how to use Flash while showing the Googlebot what it needs to see?

The topic comes up enough on Google’s help groups for webmasters that Mark Berghausen of the company’s Search Quality Team wrote more about it on the Google Webmaster Central blog.

"The only hard and fast rule is to show Googlebot the exact same thing as your users. If you don’t, your site risks appearing suspicious to our search algorithms," he warned.

Berghausen collected some tips from Google engineers regarding the use of Flash. He offered three suggestions to webmasters based on that feedback:

  1. Try to use Flash only where it is needed. Many rich media sites such as Google’s YouTube use Flash for rich media but rely on HTML for content and navigation. You can too, by limiting Flash to on-page accents and rich media, not content and navigation. In addition to making your site Googlebot-friendly, this makes you site accessible to a larger audience, including, for example, blind people using screen readers, users of old or non-standard browsers, and those on limited low-bandwidth connections such as on a cell phone or PDA. As a bonus, your visitors can use bookmarks effectively, and can email links to your pages to their friends.
  2. sIFR: Some websites use Flash to force the browser to display headers, pull quotes, or other textual elements in a font that the user may not have installed on their computer. A technique like sIFR still lets non-Flash readers read a page, since the content/navigation is actually in the HTML — it’s just displayed by an embedded Flash object.
  3. Non-Flash Versions: A common way that we see Flash used is as a front page "splash screen" where the root URL of a website has a Flash intro that links to HTML content deeper into the site. In this case, make sure there is a regular HTML link on that front page to a non-Flash page where a user can navigate throughout your site without the need for Flash.

The nature of spidering a site for indexing purposes doesn’t include an ability to visually parse content like Flash. A proper indexing of a site with Flash doesn’t have to be a challenge, provided developers take Google’s suggestions to heart during the building process.

Use Flash, But Don’t Offend Google
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