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Optimising Flash Sites

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and flash sites have in the past been stern “enemies”. The structure of flash simply clashes with that of SEO techniques. How can a flash site be optimised for search engines?

SEO & Optimising Flash Websites
Flash is both aesthetically pleasing and user friendly. It is also rather something of a “crowd pleaser” drawing more traffic to a website. Flash provides imagery and sound that internet users enjoy. In terms of SEO, flash has been a thorn in the side of SEO consultants and other companies specialising in the field. Flash has been largely regarded as not friendly for SEO purposes. Why is this? The answer: search engines.

Search Engines & Flash Websites
Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and MSN, are not structured to be able to easily index the contents of a flash file that is embedded in a website, which is developed in a binary format (.swf). If search engines aren’t able to easily index information, optimisation cannot be achieved. Poor optimisation means lower search engine rankings.

The complexities of a flash file are not entirely compatible with the inner workings of search engine “spiders”. Flash file names can, however, be indexed as they are named using text. Some of the structure of a flash file’s contents can be read to a certain extent, but with assistance. This means that search engine “spiders” can “interpret” some of it, indexing small portions only, but not all. The level at which a search engine “judges” and evaluates how much of a flash file is indexable differs according to their separate algorithms. The general rule of thumb is that much of the process is still a work in progress and not yet an easy task.

Negatives of Using Flash

  • Flash movies, advertisements and banners can be distracting to an internet user.
  • Flash movies, advertisements and banners can “consume” a lot of bandwidth and therefore take some time to download.
  • Designing an entire website with flash will not help an SEO campaign geared at achieving high rankings on search engines.
  • Using flash for navigation purposes on a website. Flash movies should not be used to direct internet users from one page to another. Text links are far more effective for SEO purposes.
  • Flash players that are required to be downloaded by a user in order to view a website will not attract potential customers or clients.

How to Best Optimise a Flash Website
A flash website is not yet entirely SEO friendly, but there are ways and means of better optimising one so that it does feature reasonably well in search engine rankings.

The following are ways in which flash sites can be better optimised on search engines:

  1. Input metadata – Meta tags (data) are not generally regarded as vitally important to effective search engine rankings as they once were. Meta tags (data) are rather user friendly in the development of a flash file. Google may not be all too concerned with Meta tags when it comes to ranking highly, but Yahoo still regards these as criteria that do contribute to a good listing. Meta tags should be used in flash files especially if a web page is lacking in content.
  2. Alternative pages – Many internet users are not “searching” for flash files and may not find them all that interesting. For this reason, websites working to achieve good SEO should provide HTML only web pages as well. The web pages will require more work, but users will find a site to be more user friendly as will search engines. It is a good idea to make use of researched keyword rich titles and content. Text should be placed above and below a flash file. Keywords should be used in a flash filename, as well as file location.
  3. Flash search engine SDK – This refers to a tool developed by Adobe and search engine industry leaders, known as swf2html. In a nutshell, this development is a way in which Adobe Flash Player technology is being supplied in order for better search engine indexing of flash files to be achieved. Text and links are extracted from a macromedia flash file and then the data is written up as a standard HTML document. Although this is helpful whereby manually extracting the data is no longer necessary, checks still need to be done to the content and restructured or formatted if necessary.
  4. Use flash movies sparingly – If the website is entirely designed in flash, a target audience may not have all that much appreciation for it. Flash can be used as an attraction, giving a website something of a “wow factor”. Flash should be placed on HTML designed files containing indexable content.

In Conclusion
The use of flash is a great way to draw in internet user traffic and interact with a target audience. Flash gives a website that little something extra like a beautiful piece of jewellery does to an outfit. It looks good. The use of flash technology is slowly but surely becoming less of a “no no” as industry developers learn how its benefits can be better optimised for search engine rankings.

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