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  • Optimizing Your Flash Web Site for Search Engines
  • December 9, 2003

    In the last Toon Doctor article, we discussed how to make your Flash output it easier and faster to load for your visitors. Flash-based Web sites have the unfortunate reputation of not being efficient and difficult to use by users. However, before visitors can see your site, first, they have to find it. Since most find sites through search engines, how do we make it easy for them to do so?

    Why Is It So Difficult to Index Flash?

    Search engines search for texts. Text is the main type of content on the Internet. Slowly, search engines are developing technology to look for other types of popular contents such as images and Acrobat documents. Whereas images and Acrobat are easier to locate, because texts often surround them, Flash contents are problematic.

    Images search algorithms often rely surrounding page descriptions and texts to qualify the validity of an image to a search request. Often these images hold tags that describe their contents. Acrobat files are texts files based on Postscript technoloy. Although a proprietary format, like Flash, they are easier to search, unlike Flash files.

    Flash files are both image, scripts and texts in a proprietary format. They are more complex to sift through than Acrobat files. Flash is but one of the many available content technologies on the market. While the Flash player is present in most computers, it does not automatically mean that search engines' developers recognize or need to index Flash contents.

    Ask yourself this question. Currently, are they any optimized search engines for such formats like QuickTime, Real Player or Microsoft Media? There are but not on the major search engines. Also, Microsoft, Real Media and Apple enable content's search from their own players. Because Flash is both a tool and output, does not reference all Flash contents.

    Instead, Macromedia has decided to share information with search engines' developers to ease the indexing of Flash contents on existing search engines. Macromedia's dependency on search engines to index Flash contents may change, as there are several products recently announced, such as Royal that suggest that the company is trying to bypass existing browsers.

    Spam your Site for the Search Engines

    Whether Macromedia achieves its goal of creating an alternate Web browsing experience, it does not settle the current problems of Flash developers and Web masters trying to help them improve their search engine standing to attract more visitors.

    The first thing one should always remember about Web site search optimization, is that it is done for the benefit of your visitors as opposed to a search engine/software. There exist many techniques to optimize your Flash-based Web site for search engines. Unfortunately, many of those techniques don't benefit your visitors directly. Please your visitors before pleasing robots.

    Some advocate creating parallel Web sites in HTML with similar contents to your Web site for search engines and sometimes for visitors. They would link such parallel sites to the main Flash-based version. We already discussed the pros and cons of developing both a Flash-based and an HTML Web site earlier. Why go to all that trouble?

    Creating specific versions of a site solely for search engines goes against what should be your chief goal, making your Web site visitor friendly. Such tactics may bring quick gain but are not effective on a long term basis. It's also playing a cat and mouse game with a search engine. One should not play cat and mouse games with search engines. It can and has often backfired.

    Search engine developers actively fix bugs that allow Web site developers to trick their ways into the top results for searches. Unless you are similarly equipped with a team of reverse engineers and as much money as the search engine developer, there's no point playing this game. If you do have that budget, than you probably don't need to trick your way to the top.

    Any Good Tips?

    Knowing that the indexation of a Flash-based site is difficult and counter to the current methods search engines index Web pages, a few things can be done to help Flash developers gain more visitors. Since Flash contents have to be anchored within an HTML page, it is that Web page that will be optimized.

    Breaking up your Flash site over several HTML pages with proper headers will create more possible entry pages for your site and break down the download time for your users. Inserting proper headings into those pages will help search engines index them correctly. Add relevant text to your base HTML page, such as a menu structure will also help indexing.

    Some search engines seem to pick up links contains within Flash movies. This is a good thing. Publishing the text from your Flash movie within the HTML page can alleviate most of your problems without using blatant cloaking tricks. It is the same page being viewed by the search engines' spiders and your viewers. Frames separating parts of your pages can also help.

    Another way to generate more visits to your site through search engines is by using links. When search engines find links on Web sites, they often crawl their way to those links. Whether you site is Flash-based or HTML, these links will help promote your site and entice search engines to crawl by. Listings and links are the way several Flash-based Web sites get indexed.

    Flash was not designed to generate entire Web sites. It was designed as an animation and design tool. Bridging Flash's technology to search engines is naturally difficult, if not, incompatible. Most of the people who know about Flash still think of the tool as an animation product. We, will look at the history of Macromedia Flash and animation in our next article.

    Coolstreak Cartoons Inc.

    Copyright ® 2003. Use of material in this document®including reproduction, modification, distribution, electronic transmission or republication®without prior written permission is strictly prohibited.

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