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Flash - Ahhha! Saviour of the indexable!

Tuesday, 01 July 2008

Well finally its here. Drumroll please! Google and Adobe have announced improved Flash indexing. Google's Flash indexing algorithm will now detect textual content and crawl URL's in your Flash movies, banners and websites.

We've improved our ability to index textual content in SWF files of all kinds. This includes Flash "gadgets" such as buttons or menus, self-contained Flash websites, and everything in between.

Google Indexing Team

There are however some important points to remember. Google will only be able to extract textual content, so if your Flash movie only contains images (i.e. a slide show) then don't expect to see it in Google's search results anytime soon. Also FLV videos like the ones on YouTube will not be indexed as they do not contain any text elements.

Adobe have announced that they are "...providing optimized Adobe® Flash® Player technology to Google and Yahoo! to enhance search engine indexing of the Flash file format (SWF) and uncover information that is currently undiscoverable by search engines." It's also fascinating to hear how Google will follow content within the Flash movies much the same as a human visitor.

Our algorithm remembers all of the text that it encounters along the way, and that content is then available to be indexed. We can't tell you all of the proprietary details, but we can tell you that the algorithm's effectiveness was improved by utilizing Adobe's new Searchable SWF library.

Google Indexing Team

So what do webmasters and SEO's need to know?

Basically you don't need to do anything to get your Flash movies into Google SERPs as Google will automatically start indexing Flash content. However there are a couple of tips that Google have pointed out.

  1. Obviously ensure that you have textual content in your Flash movies for Google to index them in the first place.
  2. If you want Google to ignore irrelevant text like copyright information then consider adding this content in as an image. This may however lead to bloated file size so use sparingly. Their are also accessibility issues with doing this.
  3. Make sure that you add text to buttons using external URLS if you want Google to recognise anchor text for these links.

Technical limitations

Google have stated that they may have issues crawling Flash movies loaded using javascript which has now become the common method of embedding Flash. Standards offianado's will be screaming at this point as this goes against current web standards but yes it means using embed tags once more. Ouch!

Google will not associate any content loaded from an external source (i.e. XML, HTML text file). As this has become the norm for more complex Flash websites (not to mention where all the best content is) it will be interesting to see how webmasters get around this in order to optimise their Flash content for search engines.

Google also has problems with Flash content written in bidirectional languages and is currently unable to  index Hebrew language or Arabic language content from Flash files.

So there we have it. On the one hand this is exciting stuff as SEO's can now start using flash content to pass link juice and on the other, we have a new set of technical dilemmas. Webmasters are just going to have grin and bear it for now and think of more creative ways to get around these challenges. However Its a thumbs up from us and hopefully Google can advance its Flash Indexing technology in the near future to get around some of these issues.


Michael Thomas

This is very interesting, I am waiting for the day all websites can be built in flash as they will be SEO friendly!

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