Google Starts Indexing Flash Web Sites

As an SEO I often cringe when clients use extensive Flash on their web sites. Many times whoever is in charge of the web site (VP level or higher often) believe using Flash will make them seem more cutting edge and savvy. However, Flash can often hamper your efforts for be found online, and if your web site is found, chances are greater that people will quickly click off your site within seconds.

I worked at a web design shop in the 90s and most of our sites were built entirely in Flash and they were slick then. There are still pros and cons to using Flash. Today Google clarified how they index Flash pages.

Benefits of Using Flash on Your Web Site

  • Flash can convert better because it can provide a better user experience and can give more control over the look and feel of a site.
  • Many CMS (content management systems) utilize Flash. While clients can more easily manage their web sites through a CMS they may lose some ability to customize their site. Flash may be built in by default.
  • Photographers, designers, and other professionals can display their work more elegantly with Flash.
  • Ads created in Flash are often more effective.

Drawbacks of Using Flash on Your Web Site

  • Flash hasn’t been searchable by search engines. Search engines read text not images and that can hurt your search engine rankings. Also, you may just get listed for your home page and not for other content on your site. This means lost opportunity to get rankings on each page of your site.
  • Flash can increase how long it takes for your site to load (load time). This can affect bounce rates – people leave the site rather than wait for the Flash file to finish loading. Even if the Flash file is cached, you may lose first time visitors.
  • Flash is entertaining or interesting the first time you go to a site. After that it can get tired. It can also be overly busy and take up valuable site real estate “above the fold.” Here is an example of a site that uses Flash and is quite busy. To me, one of the worst offenders I’ve seen recently is Noodles & Company (but I like their food). Note how long you have to wait and search in order to find a restaurant near you.
  • If you use JavaScript to load your Flash file, you may not be found by Google. From their blog: “Googlebot does not execute some types of JavaScript. So if your web page loads a Flash file via JavaScript, Google may not be aware of that Flash file, in which case it will not be indexed.”

Google Indexes Certain Elements Contained on Flash Web Sites

Google is improving their ability to index Flash web sites so they’ll come up in search results. Google is developing a new algorithm for indexing the words in Flash files. This includes indexing menus, buttons and banners made in Flash. It also applies to entire sites made in Flash. It doesn’t mean that Yahoo or MSN will index these elements, but since Google gets the majority of traffic, this is a good start.

Unfortunately though Google’s algorithm cannot doesn’t index images or video and you are limited in how you can apply search engine optimization principles.

“If your Flash files only include images, we will not recognize or index any text that may appear in those images. Similarly, we do not generate any anchor text for Flash buttons which target some URL, but which have no associated text.  Also note that we do not index FLV files, such as the videos that play on YouTube, because these files contain no text elements.”

In most cases I’d still steer clear of Flash except in limited applications. However, OrangeSoda does work with companies who have Flash on much of their site and some, especially larger companies, can still rank well even with Flash-heavy sites. The Google Webmaster’s blog has a helpful Q&A to further satisfy your curiosity.