Search Engine Optimisation for Flash Websites

I’m no web developer and I have never ever made use of any Flash except the odd copy and paste third party service. I know well enough that for most of what I do online I don’t need pretty movies, text will suffice, however I realise a lot of you out there probably do use Flash or might want to and with broadband proliferating flash could become something we should consider (good examples are for instructional how-to movies – nothing teaches quite like a movie teaches).

A quick definition of Flash in case you have no idea what I am talking about (it has nothing to do with naked people in trench coats):

Wikipedia: Flash files (or “Movies”), which usually have an SWF file extension, may appear in a web page for viewing in a web browser, or for “playing” in the standalone Flash Player. Flash files occur most often as animations, advertisements or design elements on web pages and, more recently, Rich Internet Applications. A Flash file can contain more diverse information than a GIF or JPEG file of the same size.

You can check out some very neat and funny Flash movies at one of my favourite procrastination sites from my university days – HomeStarRunner.

Jennifer E. Sullivan has written an article, Optimize Your Flash Site for Search Engines, for which runs through some good advice for Flash website designers. Interestingly enough a lot of her tips seem to be along the lines of “build a HTML website, then add some flash” demonstrating that Flash files are really not being well indexed by search engines and hence you must rely on your standard copy and HTML to bring in the traffic. Which basically means follow the usual SEO rules for building search engine traffic.

In a nutshell Jennifer teaches –

  • Use Flash movies, don’t build a full Flash site. First create a standard HTML site and then use Flash movies in place of graphics, images, buttons, and banners.
  • Use Splash Pages (introduction movies) Sparingly and where Appropriate. You should give your visitors the option to click past the intro on their own too. In fact try and avoid splash pages altogether unless you can really justify their inclusion.
  • You might have to rely more heavily on PPC (AdWords, Overture) then usual to bring in visitors since Flash, at least at this point in time, won’t compete well with search engine optimised HTML pages (again, ask yourself, do you absolutely need to have Flash?).
  • Build an HTML site, and incorporate Flash later. Some web developers choose to develop a HTML website, then once they’ve established search engine positioning and PageRank for the site, add Flash to it.
  • Use CSS Layers. It’s possible to use layers in CSS, which can place invisible text over the Flash text, readable by search engines, yet not appearing to human readers. This is a risky practice though as it might get you banned from the search engines for cloaking.

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  • Aren’t flash web sites just inconvenient? While they seem cool for the designer, I think more often than not they are simply inconvenient and tend to have unusual interfaces.

    My personal experience has been that content and links– and lots of both– are the key.

  • Great post Yaro. This really touched a nerve with me.

    Flash is crappy for Search Engines and it **doesn’t sell**. I *particularly* despise “Vanity Flash” headers on website that scroll meaningless marketese across the screen.

    A while a guy contacted me and asked me to take a look at his site. He had spent $15K on a, I have to admit, beautiful looking site that had not generated one single enquiry for his business. Ouch!

    As you mention in the article though, the odd flash movie or demo can be pretty cool. Camtasia is also good for video demos.

  • Have to agree … Flash websites do not work for me. It’s been proven for quite a while now that search engines hate them, users are not far behind.

    Only reason I would use Flash is for a how-to video or tutorial but never on my main page … and never as a splash page. And it’s a given that if you must use Flash, then you really have to provide a bypass link.

    It’s very hard to justify using Flash ( for vanity’s sake) at all if you’re really serious about getting constant visitors to your site/blog.

  • Interesting point Yaro. I think flash can enhance some characteristics of a website, but if it comes to websites offering advice, such as this website, I don’t really see a place for flash as it’s the content that matters. Thanks for taking on board my ‘open in new window’ link suggestion – feels much better now! May I just ask, I’m a little confused as to what you mean by Page Rank
    – which is better PR 2 or PR 1?

  • Ben I suggest you use the search function on my blog and searh for “PageRank” and read some of the articles to get a better understanding of it.

  • Ok, will do 🙂

  • Hi Yaro. I want to say thanks for your comments on my article. Just to clarify for folks that didn’t actually read the article: I do not recommend the CSS technique. It sounds like in point #4 that this is what I said: Use CSS Layers, when in fact, I highly suggest staying away from that. Just wanted to clarify 🙂

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for dropping by and clarifying your point. I think it’s pretty clear now, we both don’t recommend the CSS technique 🙂

  • John

    I did some research on this not too long ago and posted on the Macromedia forums on this topic to get feedback. The Macromedia SDK can read text in Flash and it does it quite well but not perfectly, although it may have trouble with animated text and definately stay away from dynamic Flash text if SEO is important. Sadly dynamically displayed text in Flash doesn’t even register. I did find a site that displayed the results of the Macromedia SDK and I was impressed at how much it was able to read. Sorry I don’t have the site address right now.

    I haven’t heard of many people hating Flash just poorly constructed sites useing Flash (Flash abuse). Flash has it’s uses and can provide some great media rich experiences. There are plenty of website owners who don’t care about SEO and for them Flash maybe ideal. But if search rankings are important than obviously a full Flash site is a poor choice.

  • The best deal to optimize flash website thats to use noscript tag and pasting there all your cotent.
    As well you should monitor your visitors by google analytics. Its possible you should just insert a simple code like:
    I think you get the point.

  • There is good news coming soon. Adobe has delivered a version of the Flash Player to Yahoo and Google that they can use to index Flash websites just as any other site – it also reads dynamic data. This will bring down the last remaining barrier to Flex/Flash based websites.

    I have created a blog – – that puts a Flex interface on a WordPress backend. ( Note: Flex is generally used to make Flash applications/RIAs. ) I’m just waiting for Google and Yahoo to actually set their bots free with that new Flash Player and get my site content indexed. When that happens I’ll use the blog to research and communicate my findings on Flash SEO.

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