Search me that flash mr google
August 12, 2008 11:06 AM   Subscribe

What's the latest wisdoms on flash and search engines (aside from "don't use flash")? Looking for tips geared towards new media sites (collectives, art galleries etc.)

Being the most net savy of my group, I got tasked with designing our online portfolio and a site for the art space we co-manage. Did it all in flash as it seemed the thing to do. Despite filling out all the meta content in the html file, we're still pretty blind to search engines (been up since 2005). In particular people are complaining that none of their work shows up when searching for their name. I've poked around to see what the current deal is, and short of not using flash, it seems there's no good way to make yourself visible to the search engines. Anyhow we got out of the gallery business awhile ago, but we'd still like to maintain the site as a sort of memorial.

So anyone with more experience have some tips? I was thinking a text based splash page, or maybe cutting down the site into text based html with flash navigation and movies, etc.

Here's the site

As you can see, it made sense to use flash for the look we were going after. But being invisible to search engines really sucks!

Many thanks!
posted by Smegoid to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Coupla things:

The home page opens a new window with JavaScript. That's the first problem. Most spiders do not follow JavaScript. Google provides webmaster tools to help you see what has been indexed when and where. Using one of their link structures (site:), the only thing indexed is the home page.

On the Flash indexing front, Adobe is working with Google and Yahoo! to index content on Flash files, so not all is lost, but it is a recent development.

Start with a Google Sitemap to point the spider to all content. You might see some improvement. I haven't actually done SEO for a pre-existing flash site like this.

I might be inclined to forgo the splash page all together and center vertically and horizontally the site on the home page, put keywords in the page title (you'd be surprised how powerful that is).

Then, split up the different Flash sections into different HTML pages. It'd break out the site into something you would have greater control over with SEO and the back button would work.

Just some thoughts...
posted by pedantic at 11:25 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just make a simple HTML site that's available instead of the Flash site. People or search engines can visit whichever one suits them.

I'd advise against using Flash for only navigation elements - the navigating with Flash is one important thing that the search engines can't do.
posted by amtho at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't use Flash and don't use splash pages. Seriously, you're just making things unneccessarily difficult for yourself. Gallery application packages are a dime a dozen. As above, you could certainly make a SE-friendly site alongside of this one that the spiders can see, but what's the difference between this and ditching Flash? You're still creating a new site.
posted by rhizome at 11:51 AM on August 12, 2008

pedantic: "On the Flash indexing front, Adobe is working with Google and Yahoo! to index content on Flash files, so not all is lost, but it is a recent development."

Although Google recently announced that they are indexing Flash content, the whole truth seems to be a bit more complex than yes or no.
posted by Plutor at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2008

I've always shied away from flash for search indexing and accessibility issues and that was only reinforced when I couldn't look up the hours of my ice cream parlor on my iPhone!

There are some great javascript libraries you can use to do most of the stuff people used flash for. I like mootools. Leave flash for when you're delivering movies or whatnot.
posted by advicepig at 12:11 PM on August 12, 2008

Seconding Amtho's suggestion.

Look at your own home page. There's a requirement to be met before people can even view the site, not to mention that a visitor has to search the splash page for the way into the site. Oh, it's down there in the bottom corner. Why the extra step before showing me the content?

I don't get why designers are so hooked on Flash. Very few design with it well. It's as if they don't ever 'use' the web.

Let's say someone wants to search for a particular artist's work. They're far less likely to find it on a Flash site. At best, they'll find the flash site and then have to navigate their way to the part of the site within flash where the artist's work is. Or worse - in this case, they have to go to the site and then open up a new page and then learn the navigation to figure out where to look for whatever they're looking for.

How annoying is that?


Designers like flash because it looks cool, but it makes a site less usable when an entire site (or even huge sections) are done in Flash. So many visitors will bail before they find what they're looking for because they have to search for it since flash doesn't do bookmarks, not to mention the number of people who never find the site because it gets such poor ranking on Google.

Even worse, however, is what happens if visitors DO find what they're looking for. Can they send the URL to a friend? Nope - because there isn't one. There's just a URL to the entire frigging flash site.

Imagine if your home address was just "CANADA" and nothing more. How stupid would that be? Ahh, but that's what a flash website is. It's a site with one address for all of its content, and you expect visitors to do all of the work to find it. And when they do find it, they can't bookmark it or share it.

Flash has some excellent uses, but designing an entire site in Flash does the site more harm than good.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I like the idea of developing an html version for spiders. Anyhow, I'm looking for tips on how to get indexed with a flash site, so while I completely agree with some points, I really don't want this to get hijacked into an anti-flash rant. I'm mostly on the anti-flash side of things, except for designer portfolios and some performance promo stuff (cirque du soleil does it well I think) where the target audience is savy and likes flash.
posted by Smegoid at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2008

I should elaborate: my recommendation is to incrementally move out of a single-serving Flash site, particularly as SEO is a requirement. Plutor's link is confirmation from Google Flash is a black box when it comes to indexing. You never know what you're gonna get.

If you have the chops, use mootools, JQuery, Dojo or any of the other fantastic JavaScript libraries to build your site as it is, but with plain old HTML. The best part about the libraries is they remove the cross-browser JavaScript hell.

I don't see anything on your site which would give me reason to think a non-Flash site couldn't be done with the exact look and mouseover treatments. What you won't get is the site in a single-serving package. I'll be spread over multiple pages.

Come to think of it, I wrote a half-assed JQuery plugin to give sites a single-serving feel by rewriting the link to load the "clicked" link via AJAX and applying it to the site with transitions. It makes it look and feel like Flash something fierce, but without Flash and degrades as graceful as get out. No JavaScript? Oh, woe, a page load. I really should tweak it and release it.
posted by pedantic at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2008

Yeah, kill that popup. What's the need? (and as pedantic points out, javascript cloaks you).

One solution would be to break the flash movie into discrete 'sections' (like HTML page clusters) and put the text in an absolutely positioned div element that it conveniently underneath the flash movie (which you ensured has an opaque background). This text also contains your links. Google gets your text and site structure, everyone else gets your flash movie, you're not serving any different content out or gaming google . Google can start indexing sections of your site and when people find them in searches, would be able to go directly to the relevant section (rather than entering through the main embedding page and navigate manually).

You could then - if feeling ambitious - make each link point to the original monolithic flash movie, but setting a flashvar in the embed tags to tell the movie to start on a different page.

As ever, making flash play well involves lots of kludges and half-cocked compromise solutions... but it's possible, if not pleasant.

In Flash's favour, it runs well on my mobile phone, whereas javascript-oriented pages come apart immediately (100kb for a flickr page, aside from images? this could be 5kb or less in flash). People tend to forget that javascript imposes much higher memory and processor power requirements than an equivalent, bytecode-compiled, flash movie. It's easy to knock flash (lord knows I've done enough myself) but building a web on javascript frameworks on javascript frameworks causes as much access apartheid as an all-flash web.

Anywhere I mention google... you could equally apply to cuil too.
posted by davemee at 2:08 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did a lot of research into Flash and search engines a few weeks ago. That sitepoint article that plutor does a good job of covering a lot of the issues.

I just wanted to add that at this point, it seems pretty clear that no-one, google included, really knows how to index flash well. I think the best case is when you have a single flash file that doesn't rely on any external data or movies (or that external data or movie can be viewed freestanding). Google will discover all the pages linked from within the flash content, and it will index the text in the flash movie. It will be indexed as if it were a plain HTML file. It won't be able to prioritize keywords based on their presence in the page title, or in a heading.

There are also the issues of making it more difficult for people to link to you, and the role that incoming links and the text used in those links have in influencing your ranking in search results.
posted by Good Brain at 2:28 PM on August 12, 2008

« Older spechevrel delivery   |   Can't remember this album cover Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.