In spite of all the hoopla surrounding Google’s and Yahoo’s new ability to index Macromedia Flash sites, I usually don’t recommend building a Flash site if search engine optimization (SEO) is considered an online marketing priority.
Flash still presents a big obstacle to having your site spidered by the search engines and an even greater obstacle to ranking well for keyword search results. Not only do Flash-designed sites typically lack much of the indexable content search engines require, they also often employ redirects from their splash pages, which are considered spam by the search engines.
Though these challenges are considerable, effectively optimizing Flash sites can be achieved under certain circumstances. Here are a few search engine marketing (SEM) strategies specifically for working with Flash.
Flash Site With Multiple Pages
If a site only has a few, noncompetitive keywords, optimizing the Flash site can work. But before actually creating the Flash site, heed this: Do not create the Web site as a single page with a giant Flash movie.
On the surface, it may seem a Flash site consists of many separate pages. This assumption may be incorrect. Many Flash sites consist of a single Web page with a single Flash movie. Most sites have multiple entry points. A Flash site often has only one entry point.
The usual optimization strategies apply to Flash sites. Optimize each movie and page with appropriate titles and content. In the absence of indexable content, make sure all pages have appropriate meta tags.
Unless your Flash site has a few targeted keyword phrases, split it into separate pages. It will help your optimization efforts.
Think Flash Movies, Not Flash Sites
Must a site absolutely, positively be formatted in Flash? All too often, designers and Web site owners want Flash, but the target audience may not. Flash can often be used on only part of a site and still convey the "wow" factor of a 100 percent Flash-formatted site.
For this strategy, utilize Flash movies whenever appropriate, and place the movies on HTML pages containing text for the search engines to index and a navigation scheme they can follow.
We might create a "Take A Tour" site section in Flash. We then create a page named "tour.html" and put the Flash movie in a pop-up window. On the site, we feature the "Take A Tour" link in the global navigation. We may add some embedded text links or self-promotional banners as extra incentive to click on that link. We optimize the tour.html page for the search engines, as well.
IKEA.com uses Flash well. IKEA uses Flash to show people how to construct various pieces of furniture, such as a bookshelf.
I highly recommend focus groups or usability testing before launching a Flash site. You may find the target audience likes the Flash, but only in a specific site area.
Flash Site Vs. HTML Site
When in doubt, we create two versions of a Web site: Flash and HTML. On the home page, visitors can select their preference. Make sure the home page isn’t a splash page. It’s important the home page contain keyword-rich text for the search engines to index, a link to a site map (at minimum) so the search engines can crawl all the pages, and an option to view the Flash or HTML version of the site.
Web analytics software is imperative to keep track of visitor preferences. If the majority of visitors prefer the Flash site, keep it. If visitors prefer to view the HTML site far more often than the Flash, you know not to format an entire site in Flash.
Only submit the HTML version of a site to the search engines.
Flash Sites and Search Engine Spam
Some SEO marketers’ idea of a workaround involves creating a series of entry pages in HTML and redirecting them all to the Flash site. Unfortunately, this is considered search engine spam. Both search engines and visitors want to be delivered directly to the page that contains the information they’re searching for. Search engines don’t want to lose control over where they direct users. They have no way of determining if Flash content matches HTML content.
All it takes is one person to report this activity to Google and Yahoo and voilà! Your site is no longer in either search engine, and there’s a big spam penalty against the domain. Even though your entry pages contain what the site owner may believe is relevant content, the search engines likely won’t agree.
I understand the need to create aesthetically pleasing, interactive Web sites for your audience, especially if the audience genuinely wants to experience interactivity. But before you build a Flash site, review your Web analytics and utilize focus groups. You may discover your audience’s ideas are different from your designers.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
March 19, 2014