Adobe: Making Flash Search Engine-Friendly

In the column, “Is SEO Your Priority? Avoid All-Flash Web Sites,” I explained why online marketers should avoid sites that exclusively use Flash multimedia software.

Instead, I said it’s OK to use some Flash as long as you follow SEO (define) best practices. But I failed to actually tell you what those best practices are.

Kindly, a developer at Adobe responded and pointed out some recent posts he’s made at Adobe’s SEO Technology Center on optimizing Flash for SEO. The mandate of this new resource site, which launched March 13, is to “help explain current SEO challenges and provide practical steps, examples, and best practices to overcome them.”

So as a follow-up to my previous column, let’s explore what the Adobe SEO Technology Center is, what it offers users, and how you can potentially leverage it to enhance the indexability and searchability of your Flash content.

What Is Adobe’s SEO Technology Center?

The technology center was created to give Flash developers a resource for how to ensure their end product is search engine-friendly. Adobe recognizes that while Google now indexes and crawls Adobe Flash content, it is not fail safe. Adobe also realizes that developers must still take extra steps to ensure that Flash is optimized as much as possible for search engines.

The center goes beyond just Flash and refers to rich Internet applications (RIAs) when talking about optimizing for SEO. Along with Adobe Flash, RIAs encompass a variety of other technologies and platforms, including Ajax, Curl, JavaFX, and Microsoft Silverlight.

While the technology center is primarily intended for developers, it’s written in a way that resonates with marketers as well (i.e. someone like me). Although marketers may not understand all the technical jargon, they can interpret enough to take action and provide direction to their development teams.

What Does the Technology Center Offer?

The center is made up of a series of articles that provide actionable tips and tricks and step-by steps guides for developers to follow. While the amount of content is a bit lean at the moment — having just launched this month — I imagine Adobe will populate over the coming months.

The article, “Search Engine Optimization Techniques for RIAs,” provides a strong rationale for the importance of considering SEO at the outset and throughout a Flash development project. As the author, Damien Bianchi, search strategist at GSI, says, the article “will help you answer one of the most important questions, and one that few people ask at the onset of a project: ‘Oh, by the way, does the site work with search engines?'”

As he very correctly points out, search engine presence and rankings often aren’t considered until after a beautiful, award-winning Flash site goes live and the client gasps, “Umm… how come our site isn’t coming up in the search results?!”

Hallelujah! Somebody finally gets it!

As companies and agencies often operate in silos, marketing and technology initiatives are led by separate departments and may not be as coordinated as they should be. Bianchi’s article insists that you make sure both are considered at the outset of a project.

He also outlines some key challenges that RIAs encounter with search engines, and then jumps into some key techniques for how to optimize SWF (define) applications for the engines.

But if you really want to get down to nitty-gritty techniques or tactics, the most useful article in my opinion is “Search Optimization Checklist for RIAs.” This is an itemized guide that developers can follow to ensure they’ve given their SEO due diligence. For example, what specific actions should you take to ensure your Flash content is optimized for search?

Action items include:

  • Establishing search-related goals
  • Creating unique URLs for the important sections of your SWF file
  • Using variables to control and display SWF content
  • Using XSL to control your data and content
  • Using HTML for the primary navigation
  • Making strategic design decisions
  • Avoiding pop-up windows
  • Creating an XML sitemap
  • Creating an HTML sitemap
  • Creating a video sitemap
  • Creating a robots.txt file

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is, “make strategic design decisions.” This recommendation points out: don’t use Flash simply for the sake of Flash. Use it strategically to enhance the user experience, and be sure that you balance the needs of the user with those of the search engine in every decision you make. Ask yourself: Do you need to use SWF content in this instance? Can the same (or similar) effect be accomplished by another — more search friendly — method or technology?

What Will I Get From the Technology Center?

After reading the content, you should possess an understanding of the key techniques and methodologies for optimizing RIAs for SEO.

If you’re a developer, you should come away from the site armed with tactical ways to integrate search engine optimization into your Flash development process.

If you’re a marketer, you should now understand that SEO must be considered at all stages of Web site planning and development — particularly at the outset.

Hopefully, your organization will avoid the fundamental misstep of past Flash sites — not taking into account search engines until it’s too late.

Does your company or client offer one of the best online marketing products or services? Nominate it now for one of the 2009 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards!

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