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Google indexes Flash — Rejoice?

by Toby Ward — Flash is a wonderful and cool programming tool for any website. Flash can be used to present dynamic content such as video, other multimedia, and interactive tools. However, as all of us know by now, multimedia and interactive tools are often more than just cool, and sometimes serve a business purpose.

The trouble with Flash, despite its flexible and dynamic presentation, is that it has until now been unpopular with anyone looking to get indexed by Google and virtually all search engines. Till recently, Google and the other search engines didn’t index Flash content, and Flash content did not appear in search results (though some organizations have been smart to create accompanying HTML text that is indexed by the search engines).

Flash forward to this summer, and Google is now able to index most Flash (.SWF) files. Yahoo! is also beginning to index some Flash files.

In addition, Google can now follow URL’s embedded within Flash files, and any text contained in a Flash file. Web developers rejoice!

“If this works out it will be a huge benefit for Flash content and remove some more barriers to entry for certain companies to adopt it,” said Peter Elst, a Flash platform consultant and instructor. “But… I’m pretty skeptical about this approach (Google’s indexing) to be honest and it doesn’t sound like it’s the best way to handle things.”

Perhaps it’s premature to break out the piñata and the Dom Pérignon…

Most organizations don’t need to be cool, instead they need their sites to serve very specific needs of their target audience. In other words, cool is often a dead-end. More importantly, tucked away in a corner of the high-fiving Flash developer party, is the ugly truth that many won’t openly blog about — there are several types of Flash that Google and Yahoo will still not be able to index:

  • Flash images without accompanying text
  • Video FLV files (the type found on YouTube)
  • Most types of JavaScript that launch a Flash file
  • Flash content written in bidirectional languages such as Hebrew or Arabic languages

Also, separate HTML, XML or other SWF files launched by Flash will be indexed separately.

Although it is also working with Adobe, the proprietary owner of Flash, Yahoo!’s Flash indexing capabilities are not as advanced as Google. While MSN, and the MS search engine at Live.com, are conspicuously absent in announcing their ability to index Flash. Of course, most of the rest of the search engines are still sucking dust.

Still others are a little more frank about the news: “Flash is still evil; please don't use it to design your entire Web site,” says Lisa Barone, a self-proclaimed SEO nerd who has pleaded with clients and readers to not use Flash as a primary development tool (see Don’t Build Your Web Site in Flash).

In other words, Flash is good in small doses, for particular functions (e.g. video presentation, a nice-to-have quick poll, and other non-critical content).

“As pretty as it may be in small doses, a Web site entirely in Flash still presents a poor user experience,” adds Barone. “No one wants to sit through that – I don't care how indexable it is.”

Flash is still something that’s cool and fun, but is not a practical business alternative to good-old fashioned HTML. There’s still a roll for Flash, but no organization should be changing their web development plans to incorporate more Flash (that includes web agencies that principally rely on Flash to power most of their sites DESPITE knowing the glaring disadvantages of doing so).

“HTML and Flash may be becoming more equal to the search engines, but most users will still favor an HTML Web site that they can navigate easily,” adds Barone.

The cool folk can continue to flog more Flash, but the business savvy will avoid it at the expense of appearing a nerdy pragmatist.




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