Use Flash Animation Carefully for Best SEO Results

By Peter Kent

Adobe Flash animation is a useful tool, but you should be aware of the search engine optimization (SEO) problems related to using it. Many web designers place fancy Flash animations on their home pages just to make them look cool. Often these animations serve no purpose beyond making site visitors wait a little longer to see the site.

Major search engines can now read and index Flash content (albeit not well), but Flash animations often don’t contain any useful text for indexing. So, if you built your entire home page — the most important page on your site — by using Flash, the page is worthless from a search engine perspective.

Some designers even create entire websites using Adobe Flash (generally because they are Flash designers, not web designers). Do this, and your site will almost certainly not do well in search results.

However, there are ways around the problem, by providing alternate content. In effect, you’re placing the code containing the Flash near the top of your HTML and then follow it with basic HTML that will be seen by browsers without Flash enabled and will be read by the search engines.

One solution is the use of SWFObject, which is a method for embedding Flash content into web pages using JavaScript. SWFObject includes the ability to define an alternate-content element and put the HTML text into a <div> tag of the same name as that element. Search for swfobject for details. Site visitors will see the Flash, but searchbots will see the alternate content.

(By the way, many home-page Flash animations automatically forward the browser to the next page — the real home page — after they finish running. If you really have to have a Flash intro, make sure that you include a clearly visible Skip Intro link somewhere on the page.)

Flash has many good uses, and search engines can index Adobe Flash files . . . but generally not well. And here’s the proof. Ask yourself how often you find Flash files, or pages that are mostly Flash components, at the top of the search results. The answer is virtually never. Sure, Flash files can be indexed, but they almost certainly will not rank well.

Furthermore, they may on occasion be orphaned — that is, the search engine may provide a link in the search results to the Flash file itself, rather than the page containing the file. A much better strategy is to provide alternate HTML content on the page.

So use Flash when necessary, but don’t rely on it for search engine indexing.