Flash and Search Engine Placement Debunking: Part 1

Part 1 of a 2 part series.


I feel it is my duty to respond to the false inferences being blogged about by Mr. Franklin concerning search engine placement, and technologies used for web sites. Please keep in mind I am human and could be mis-interpreting his words, as well as the exchanges that happened over at FlashApe’s place.

HTML, Flash, HTML+Flash?

Quantifying web site solutions into all flash, html, and flash + html hybrids, and then ordering them in order of effectivness is an incorrect comparison. Some solutions done in an all Flash site are more effective than if they were done in all HTML. The goal of using the above technologies, as well as the supporting technologies that go hand in hand with the solutions that aren’t even mentioned (front-end technologies like CSS, JavaScript, back-end like PHP, etc.) is to solve a problem. I think part of the reason there is a mis-communication between FlashApe and Mr. Franklin is they are comparing apples to oranges. Mr. Franklin has a clientle that seems to provide web-site solutions for who have a need for search engine placement. FlashApe on the other hand appears to have clients that have a need for high impact sites, and the marketing dollars are aimed at it being a support to the overall campaign, where search engines are not the main point of entry, and by the time they are, the lifespan of the site has exceeded it’s timetable for use.

In the above context, arguing whether all Flash, html, or html-flash hybrid solutions are best is out of context, and there is no logic saying one is better than the other… unless you slant it towards a specific problem your trying to solve, in which case each solution has it’s pros and cons to solving a specific problem.

Flash and Search Engine Placement

Now for the second point.

All HTML sites can be placed on search engines and it is easy to do so, even with no actions taken to help improve your standing.

All Flash sites can be placed on search engines, but it is not as easy to do so.

For example, I have some pros and cons concerning my site and it’s search engine placement dealing with certain terms.

The pros:
– all HTML
– true, real, and re-occuring content

The cons:
– use javascript
– have hidden form fields
– no meta tags
– old title did not start with Flash, but rather my name
– no robots.txt file
– very little title tags on my elements
– non-well-formed site

Even with all of that stacked against me, I am still well placed for certain terms regarding the usage of Flash; my target demographic in my caring for search engine placement.

If I were to re-do my site in all Flash, I would have to take a more proactive role, but there is no reason I could not be on par, or far exceed my current rankings; it is simply more work.

Mr. Franklin had some in regards to using an all Flash site compared to other methods:

“If you still feel all-Flash is the way to go, well, in your case you may be right. But please consider the major traffic ramifications that come from doing so. It can be a real wake-up call when you see Web stats flatlining!”

He is correct if you do nothing, just like I have from my HTML site. But there is a lot you can do, and that negates his statement standing alone (even in context, go read his blog entry to confirm). Flash sites do not have to flat line in search engine placement, and can be just as high as their all HTML counterparts.

I’ll go in my detail in part 2 which will hopefully come out in mid-september. For now, I’ll repeat some of the things I mentioned above as well as things that a Flash developer can do to help her or his site along. Again, these are proactive things one must do, but are not hard at all if done in the planning phases of a project.

HTML Specific
– make your page well-formed/XHTML compliant, ecspecially with embedding Flash
– use meta tags
– have your domain name include the content of your site
– use a robots text file to inform search engines what to do
– use a 7 word title. When repeating keywords, do not repeat the keyword in the same tense. For example, “Flash” and “Flashing” is ok, but not “Flash” and “Flash MX”.
– use the title attribute for real content on tags beyond anchor tags (img, table, td, lits, etc.)
– find keywords and other tags that compeitor sites are using to reach the top of the search engine stack, and base yours around theirs

Flash Specific
– all content that can be placed outside of the SWF, the better. For HTML and/or text, put into external HTML files and load via LoadVars. Same goes for XML.
– for static text, make a copy of all textfields used (based on categories) and paste into a new FLA on the stage. Publish out, grab the HTML tags that Flash generates for content “used in this movie”, and place where applicable to your embedded Flash content.
– when loading external SWF’s or JPEG’s, make sure the names of files are preceded with whatever term is most important. For example, “iRobot_willsmith.jpg” and “yourname_mycar.swf”.

Hopefully I’ll have more quantifiable, and hard data in the weeks to come after I’ve finished a research project on it. The bottom line is, an “all Flash” site can be made in such a way to be high in search engine placement. Whether one should use an all Flash site depends on the goal of the project, not about how search engines decide to place the site based on it being Flash or not. It’s a technology decision based on solving the problem at hand, not about favoring the technology.


– Frankie Loscavio, Search Engine Consultant
– Search Engine Consultant from the Williamsburg Macromedia User’s Group

12 Replies to “Flash and Search Engine Placement Debunking: Part 1”

  1. agree

    good question: “an all Flash site can be made in such a way to be high in search engine placement”.

    I think it’s possibe, but the solution will not be unique, cause flash have so many various way to use/import contents. And so i think the solution will not come from “google” but from developers. We need to find the way to give to google the contents.

    It would be GREAT if there will be the possibility to couple a html page with some xml files. So we would import the xml content inside flash.

    Final word: the solution could be xml-flash for indexing

  2. That article got me pretty angry. I’ve decided to go ahead with my “FlashTML” project I’ve had on the backburner as a result. Basically an all Flash blog that is as compatible as possible whilst keeping only 1 page index.php as a container for the SWF, hopefully it will include dynamically (and spider friendly):

    – (decent) Metatags
    – Page title
    – Content generated from mySQL > XML for Flash and HTML for text only browsers.
    – All text selectable, printable, copy + pasteable through 1 click
    – Additional right-click context menus to support “open link in new window etc” for ALL links.
    – Stylesheets and accessibility for screenreaders (toughie :s)
    – Support for the browsers increase/decrease textsize
    – RSS feed 1.0
    – Spider friendly page links
    – Spider friendly URL’s i.e. no ?storyID=345345 just index.php/storyID/345345
    – Can you think of anything else that would be useful?

    Ok so started that today, been thinking of methods for some time, how long will this take! :s

    p.s. This may seem like a waste of time, but hey it’s a challenge.


  3. It got me angry too, and no I don’t think it’s a waste of time at all! In fact, I was motivated to do something very similiar. I work with a Search Engine Placement Consultant, and know of another one in the Atlanta area I will contact about setting up a fake, all Flash site. The goal is to document the results of search engine placement over time based on the techniques discussed above as well as what you just added. It’d be great to compare techniques/results over the course of the next couple months if either of us gets going! I’m AWOL next 2 weeks, but yeah man, definately a great idea you have there. I just wanted to make a simple “Flash site”, but your blog is something I know all the Flasher’s would want, specially if you can prove it’ll get listed on search engines. Doesn’t using anger towards constructive means, rock!?!

  4. Too right. Well just email me if ya come across anything useful, or I may have already researched that may help you, such as getting this darn URL re-writing to work under IIS with PHP ISAPI. Anyway! Good luck.


  5. Before bashing Derek Franklin’s opinion, it’s worth noting that he does have a valid point: there are major problems getting flash content to show up in Search Engines.

    This is an issue that Macromedia and Google should be working on (and probably are), as more web content is delivered in flash.

    Regarding the placement of flash site text in external XML files, I have yet to see a demonstration of this improving search ranking. My old flash site had external XML text that never found its way into Google’s index.

    AFAIK, there is no way for a spider to find the link from a swf to the external XML file. One solution would be to have a standardized naming convention for the external XML URL, so Google could easily pull it from the swf.

  6. You may be interested to know or know already that Google are experimenting with text indexing SWF files, reported here:


    In response to this and as a way of testing Google (and other SE’s) ability to index SWF files for All/100% Flash sites I’ve setup an experiment that looks at Flash SWF versions, compression settings, types of button formats they can index, size limitations and the possibility to rank within the top ten for terms that return millions of results – the main file is located here:


    I’ve deliberately not used the meta description tag as past experiments with these indicated they have no bearing on ranking and that Google only lists them as a description for pages without any visible content as an aid to the users from the Search Engine Results Page.

    There’s some additional info here to do with Flash sites and SE ranking:


    If you would like me to include any other Flash SEM tests email me here: charlie at disc7 dot com

  7. Felix, I’m more interested in solutions. Saying that all Flash sites are not a prime solution if a project calls for an all Flash site because they decrease your placement in a search engine is wrong, negative press for the Flash community. Additionally, because of Derek’s standing as a solutions provider, Macromedia Press Author, and Flash community blogger, it makes him very dangerous when listened to. It hurts the community of people who may accept what he said at face value, not investigate source info for themselves, thus perpetuating the wrong information. I am taking it upon myself to hopefully show what is possible with others in the community, not rehashing what isn’t possible. From past blog entries I’ve read on Full As A Goog, Macromedia is well aware of the challenges associated with search engine placement. The Google parsing disc7 posted is a great start.

  8. Disc7, that is tight! That is definately along the lines of what I wanted to do.

    That last article has great information, thanks for the link! Question 1 should of been worded differently; they asked a key question in architecture of the Flash, and how you should do it. I like how their main solution is link building. Thinking inside the box, most would focus on just the site itself, but using the blog spammer’s and google bomber tactics, that is another great way to help. You rock man, thanks a lot for the info. I’m not really sure what to add to the SWF file itself your testing… you kind of hit it all!

  9. Great article David, thank you! I’m thinking if instead of loading your content via .txt files, you load it instead from vanilla .html files, that is a better to have multiple pages that are the content for your main Flash file.

  10. Thanks. If anyone’s up for helping to promote the Flash Movie Test please only link through to this page (www.disc7.com/flash-movie-test/).

    Regarding Mark’s how to obtimize Flash article, James Ellis wrote a technique that goes into more detail and looks at the practicalities of loading a HTML version of a Flash site for bots and redirecting SERP traffic to the Flash version if they have the correct Flash player version installed.


    The trouble I have with this method is for most clients its not a viable option to expect them to pay extra for effectively two versions of the same site. It is tho recommended as an excellent method for getting multiple pages within a Flash site to rank well.

    Also both articles are slightly dated now in the fact that Google appear to be able to index text within SWF files.

    One last point, it may be no coincidence that while Google seems to be trying to stamp out Google bombs (detailed here: http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/000685.html) they’ve also added SWF text indexing that may counter Flash only sites being penalised for the terms not appearing within the pages content.

  11. Good point about the SWF text in and out… it’ll definately take a few months to hash out each variable, assuming their algo’s stay constant, which is doubtful. Still, it’s fun to try!

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