Every so often I hear that Google can now index flash files, sometimes presented as if it's a great gift to the world, and we can all now finally shed the archaic HTML system and build a beautiful new flashy Internet that we'll all be better off for.
This time it's started again with some big official announcements back in July:
So is it real this time?
Yes it’s real, but there is still a big difference between being indexed, and being found on the first page of results.
Even now that Google can now index flash files, it is still is and will always be difficult for Google to understand the hierarchy of information in the flash file, so don’t think flash is going to be at the top of the search results any time soon.
Here are a few examples of the problems with flash, even now that Google can index the content:
- What constitutes a page in a flash file? A flash file appears as a single page, and there is no way for Google to externally reference a specific section of the flash. Google likes to send visitors to the most appropriate page that matches their search, and visitors like going to the most relevant content. But you can only send someone to the home page of a flash file. This is not in Google’s interests, the site owners interest, or the visitors interest, so this factor alone makes it very unlikely flash files are going to start competing for top rankings.
- Where are the titles, headlines, subheadlines and most important content? Since flash designers aren’t constrained to any of the HTML standards of defining title tags and headline tags, they may all do it differently, making the context and importance of content difficult to determine.
- Images: Many flash files make extensive use of images and video. Google is still unable to parse words from images, so if your navigation or content uses images, it will not be indexed.
- Meta data: There are standards for defining information about the information in HTML (meta tags, robots.txt files, no-index, no-follow commands, XML sitemaps) that help Google understand the information on a site. None of these exist in flash.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t use flash. A marketer can still take advantage of all the benefits of flash by chopping it into elements that can be included in an HTML layout. It can still even appear as if it was 100% flash. The difference is that the site would be structured in a standard way that can provide context to the content, and the content would remain in a form that can be externally referenced (you can send someone to a specific page). It’s important when building a site like this that an SEO professional is consulted on how the content is built in Flash to maximize visibility.
It turns out I wrote a post about the difficulty of indexing flash and ranking in the search results with a flash site back in 2006. I wonder if I'll write about it again in 2010? My guess is yes.