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Breaking it down: Flash VS SEO

     -     Oct 25th, 2011   -     Accounting Marketing, Accounting Websites, Search Engine Optimization   -     0 Comments

Flash is a multimedia platform that is typically used to add animation, video and interactivity to websites.  Flash can look amazing.  In fact some of the websites that you like the most are likely to utilize a good amount of flash. The problem with Flash is that most (99.99999%) of the time it is not Search Engine Optimization (SEO) friendly.

The basic premise of SEO is that search engines peer inside the code for your website and read about what you have written – this is typically done through header tags, meta-data and alt tags, as well as keywords in content.  All of this data talks to the web crawler and tells them about what is written on your site, what’s important and then the web crawler makes some informed decisions/guesses and ranks your site accordingly.  For this reason it’s important to have content that contains keywords on your home page, to give your images the alt-tags that are relevant to your content, and use meta-data.  Flash however, takes all of that information and puts it into a nice and compact, neatly packaged little file that isn’t readable by search engines.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding the Flash VS. SEO conundrum, so in the subsequent paragraphs we’ll address how some Flash sites achieve high rank, why you should avoid flash, and if you already have flash how to improve it (from a SEO perspective).

Flash Sites with High Ranking

When initially consulting with clients on a website design we request examples of “references sites” that illustrate a feature, design or other element the client really likes. Almost every client will direct us to a LOT of flash examples.  We ask our clients to show us what they love in a website – show us some of their favorites, and typically what comes back are examples of various animations.  To make it more interesting the animations generally appear by themselves with no wording on the page.  For an SEO expert, this is like the 7th circle of hell. Below are a few examples of beautiful Flash sites – with absolutely nothing SEO wise to back them up.  So… why do they rank so high?!

They are all household names – big brands.  Giant media backing, millions of dollars go into marketing – and frankly their backlink count is higher in a day than most of us could hope for in a lifetime.  On top of that, Google doesn’t just rank based on content, but they rank based on relevance and according to all the back linking going on, Google sees their web address as being very relevant to a lot of people.  Flash works for power brands because big brands don’t need to worry about content.  However, it doesn’t work for smaller companies because smaller companies have to work hard for just a couple of back links (especially CPAs and Accounting firms which are not typically household names).

Help! I already have a Flash site but I want to do something to improve my ranking….

Well the first thing I would tell you to do is to ditch Flash and have your developer put you on a CMS system that uses HTML 5 and Javascripting. This will allow you to achieve similar effects to Flash without compromising your design or your SEO. Although this may sound costly, it is less expensive than you may think. If a change is just not in the cards for you right now, here are practical steps you can take to help your Flash website increase in the rankings:

  • Create a set of HTML pages that contain the inner workings of GOOD SEO and direct people through your Flash Site to those pages, or vice versa.
  • Add HTML content below the pages within Flash – like paragraphs about the visual.
  • Extract any text that is embedded in your Flash site as an image, into a text file, Google has a fair shot of finding these text files, but will definitely not be able to crawl an image file.
  • Break apart your entire Flash site into individual Flash components and put them onto their own HTML page to make it a hybrid HTML/Flash site (Search engines really like this a lot better than a straight Flash site).
  • You could also try having separate URLSs by implementing the SWF Address.
  • Ask your Flash Developer to utilize the accessibility features – its kind of like alt tags for big chunks of your site.
  • Last but not least, you could simply focus on off-page SEO instead of on page SEO: convince other websites to link back to your site (like our first big brand examples above).

Flash Hurts

It really does.  You may talk to some developers who tell you that they can make your Flash site optimized – true, there are some things that you can do to help existing Flash sites build their SEO, but the best course of action is to avoid them all together. Some things to remember:

  • iPhones are not compatible with Flashunless you download a specific flash compatible browser ( its not free).
  • Flash takes time to load – and making visitors wait for your content, especially if they have a slow connection, is like playing Russian roulette with potential clients.
  • Web crawlers see the ENTIRE site as just a single page (ouch!)
  • Web analytics for Flash sites are cumbersome at best, and more often purely problematic. The best metrics you can get is when visitors enter and exit the site, but tracking actual activity is impractical.
  • Usability is compromised – non-functional back button, inability to copy cut and paste ‘text’ objects, inability to link to a page within the flash site.
  • Cross Platform Support is lacking – and sometimes upgrades to a newer version of Flash are required, which navigates visitors away from your page for an install of software and sometimes a reboot. How often do you think visitors are going to come back after going through all that?
  • Adding additional content or correcting a content error will require you to contact a Flash Developer ($$$$)

Now despite everything I have said, there are actually some practical applications for Flash sites, such as large household name brands, gaming sites, and virtually any site in the entertainment industry, but for most CPA and Accounting firms a Flash website is not a practical application when tax, audit and advisory leads can be attracted through the Internet.  Before you embark on your next website project, consider why looking into CMS systems that leverages JavaScript and HTML5 could be a viable alternative to Flash.  If you’re looking to consult with an expert *ahem* that can give you some practical advice on your next web project, give me a shout!


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