Fixing the Flash Problem

by Gary on February 16, 2008 · 1 comment

in Accessibility,Website Design

Flash sites can look pretty impressive but anyone who knows about search engines would tell you that a flash site is not a good thing – no matter how good it looks. Most search engine spiders are not able to read flash sites so that in most cases the content of flash sites are not indexed at all. According to Google, Googlebot can at least extract text and links from flash sites. However, they cannot determine the structure nor context. Some of the text in flash sites are also stored as images so that they are not indexed even by Googlebot. Obviously, the best thing to do is stay away from flash as much as possible, which means a pure flash site is a stupid thing to do. This is not to say that flash is a bad thing but it if you want to stay away from its negative impacts to your site you might as well follow flash best practices such as the ones below.

  • Use flash only when necessary. Never ever make a flash-only site. As much as possible do not use flash for your site’s content and navigation.
  • If you already have a flash-only or flash-heavy site consider a site redesign. If you do not want to junk the existing flash-only site you might want to at least offer a non-flash version of your site.
  • Make sure you use Alt text. The alt text is not only for search engines but is also useful for vissually-impaired users (screen reader users). Note: cloaking will allow you to describe the contents of the flash to search engines but it will be useless to visually-impaired users. Furthermore, you might get penalised if Google catches you doing this.
  • Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) – This technology allows you to display text elements in whatever font by embedding that font in a flash element. What this means is that the textual content is still coded in HTML even if it is displayed using flash.

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Brian May 6, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Some of the text in flash sites are also stored as images so that they are not indexed even by Googlebot.

Check this tool Flash Probe that let’s you see what Googlebot will “see” from your flash site, and what it will not because its either loaded dynamically or an image.