As reported on TechCrunch and ZDNet, Adobe has created a standardized format for its Flash development suite that will allow search engines to index dynamically generated content, which was not previously possible. What does this mean for the industry? Frankly, it means that “existing and future” Flash sites will be more accessible to search engine crawlers which will result in many previously invisible websites being indexed and ranked in search results. Google is already incorporating the new capabilities into their search platform, and Yahoo! reportedly still “has some work to do.”
This is good news for designers that prefer Flash for its flexibility and animation capabilities. However, it also opens up a whole new series of questions that will have to be explored and tested by the SEO community:
- Will this newly indexable content start out with zero site history? As we know, the age of a domain plays a role in calculating its authority and credibility. If a Flash site has been around for years but is just now becoming “visible” to a crawler, can its age be accurately determined?
- Without a hierarchical markup system, how will crawlers treat text and images of varying importance? For example, in HTML we can use the <h1> and <strong> tags to emphasize particular pieces of content. What is the Flash equivalent, and will those tactics be more or less impactful than their HTML counterparts?
- How will crawlers treat Flash sites that have a properly optimized HTML framework? As an SEO, I know how to create a crawler-friendly HTML version of Flash content to aid with crawler accessibility. Will Google and Yahoo treat sites with both formats differently or prefer one over the other?
- Will sites built entire of Flash be treated differently than HTML sites with Flash components? Good SEO and user experience (accessibility) dictate that Flash should not be used to create an entire site, but rather certain interactive elements within it. Will two sites with similar content be treated differently if one is built entirely in Flash and the other is a Flash element wrapped in standard HTML?
- How will the use of Flash adjust to incorporate deep links? Most purely Flash sites have no unique URLs for each “page” because all of the content exists within one .swf file. Therefore, most inbound links would have to point to the top-level URL, regardless of where the desired content resides within the rich media application. This will help the domain-level rankings but not individual pages.
- Will Flash designers adapt their use of analytics to properly measure the traffic and conversions from newfound organic search traffic? There is a little extra work required to properly track Flash site usage statistics using traditional site analytics packages. I’m guessing relatively few Flash sites have this capability built in, and even fewer are going to retrofit their sites with action tags.
- How will non-text digital assets (images, video, audio, etc) be optimized within Flash? Will the same rules apply, and if so, will digital assets embedded in Flash be more, less, or equally weighted compared to their HTML counterparts?
I’m sure this list of questions will grow over time and many smart, talented SEOs and Flash designers will figure out the answers. It’s certainly a game changer for the industry because it expands the playing field significantly. We are now competing against millions of “new” sites that were once thought of as unfortunate victims of emerging SEO best practices.