The Fight Between Flash & SEO

Marvin Russell
Latest posts by Marvin Russell (see all)

Flash and SEO haven’t been the perfect pair. Flash limits the amount of text search engines can crawl, making it extremely difficult for them to understand your site. Consequently, many flash based sites sacrifice rankings for design.

Some sites have been quite successful despite being mostly flash based. Nike and Pepsi are notorious for their flash designs and obviously rank very well. But, they are MAJOR brands that receive TONS of links. Search engines understand that Pepsi and Nike are authority figures in their respective industries based on the vast amount of sites linking to them. And, links are arguably the most important factors in ranking.

So you might be thinking, “My brand has nowhere near the recognition of Nike and Pepsi, is my site doomed?” Although HTML based sites are a lot easier to work with in terms of SEO, flash sites still have the potential to be optimized and ranked well in search engines. So don’t start freaking out just yet! Let’s review why flash has caused so many headaches for SEOs and what new advances have helped us move beyond those obstacles.

Why Flash Drives SEOs Crazy

Where do I even begin? Alright, alright, it’s not that bad. However, there are several components of Flash that severely inhibit the optimization process*. Please feel free to add any to the list that you’ve experienced while working with Flash.

*Some of these have workarounds but most Flash sites still experience these issues.

1. Different content is not seen on different URLs

Flash sites generally use a # in the URL to distinguish different pages on the site. So instead of, the URL would look like For Google, a # denotes an anchor link within a page which moves the visitor to a specific location on that page (check out Groupon’s FAQ page for an example of this). For this reason, Google doesn’t want to treat URLs with #s as different pages so it drops everything in a URL beginning with the #. For flash sites, this means that all of the site’s content will appear on one page to crawlers.

2. Text breakdown is funky

A lot of text in flash is not neatly organized in tags. Therefore, it often renders in the incorrect order which is quite confusing for search engines.

3. Linking and sharing is more difficult?

Have you ever tried highlighting text in Flash? You usually can’t. A vital component of SEO is being able to share your information and have people link to it. The inability to copy and paste makes sharing more difficult. And if a visitor does decide to share your site, they are far more likely to link to the homepage, leaving the interior pages to suffer.?

4. Not all computers, phones , and tablets support flash?

Not every device that can access the Internet supports Flash. This is becoming more critical because of the increasing popularity of mobile phones and tablets. The iPad, for example, is infamous for not supporting flash. With these devices becoming ever more popular, flash sites are losing out on a huge chunk of traffic.?

5. Crawling technology is still incredibly young?

Google officially announced in 2008 that they had developed a method for indexing textual content in Flash files. Woohoo! Although this was a great breakthrough in the SEO world, we still aren’t seeing the same sophistication of HTML crawling for Flash just yet.

Why Flash Is Driving Us Less Crazy Now

Google officially announced in 2009 a few improvements to their algorithm for Flash.

The search engine can now:

1. Load external resources and associate the content with the parent file

Previously, Google used to treat external files like XML as separate pages from the parent page. Now, Flash files can load these external files and have the parent page receive credit for the content on them.

2. Support common JavaScript techniques for embedding Flash, such as SWFObject and SWFObject2

If a page loaded a Flash file using Java Script, Google wasn’t able to index it, but Google has since gained the ability

3. Support flash in instant previews in search results

Google Instant Preview couldn’t support flash in the past. If you searched Pepsi and wanted to see a preview of the site you used to see the gray box, but now you see a somewhat improved version.

flash then and now

4. Discover links within flash files

If your Flash file contains links to other pages on your site, Google can now recognize these links and follow them.

5. Google can index ActionScript

AS1, AS2, and AS3, are now all crawlable

How to best optimize flash websites

1. Use Flash in a limited fashion

Refrain from using flash to communicate important content. For instance, if your site’s navigation is completely dependent on flash how will visitors without the Flash move around your site? Your bounce rate will increase and you will ultimately lose their patronage. Stick with HTML for portions of the site critical for visitor comprehension.

2. Separate content into different Flash files with different HTML pages

This gives you the opportunity to create unique URLs for each page on your site, allowing you to organize your content for search engines. You should also deep link to the appropriate part of the Flash movie on each of these pages.

3. Use SWFObject

SWFObject allows HTML code to be placed behind the Flash. This is the perfect solution for search engines and visitors not using Flash.

Include information that is descriptive of the content visitors are seeing in Flash. DO NOT use this as an opportunity to stuff keywords and tons of content on the page. As long as the information accurately represents the Flash content, then you shouldn’t have any issues with cloaking penalties.


4. Use descriptive page titles and meta descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions are valuable opportunities to communicate to both search engines and users what your site is about. Make sure that your site includes both these tags in the HTML.

Flash is not as awful as us SEOs might sometimes make it out to be. It’s actually a powerful tool for communicating messages artfully and efficiently. If done correctly, you can have a stylish site that ranks well. The best of both worlds!