Flash and SEO Sitting in a Tree…

Posted on in Blog

With the online Flash movement just about done with, we’re left with a ton of visual enhancements that do little more than animate or entertain. We can all agree that some Flash files still have some place somewhere in some websites to convey some information about something — but wouldn’t it be nice if that bit of animated binary could lend a hand in your SEO efforts?

You know what I’m about to say: it can! The search engines are slowly growing their abilities to spider Flash files and extract the content. It’s all a matter of setting up your Flash files to be SEO friendly.

What follows is a list of findings from working with Macromedia’s Flash Search SDK. These results cannot be guaranteed to spill over into all Flash search implementations, since most of the major engines prefer to do things their own way. This can be used as a general guideline for Flash best practices concerning SEO and search engine spidering of Flash files.

  • Flash search won’t read traced text (using the trace() function) or text that has been broken apart in Flash (thus making each letter a shape, instead of a character). It will also ignore dynamically loaded text. That includes text pulled from an external file, or text dynamically assigned using myText.text = "hello world"; syntax. The one exception to this would be htmlText — any URLs assigned using this function will be pulled while the rest of the content will not. If the URL is contained within an anchor tag (
    ie. <a href="http://www.mysite.com">http://www.mysite.com</a>)
    and dynamically set using htmlText it WILL be ignored. Thus, bare URLs are a good idea with htmlText (confusing, eh?).
  • Flash search will read text of any font size, and text contained on frames locked by ActionScript from being shown to the user (ie. Frame 2 has content, Frame 1 has a _root.stop() that keeps the playhead from ever reaching Frame 2).
  • Flash search will convert special characters (<, >, &, ", etc.) to their character reference (&lt; &gt; &amp; &quot;, etc.).
  • Flash search will find and extract all URLs stored within getURL().

And I have to stop there. Without getting too detailed (we have to keep SOME secrets), I can say that in order for your Flash files to be SEO-friendly, all you need to worry about is keeping your text together. Don’t convert it to shapes! This increases file size (more shapes to store) and acts as a wall between your Flash file content and the Flash-aware engines. Your best bet is to embed the font you’re using into the library (you can find tutorials with a quick Google search).

So now you’ve made it! Your Flash is optimized! But now what? The next step is to ensure that when someone finds your file in a search engine (and is directly linked to the SWF, not the markup that contains it) they are NOT able to view the file on its own. You can either setup your webserver to disallow direct-linking of SWFs, or you can insert the following into your Flash file:

_root.onLoad = function() {

This way if someone follows a search engine results listing of your SWF, your movie will actually kick them to the proper URL. Of course this is not supported by most browsers (for good reason) so you’ll probably have to setup your server accordingly.

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