“Flash”, the mere mention of the word will have most website SEO professionals running for the hills. Flash sites can look great if done correctly but appearance and user experience should never come as a detriment to onsite SEO, especially for business websites.

Why? Let’s explore....

What is Flash and why do website designers use it?

Flash is a software component used by designers to produce dynamic, interactive websites or site components. The use of flash can have a stunning impact on your visitors. Here is a great example of flash in practice: www.agencynet.com. A flash website on this scale is very time consuming to develop and thus very costly, however there are literally millions of very poor examples of flash on the Internet and that is because these have been done quickly and thus on the cheap.

Flash is often used to display artistic ideas or high quality images, or even to show off multimedia talents, and this is common amongst design agencies and photography web sites.

So what’s the Problem?

The overriding problem is this: it looks great to you and me, but to the search engines these sites are all but invisible. Search robots find it very difficult to index flash sites and although there have been recent improvements; flash sites still fail to compete effectively with HTML sites. Search engines work by scanning information on the web, storing it, and retrieving the best match to meet user queries. Search engines are designed to process text wrapped in tags. The title, headings, paragraphs and links in standard HTML provides structural meaning, which helps search engines understand the importance of the elements on your page.

Whilst the search engines try their best to extract links and text contained in Flash objects, the process is far from perfect, so if your website being found on the internet is important to your business then Flash presents a major problem.

So I think we get the idea, unless you simply don’t care about your website being found on the Internet, Flash should be avoided. However, if you are determined to use Flash elements or have a Flash website which you can’t readily change, then here are some possible solutions:

1. Make use of <noscript> tags

The <noscript> tags can act as an alternative to your Flash allowing you to add some optimised and indexable content. Within the tags you can add header tags which give the search engines something meaningful to crawl. This isn’t cloaking! Think of <noscript> as the Flash equivalent of your <alt> tags.

2. Make maximum use of metadata

Although search engines pay little attention to meta tags these days, if you have a flash file on a page it is essential you make best use of your meta tags. Optimise them as you would for an HTML page.

3. Provide Flash free alternative pages

Provide an HTML only page in conjunction with your flash page, thereby allowing users to access your content even if they cannot view the flash image. This is more labour intensive, but at least your content will be indexable whilst users get the full impact of your flash.

4. Above all else

Don’t do cheap Flash, understand that good looking Flash takes time and can be rather expensive, so do it properly, don’t let a cheap and awful Flash site represent your business online.

So, the verdict...

Search engines are still a long way from indexing Flash efficiently enough for such sites to compete with HTML sites, but if you absolutely have to optimise a Flash website, then the steps mentioned above will help you achieve a far higher ranking.

For further information on any aspect of website design, or for an exceptionally designed e-commerce website which encapsulates a user friendly experience with all the most up to date SEO techniques, contact Designer Websites.