Adobe, the company behind products such as Acrobat (which is used for PDF files) and the players that allow users to view Flash files, has anounced a partnership with two of the major search engines to make it easier for Flash files (SWF) to be crawled and indexed. According to Adobe:
Adobe is working with Google and Yahoo! to enable one of the largest fundamental improvements in web search results by making the Flash file format (SWF) a first-class citizen in searchable web content. This will increase the accuracy of web search results by enabling top search engines to understand what’s inside of RIAs and other rich web content created with Adobe Flash technology and add that relevance back to the HTML page.
As you may or may not know, up until now content contained within such Flash files has been more or less invisible to search engines and, therefore, to the millions of people who use them as their primary method of finding information on the web. As an agency which offers both web design (including some amazing Flash work) as well as search engine optimisation, we were very excited by this news. However it’s not necessarily quite as ground-breaking as it may at first sound.
As Vanessa Fox points out over at Search Engine Land this news only relates to text & links contained in Flash files:
A lot of content in Flash files is made up of images, video, and animation, and none of that will be surfaced in search results with this advancement. Everything else is still a black box.
Vanessa also points out that this new development also won’t help when:
Flash implementations dynamically load text as the user interacts with the application, but the URL remains the same.
In these instances, whilst the engine may now be able to follow the interactions to a certain point, when the user clicks on the search result they will be directed to the start of the file and will then have to navigate to the point they’re looking for. So, even with this development, our advice would still be that you should ensure that any & all content on your site can be found at a distinct URL.
We’re already spending quite a lot of time working on how we can achieve the impact & engagement that Flash often brings, at the same time as optimising content for search engines (and users with accessibility difficulties of course) and have had quite a lot of success; often by using tools such as Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) which we use for the headlines on the posts on this site, or ensuring that all the content can be found on unique URLs. That said, anything that makes this a little bit easier is certainly to be welcomed.