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How To Use Flash In Your Site And Still Be Search Engine Friendly

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Do you want to have a feature rich web site with animations, sound, and an opening splash screen?

Do you want to use Flash extensively on your site but you are afraid of hurting your search engine positioning?

Do you require an opening splash page but were told that the search engines could not index your site if you had one?

Well there are ways to have the benefits of Flash on your site and still be attractive to search engines. It is all in how the Flash is used. Some of the methods are simple while others require more programming experience. But we all can use Flash without driving away the search engines.

First letís look at the problem. Search engines index a site by looking at the content. In this case we are talking about text content, not pictures, video, sound, or animation. A basic rule of thumb on having a very search engine friendly site is to have high quality, targeted content in text form and limiting the use of anything that can get in the way of the search engines analyzing this content.

But what about Flash? Flash converts everything into a Flash file, or SWF file playable by the Flash Player plug-in. All the text in this Flash file will be converted from text to vector graphics, and since the search engines cannot read text in a graphic, they will be unable to read the text in a Flash file. Therefore they will be unable to index the information in the site.

So how to we get around this seemingly insurmountable problem? It is all in how we use Flash in our site. The trick is to either wrap the Flash inside normal html coding, or by using xhtml you can have Flash display text from an external source. I will limit this article to the easier methods for using Flash in a search engine friendly manner.

Letís look at the three main ways we may want to use Flash on a website:

1. Splash Page
2. Flash navigation
3. Flash content

Starting with the Flash Splash page there are a couple of ways to handle this. If we just have the Flash Splash page as the opening page to our web site there will be no way aside from the meta tags for the search engines to index the page, let alone find any more pages in your site.

The trick here is to give the search engines something to work with. This can be easily done in two ways. You can put a text only navigation bar just below the splash screen, this way the search engines can at least find the other pages in your site. But to allow the search engines to index the actual splash screen here is a neat trick. Place the Flash file in a layer, you can then float that layer over the web page allowing you to hide all the plain html text you want underneath the Flash layer. This has the added benefit of giving content to visitors who do not have the Flash player installed on their system.

With a Flash navigation bar things are much easier. As long as only the navigation is in Flash the rest of the page can use search engine friendly text, plus you can put a text only navigation bar across the bottom of the page so that the search engines can find the rest of your pages. This is a good idea anyway and one that I always follow. Plus when a visitor reaches the bottom of your page they have some links to follow without having to scroll back up the page to your navigation bar.

Using Flash content in your web site follows the basic principles outlined above. As long as you have some text based content for the search engines to index you will be OK. I have found that having Flash animation on the top of my page where it fills the screen, followed by additional text is a nice hybrid approach. It gives your visitors the content rich experience you want to provide plus gives the search engines all the text based content they need for proper search engine indexing.

If you really want or need a complete Flash site there is one more thing you can do. This requires more work, but it will keep your site in the search engines. Create two versions of your web site, one in Flash and one using regular HTML. Have a simple home page that allows visitors to select either the Flash or HTML version of your site. Include on this home page your main keywords and navigation links to at least your site map and main pages so that the search engines can find their way around your site. This gives you the best of both worlds, the fully feature rich Flash site, and a search engine friendly HTML web site.

One final note, Google now is able to index Flash files, pulling out the text content from the SWF files. This is a great advance and allows us to use Flash more freely on our web sites, but note that they are pulling the TEXT out of the Flash file. So in order to make your Flash files Google friendly you need to include your search engine optimized text as text inside the Flash file, just like you would in a regular html web page.

So with proper planning and a few tricks we can have a very rich Flash site and still benefit from easy search engine indexing.

About the Author

George Peirson a professional software trainer and consultant. He is the author of over 30 multimedia based tutorial training titles. To see training sets and other articles by George Peirson visit http://www.howtogurus.com
Article copyright 2005 George Peirson

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