In a move long in the making, Adobe Systems is teaming up with search engine leaders to make Flash content more searchable.
Eric Wittman, director of client distribution and business development in Adobe’s Platform Business Unit, said the company is providing optimized Adobe Flash Player technology to Google and Yahoo to enhance search engine indexing of the Flash file format (SWF) and uncover information that is currently undiscoverable by search engines.
Adobe announced the news July 1, sharing its plans to try to dramatically improve search results of dynamic Web content and RIAs (rich Internet applications).
The move will provide more relevant automatic search rankings of the millions of RIAs and other dynamic content that run in Adobe Flash Player. In addition, RIA developers and rich Web content producers will not need to amend existing and future content to make it searchable, said Justin Everett-Church, senior product manager for Adobe Flash Player. They can be confident that their Flash-based content can now be found by users around the globe, Everett-Church said.
“We’ve wanted to make an announcement of this impact for several years now,” Wittman said. “There are millions of things built in Flash and there have been concerns because of search engine compatibility. We have a piece of technology to remedy this and we’re working with Google and Yahoo. Google has integrated it and Yahoo will in a period of time.”
As Ryan Stewart, an Adobe evangelist, put it:
“So what does that mean? We are giving a special, search-engine optimized Flash Player to Yahoo and Google, which is going to help them crawl through every bit of your SWF file. This Flash Player will act just like a person would in some cases. It will click on your buttons, it will move through the states of your application, get data from the server when your application normally would, and it will capture all of the text and data that you’ve got inside of your Flash-based application. We’ve basically provided a very powerful looking glass into SWF files so Google and Yahoo can pull out meaningful information.”
“This is a pretty important breakthrough to highly creative and interactive sites such as Disney and Tiffany.com built with Flash and Rich Internet Applications can now be found, crawled indexed and ranked,” said Bill Hunt, president of Global Strategies International, a search engine optimization consultancy. “For years, those with Flash sites have been conflicted with reducing the amount of flash or resorting to any number of less than optimal workarounds to get their content included in search engines let alone getting high rankings.”
Many major brands and creative developers have been critical of the search engines for not working with them or Adobe to develop a solution to index and score their content, Hunt said.
“These developers and search engine optimization firms like Global Strategies have spent a lot of time and resources — financial and manpower — to code alternative sites and workarounds to get the exposure commensurate to their brand positions in the marketplace,” he said.
Google, Yahoo Wake Up
Wittman said the SWF specification describes the file format used to deliver rich applications and interactive content via Adobe Flash Player, which is broadly installed on a vast majority of Internet-connected computers. Although search engines already index static text and links within SWF files, RIAs and dynamic Web content have been generally difficult to fully expose to search engines because of their changing states, he said.
Google has already begun to roll out Adobe Flash Player technology incorporated into its search engine, Wittman said. With Adobe’s help, Google can now better read the content on sites that use Adobe Flash technology, helping users find more relevant information when conducting searches. This means millions of pre-existing RIAs and pieces of dynamic Web content that use Adobe Flash technology, including content that loads at runtime, are now searchable without the need for developer intervention.
“Google has been working hard to improve how we can read and discover SWF files,” Bill Coughran, senior vice president of engineering at Google, said in a statement. “Through our recent collaboration with Adobe, we now help Web site owners that choose to design sites with Adobe Flash software by indexing this content better. Improving how we crawl dynamic content will ultimately enhance the search experience for our users.”
The most significant aspect of the announcement, Hunt said, “is that this is not a change the site owners have to implement but that Google, and soon Yahoo, have this baked into their crawl systems and can interact with the SWF format just as a visitor to the site would, allowing them to get deep into the content discovering links and content that have previously been hidden from search engines.”
Google is “working on and will roll out the spidering part of the equation,” Wittman said. “They’re bringing their expertise to the search part while we bring our expertise to the runtime. This was something that was mutual between ourselves and the search engines. They’re going to have a lot more content that’s available to search.”
Adobe’s Stewart says the best part is that content developers do not have to do anything.
“Any SWF you already have out there will be indexed by this new player,” he said. “Of course, it won’t automatically be as good as HTML. Google won’t automatically deep-link your content or pull out unique URLs, so overnight I’m not sure a lot will change. But the most important part of this announcement to me is the fact that HTML and Flash can be on the same general footing when it comes to search engine optimization.”
“Yahoo is committed to supporting Webmaster needs with plans to support searchable SWF and is working with Adobe to determine the best possible implementation,” Sean Suchter, vice president of Yahoo Search Technology Engineering, said in a statement.
Finally, Access to Most Relevant, Hidden Info
This Adobe move brings to users access to what may actually be the most relevant content for their search, Hunt said.
“Many sites have their most relevant content behind Flash introductions or product overviews,” he said. “Until now it was difficult for the spiders to get around or into these applications. If companies did not implement workarounds such as Flash detection and routing to non-Flash content or some of the other techniques, those highly relevant pages would never be exposed to searchers.”
For site owners, the value is that they no longer have to see Flash or RIAs as a burden and can combine high interactivity, content accessibility and the potential for organic rankings without developing parallel systems, Hunt said.
For the search engines, “it means they get a lot of unhappy developers and major brand marketers off their backs. I typically talk to one or two disgruntled brand marketers a week who felt it was the engine’s burden to solve this problem and they should not have to ‘dumb down’ their coding to satisfy the engine’s outdated systems,” Hunt said. This also means that much of the rich content can get found and indexed, upholding the promise of providing the most relevant content regardless of the format, he added.
Vanessa Fox, features editor at SearchEngineLand.com, said, “It will be difficult to judge the true significance until we see some real examples that illustrate how substantial the changes in crawling, indexing and ranking of Flash content are.”
“For search engines, this can help the relevance of their overall search results, and for Adobe, this could be a big win if it does indeed trigger substantial search coverage improvements, as Web developers are becoming more concerned about how their sites surface in search results,” Fox said.
She said content owners should not view this announcement as a reason not to invest resources ensuring that their Web pages are search-engine friendly.
“This new technology only goes so far — it extracts text and links only,” Fox said. “Any images, videos, and other non-textual content in the Flash files will remain hidden from search engines and searchers. But content owners should now have an easier time at making sure their sites are search-engine friendly. I think it’s great that Adobe and search engines are working together on this.”