Can Flash Gain Search Engine Respect?

Search engines find Flash hard to crawl and index, but new approaches could give Flash-based sites more ranking parity with their HTML cousins.

LAS VEGAS—For Web sites based on Macromedia Flash, search engines are anything but friendly. The major crawlers used to discover content rarely dig deep into Flash, often missing pages or, worse yet, ignoring sites altogether.

But a pair of Web designers detailed a new approach on Tuesday at the World Search Conference here to change that.

They are investigating a way to abstract the content and presentation layers of Flash sites so that search engines can spider the HTML that they favor and sites can take advantage of the multimedia and interactivity features of Flash.

"We want [Flash sites] to act just like HTML Web sites," said George Shaw, creative director at DivinePenguin, in Los Angeles. "Theres no reason philosophically why they shouldnt."

Shaw is one of the designers behind a project called RichMediaSEO. The other is Gregory Markel, founder and president of search marketing company Infuse Creative, of Santa Monica, Calif.

While demand remains high for Flash-based sites in industries such as entertainment, which want to display multimedia, the lack of full search-engine support creates roadblocks, the designers said.

"The only issue were running into is verifiability of the content," Shaw said. "Its a trust issue at this point. The search engines need to trust that the content theyre searching is the same as the Flash [sites] are displaying."

The options for Flash sites today, though, remain limited. Shaw and Markel agreed that sites should avoid Flash if search engine optimization is a top priority and if the multimedia and interactivity features of Flash are not necessary.

Even sites using Flash need to take a hybrid approach by combining Flash and HTML, rather than relying exclusively for Flash in their architecture, Shaw said.

The pairs efforts are not the first to try to tackle Flashs search engine problems, Macromedia Inc. in 2002 released a software development kit (SDK) for Flash to help search engines index the content.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about multimedia search engine Singingfishs introduction of Flash support.

But the SDK has offered limited help, Markel said. He said that Macromedia in recent months has become more involved in figuring out how to optimize Flash for search engines.

Google Inc. earlier this year appeared to begin indexing Flash using its own SDK, but that effort has appeared to be on again, off again, Markel said.

Tim Mayer, director of product management for search at Yahoo Inc., said that Yahoo does not spider into Flash content for its Web index but could once it "helps our comprehensiveness."

Multimedia sites, though, can use Yahoos paid inclusion program, Overture Site Match, to feed the content into its index.

"At this point, if youre using Flash you rarely are going to get a No. 1 listing, and thats a shame," Mayer said

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