Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become one of the most important issues when attempting to increase traffic to your website. After all, more traffic means more recognition of your site, which leads to more purchases or attention. And attention is the key trait you want to be attracting from viewers of your site. Flash, a web graphic animation program produced by Macromedia, is increasingly being used to attract the attention of visitors and potential customers. So you decide to build a website. You want a catchy website that will attract attention and have it listed in the top 10 results of search engines such as Google. You choose Flash for its ability to interact with viewers and hold their attention, which, as we are all aware, has a very short time limit when it comes to website viewing! Keen as you are to hold the stare of your potential viewers, you design a website consisting entirely of Flash animations. Ok, next: getting your new Flash-y website listed in the Top 10s. But you encounter a problem. Search Engine Optimization for Flash sites is not the same as that of normal text-based sites. So what do you do?
In order to properly answer that question, we first have to analyze how SEO works, then we can better understand how to optimize your Flash-only site for SEO. Surfers looking for information on a particular subject will, more often than not, type key words or phrases into their search engine of choice, usually Google, Yahoo or MSN. What the search engine will then do is trawl through its extensive database of web pages containing those keywords (with the use of a ‘Spider’ or ‘Crawler’). The results are then presented in order of how concentrated the content on the page is in terms of the searched keywords, i.e. the most relevant pages are displayed first. Pagerank also comes into play in SEO. Pagerank is a measure of the importance of your page as voted by pages that link to yours. So if a link to your site from another site is used, the frequency of the link’s use, the number of times it is used and the importance of the page the link is on will determine the importance of your page, or your Pagerank. Two of the most important factors in determining a good position by search engines (SEO) are, therefore, Keyword Relevancy and Pagerank. These two analytical methods are used in conjunction with each other to bring our surfer the most relevant search results.
So, what does this mean for a Flash-only website?
As far as Pagerank is concerned, any website, regardless of whether or not Flash is used, can achieve good results: you simply need to have your website ‘recommended’ by a multitude of ‘important’ pages or websites, Pagerank-wise. So Pagerank is not the issue we need to be concerned with regarding SEO of a Flash-only website. What we really need to be analyzing is Keyword Relevancy.
As we know, Keyword Relevancy is determined by the concentration of particular keywords on any given webpage. For example, disregarding Pagerank for the time being, a webpage about peanuts and whose content widely uses the word peanuts will position very high in the search results for ‘peanuts’. Simple. The glitch comes when we try to apply Keyword Relevancy to Flash animations. Search Spiders are not very good at reading Flash (swf) files. They were originally designed to extract keyword information from HTML and, although major search engines have improved their spider’s swf file-searching capabilities, they still come a far second to their HTML indexing abilities. In a few words, your site may have the most relevant keywords, and plenty of them, in all your Flash animations, that should give your site a high position in search engine results, but they don’t because the search spiders simply can’t detect them! Fabulous.
So what can you do?
An obvious solution is to create a sister website alongside your Flash site consisting of content in HTML format. This means your keywords will be recognized by the search spider and listed accordingly in relevant search results and your Flash site can still be accessed by the sister site’s visitors, for optimal effect. However, the creation and maintenance of 2 websites is time-consuming or may not be possible due to your or your company’s budget restrictions.
Another option to consider is having a few pages, but in text format only. This makes your website building much easier: no pictures to upload, no Flash animations to deal with, no design problems whatsoever.
But your whole point in creating a website consisting solely of Flash animations is to grab viewers’ attention! A whole page of endless, boring text is likely to drive viewers away!
Of course. But here is the clever part. Auto-redirection. Auto-redirecting is having the viewer almost instantaneously redirected to another page, depending on certain criteria such as browser settings, language settings or ability of the surfer to view certain types of information with the use of plug-ins. So, all you would have to do is create a few pages of text in HTML format containing your keywords in sufficient concentration so as to optimize your search result placement, and have your visitors automatically redirected to your fancy Flash site! As the spider is not efficient at determining the relevant content of swf files, it will obtain the keywords from your plain text pages. Hence, you will get targeted traffic to your Flash site and the search spider will be able to do its job effectively.
Auto-redirection has, in recent years, received much criticism. This is due to people trying to by-pass search engines’ methods of classification and indexing by creating keyword-rich text pages that auto-redirect any visitors to an entirely different and unrelated website. You may have seen this when trying to list your website in any internet directories: ‘No Redirecting pages!’. It is for this reason that some search engines will refuse to list websites that use a redirection function.
But, your plain text page will only consist of content that is relevant and directly related to your Flash site: a ‘description’ of your Flash site, if you like. The purpose of the text pages are for the use of the search spider in its determination of the relevance of your site for search results. What you may have to do is consult with the search engines you wish to optimize your site for and query their policy on Auto-redirection.
Failing that, you can still create a pretty catchy website consisting of search spider-friendly types of information.
To summarize, Search Engine Optimization is a must for any website that wishes to attract targeted traffic. The two main types of optimization are Keyword Relevancy: analyses of relevant keywords in page content; and Pagerank: or the importance of your page in relation to other results obtained from the same keywords. Search spiders cannot obtain content keyword information from swf files (Flash files). Therefore, your content must be displayed in another way: the creation of a sister site in addition to your Flash site, with relevant links; or the creation of plain text pages, to enable search spiders’ indexing methods, with an auto-redirect function to take your visitors straight to your Flash site. Consulting with individual search engines on their policies regarding the use of auto-redirect functions in their results listings is necessary to prevent being accused of spamming or breaching any regulations.
At the end of the day, Flash can have a very influential effect on the time a visitor remains on your site and whether or not he/she will act on the messages put across by your Flash animations, but it does not allow for good positioning in search engine results without some alteration. What you may consider is a site consisting of text and Flash animations, thereby keeping to search engine policies of not using auto-redirect functions, enabling efficiency of search spiders in analyzing your site for keywords and keeping your visitors glued to their monitors!