10 Strategies For Getting The Best From Flash

It's a myth that Flash is SEO unfriendly. Just follow these tips to steer your work towards major search engine indexing.

01 Think ahead
Don't just bolt on a bit of search engine optimisation (SEO) at the end of your Flash project. Improve your search engine rankings by thinking about what your SEO goals are at the same development point as wire-framing and storyboarding your Flash project. It's easier to do it at this stage rather than reworking your Flash project later to shoehorn it in.

02 Add SWF content to the HTML source
An iron-clad way to guarantee that a SWF's content is picked up and ranked by search engines is to extract the content and place it into the page's HTML source. Tools such as Dreamweaver use SWFObject to embed Flash. The code view in Dreamweaver displays comments where you should add your alternative HTML content.

03 Make your URL unique
If your site is just one big lump of Flash in an HTML template, your page is never going to refresh. Consider having a different URL for each page of your site's Flash content. Each page would have its own HTML source title, H1 and body copy containing the keyword you want to rank.

04 Use source content dumping
A one-page HTML rich internet application (RIA) will not be SEO enhanced simply by adding the content for each section of the Flash application into the HTML source for this page. Doing this doesn't establish any prominence of content, as there are too many competing terms. Keep extracted Flash content relevant to the page it's on.

05 Look out for new initiatives
Adobe has been working with Google and Yahoo! to make the Flash file format (SWF) search engine friendly. This will enable the engines to see what's inside a SWF's content and index it. However, the use of Flash Player technology by search engines is still developing and so can't be relied on as the only step towards optimising your project for SEO.

06 Add text to your Flash applications
A simple Flash SEO enhancement is to use Flash-generated text in your creative when displaying or animating type. You can do this instead of using text that's a flattened bitmap. Flash text can contain keyword-based messages, which help increase traffic. Include this text in the HTML source of the page as well.

07 Remember that spiders hate pop-ups
We've all visited sites that urge us to click to launch Flash content into a new window. This removes any chance of the site's content being picked up and indexed by search engines. In addition to search spiders not being able to see them, pop-ups suffer from being blocked by many browsers.

08 Get robotic help
Robots.txt is a plain text file found at the root of a server. This tells search bots which content needs to be allowed or disallowed when it visits their website. If your Flash text content is the same as your HTML version, you could set the Robots.txt file to ignore the SWF content and push only the HTML content to the search bots.

09 Embed Flash content with SWFObject
SWFObject is a search engine-friendly way to embed Flash content. Alternative (non-Flash) content is produced first, then snippets of JavaScript are used to swap out the alternative content with the Flash movies. This ensures that the content is indexed by search engines. Users without Flash will still see a working HTML page.

10 Try using sIFR
Use Scalable Inman Flash Replacement (sIFR) for HTML pages with SEO-friendly embedded Flash fonts. Simply create an HTML page, add CSS and create a SWF file containing your custom font. Link the font SWF to the HTML and then mark up live text headings in the HTML, using sIFR to display a custom font that's easily read by search engines. Find out more, including documentation and tips for using sIFR, at http://wiki.novemberborn.net/sifr.

Bonus tip! Adobe's new SEO area for RIAs
Search engine optimisation has never been more important. Making Flash content accessible to search engines is vital for you to maintain an online presence and drive traffic to your site. Recognising this, Adobe has set up the SEO technology centre to offer advice and tips on producing SEO-compliant content for RIAs. Visit www.adobe.com/devnet/seo to find out more.