Last night, Google posted an announcement on it’s blog that its search bots can now read Flash. This is a very big deal. Text or links embedded in a flash movie can now be indexed and contribute to the search ranking of the page.
Until today, Google and Yahoo’s web crawling robots couldn’t see or read Flash files so any words written in flash were essentially invisible. If Google’s bots can’t see your page content your chances of being found in a Google search are greatly diminished. One of the most obvious manifestations is that Google has no text to show as a snippet in its search result listings. Given how Google has effectively become the front page of any web experience, not ranking on Google isn’t an option.
So, while the rich user experience afforded by Flash is useful and sometimes necessary to define an brand, designers and product developers have used it very cautiously. “After all, it doesn’t matter how pretty your Website is if nobody can find it,” says Erick Schonfeld of TechCunch.
Google’s announcement last night is the first step towards Flash being a viable technology for serving both user experience and search engine optimization. As explained on Google Webmaster Central:
“[We now index] all of the text that users can see as they interact with your Flash file. If your website contains Flash, the textual content in your Flash files can be used when Google generates a snippet for your website. Also, the words that appear in your Flash files can be used to match query terms in Google searches.
In addition to finding and indexing the textual content in Flash files, we’re also discovering URLs that appear in Flash files, and feeding them into our crawling pipeline—just like we do with URLs that appear in non-Flash webpages. For example, if your Flash application contains links to pages inside your website, Google may now be better able to discover and crawl more of your website.”
Unfortunately, Google still won’t be able to index or extract meaning from images or videos.
The next step for Google and Adobe is to work out how designers and developers should indicate to Google the relative importance of words within the Flash file. With HTML, the method is well understood: the Google bot weighs the content based on how it has been semantically coded for human consumption. For example, words on an HTML page tagged ‘header’ are more significant than body content tagged ‘paragraph’. At the moment, there is no such equivalent in Flash. Ideally, Adobe and Google would further clarify how to optimize semantics of Flash movies.
In the meantime we are running some experiments on Flash indexability and we’ll share with you anything we find. If you have any evidence of how your Flash files are being indexed, we’d love to hear about it.