SEO for 100% flash websites

I'm booked tomorrow to do my first full-flash SEO implementation ever on a website. This has been a long time coming, and I can think of a few reasons why this is my first full-flash SEO project.
  • There are plenty of good reasons why full-flash sites are a bad idea. Most of the time, SEO is one of them, but it doesn't have to be.
  • Most clients simply can't afford the expense of re-architecting their shiny new flash website, and opt for Adwords instead.
  • Quite often you can achieve the exact same effect with unobtrusive Javascript and CSS, which is preferable. I'll talk people out of Flash if it's not needed.
  • And my Actionscript skills suck, so I haven't been chasing this work.

The plan of attack

The plan is brutally simple, and in my opinion this should be the default logic for new flash-only sites.

  • Get your designer to create a great flash site, leaving blank areas for content that needs to be indexable.
  • Store your body content in a database / XML file / config file, or external data source.
  • Use a little actionscript to allow Flash to read content from your external data source. Flash reads the content from the database, and displays it in the content area.
  • When a HTML page is requested, a PHP script (or alternative technology) reads the same content from the same data source.
  • The HTML page outputs the content, but hides the plain content from the user. swfObject is used to replace the plain content with the Flash version of the content.
  • When the user enters the site from a page other than the homepage, we use FlashVars to fire up the Flash movie at the right place.

What Google Sees

Google sees a plain HTML website, with nicely optimised titles, H1 headings, meta descriptions, and body content. Like a good bot, it caches your site and includes it in search results.

What the user sees

If they have Javascript / Flash, the user sees the Flash content and not the HTML content. This is perfectly white-hat because the HTML content is a fair and honest representation of what the user sees in the Flash - in fact, it's coming from the same data source. The Flash-enabled user gets to see additional animations and interactive effects, but the core content is the same.

What mobile phones and speech readers see

the same as Google sees. Once again, what's good for SEO is good for the website as a whole (when done with good intentions).

Updating content

Content is stored in one place, so unsurprisingly, it's very easy to make changes to the site. Gone are the old days of having to maintain a Flash site and a non-Flash site independently. You can even use a CMS database as your data source, making it even easier to update content.

Not so hard really?

The logic of all this is brutally simple. It's white hat, and it improves accessibility of an otherwise disasterous technology. I posted my concerns about Google indexing flash earlier this year when they announced changes to their algorithm. My point was that developers should stop worrying about how Google indexes Flash files, and worry instead about accessibility - by fixing the accessibility issues (using the above method), the SEO issues take care of themselves.

I'll try and post some working code samples after my session tomorrow - Flash SEO I feel is something that isn't done well, despite there being good solutions available.
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Tags: seoFlash SEO