Monday, July 07, 2008

Google Indexes Flash Content...

Big news in the SEO / Web Design business last week from Google, they now can crawl content in Adobe Flash files.

What does that mean? Flash is a technology that allows for advanced animation and behavior in a web site. It is used for everything from fancy navigation buttons that fly out, to animated cartoons, to embedding video. It is very, very flexible. Flash elements (or files) can be added as parts to a web page (like the way an image is) or it can be used to build the entire web site.

But I have avoided using it in my work for a few reasons:

  1. (Up until now) Google and other search engines could not see and index any content in Flash. So it is (was) a lot harder for people to find the information on your site.
  2. It is a fully proprietary format, if Adobe decides to do something nasty with the technology, or just brakes is out of negligence, that's their right. They can do anything they want with it and god knows what that could entail.
  3. It is not at all accessible to people with visual impairments. Other sites can be automatically reformatted to increase the text size, or even synthesize the text into audio.
  4. Flash is harder to update then HTML and much harder for site owners to move from one designer to another.
The announcement last week at least fixed the search engine indexing problem, or did it? There was a lot of vague language in the announcement and it is not clear at all what will be indexed within a Flash file. At least before last week, we knew that nothing would be indexed, but this announcement suggested that the indexing could be very hit or miss. It is not even clear if the mechanism that Google its self recommends for embedding Flash content into a site will be compatible with this new indexing technology.

And what of sites that had purposely hidden their content in Flash knowing it would not be indexed? And if Google can do this, perhaps spammers will figure out a way to retrieve unprotected email addresses that where previously hidden inside Flash?

This new development is seemingly creating more questions then answers. There is no clear guidance from Google as to how or what will be indexed and that might be worse then knowing that nothing will be indexed.

And, of course, this will leave poor little MSN Search (or are they calling it Live Search now, who knows) out in the cold as it can not do this at all. It is hard to cry for Microsoft though.

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