Blog Post

Google Improves Flash Indexing: Bad News?

Google (s goog) has recently announced that it can index external files called from Flash sites (s adbe). While I understand why Google wants to do this — it has been working on indexing Flash content for over a year — I hope the news doesn’t tempt web developers to increase their dependence on Flash.

Don’t get me wrong: Flash is fine when used for specific purposes, such as video playback and animation. But it can be overused. There was a fad for Flash-based web site introduction screens several years ago. We quickly found that just about everybody was clicking the “skip intro” link. (There was even a site dedicated to Flash usability called “Skip Intro.”) As a result, Flash introductions are much rarer these days. Still, Flash is ubiquitous, and that can cause problems.

  • There are too many Flash sites that are one big SWF file. This can mean that site visitors must wait for the whole file to load before links become clickable. And, of course, in such sites the browser’s back button is disabled, or will take visitors completely away from the site (unless the file was displayed in a popup window, and I’m sure everyone realizes the problems that that causes).
  • Despite the Google improvements, Flash sites are not as search-engine friendly as text-based sites. See SEO expert Josh Freedman’s Ten Tips for a Better Website.
  • As of a year ago, Flash had not yet achieved 40 percent penetration of the cell phone market.
  • Adobe claims that “Flash content reaches 99 percent of Internet viewers,” but this figure only applies to the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Japan. What about the rest of the world?
  • Because of the file sizes involved, Flash sites don’t work well for folks with limited-bandwidth connections.
  • Flash sites can be made accessible to those with disabilities, but require special techniques that are not widely used.

I’m sure that Flash enthusiasts will have lots of ways to get around these limitations. But really, why build a site that requires such workarounds, when you can make an appealing site with no, or limited, use of Flash?

When do you use Flash, and what alternatives have you found for creating visual appeal on your sites?

13 Responses to “Google Improves Flash Indexing: Bad News?”

  1. rb3m:

    Thanks for the kind words. It sounds like we both believe we are multi-talented, multi-platform, multi-toolset kinds of people that seek the best solution for our clients.

    I think that all web professionals need to be able to service clients using most any technology, to apply the best fit to the problem.

    I agree that I enjoy many html+js sites *more* than flash sites, and we build those kind for our clients as well.

    I think most Flash folks came from a “design” background where most HTML+JS folks came from a “code” background (I’m a coder, myself). This means we talk different, think different and have different values.

    Web companies today can’t afford to be caught in up either mindset, we’ve got to do what’s best for the customer all the time.

    Thanks for your comments and the great discussion! I hope your tester survived the bear attack. ;-)


  2. Marcus:

    Agree, I shouldn’t have been so hasty in my criticism, specially since it was not my intention to single you out. In fact the JoeCameraShop site is a fantastic example of good Flash techniques.

    However when turning Flash off in the other sites I couldn’t see the alternate version, though that’s perhaps because javascript was on, which still should have allowed me to see the alternate version.

    On point number 5 I’m pretty sure your clients do appreciate the interaction and information on the site. Site owners like that sort of thing. However, it’s the users of the site who really matter, the site is for them. Do the users enjoy using the site and did they find the information they needed quickly and easily?

    It may very well be the case that they do, but I’d put forward that they would have enjoyed a well designed html+js site just as well which could have saved on development time and cost. I’m not saying it’s the particular case with any of your projects, just in general.

    I tried testing with a wolverine but it ate the keyboard. The bear ate the tester (talk about deep linking).

    And, sure, there are tons of bad html sites and lots of people still making them with Frontpage or Word *shudder*, my point is that as professionals we should be looking for the best solution for our clients, and it’s my impression (that may be wrong) that most Flash designers create Flash sites just because that’s what they know how to use, not because it’s the best tool for the job.

    Or maybe I’m biased because I recently had a couple of experiences involving Flash implementations that left a lot to be desired.

    Anyway, overall I think we are agreeing on the important stuff and just disagreeing in details.

    It’s actually nice to talk to someone who knows how to make a point. Thanks!

  3. rb3m,

    A couple corrections to your facts, in the spirit of Dwight Shrute:

    1. Fact: 3 of the 4 Flash sites in our portfolio use deep linking techniques to allow for bookmarking.

    2. Fact: Most American Black Bears will never use deep linking features.

    3. Fact: Our sites DO take too long to load. To remedy this we are now using the GAIA framework and other techniques.

    4. Fact: 3 of the 4 Flash sites are backed by full CMS solutions (Drupal) and are completely machine readable. To see this, turn javascript OFF and hit the site. It may not be pretty, but Google loves it. Additionally, the Flash sites utilize the Google AS3 API to create better analytic reports

    5. Fact: Most wolverines enjoy using our sites and feel the interaction and information are top notch. Our clients also agree.

    6. Fact: I agree that many Flash developers haven’t kept up with the current best practices. Unfortunately, crappy HTML sites launch every day as well, so we Flash developers have no corner on ignorance and un-professionalism.

    Thank you for your time. I don’t want to start a flame-war, but please get your facts correct when throwing stones.

  4. Consistent cross-browser experience? Sure, they all take sooo long to load.

    Yes, Flash is an awesome product that has improved tons in usability and accessibility, the fact remains that 90% of the Flash sites out there don’t use it correctly, hurting the experience rather than enhancing it.

    For example, Marcus mentions deep-linking, etc. the problem is that, at least on the sites in their online portfolio, they don’t use it. Those sites take forever to load and don’t even provide decent interaction or much usable information. (Sorry, guys, nothing personal, just an example).

    Websites are also becoming more like information sources, not just end-products in themselves. Sure, using Flash does not prevent you from also serving xml, json or some other machine-readable format (in fact, they complement each other beautifully). The problem is, most Flash sites don’t do any of this.

    My point is, the problem is not really Flash, it has kept up. The problem is Flash designers, they haven’t.

  5. I doubt that Google’s spider can been crawling flash internal content.

    Google says that it improves the indexed technology and can crawl flash’s content, but it is not really indicating that designers can large number of using flash file to all contents of the website. If the user’s does not install flash in-plug on the browser, the website is nothing at all.

  6. Jackie Flapjac

    asd Marcus and Paul – totally agree with you guys. And thats before we start to talk about internet tv’s – start of a new revolution…

  7. Marcus and asd are right: this author has not really looked at Flash today. It has full data-capabilities and the types of real applications that you can build with it are awesome.

    We are converting many of our HTML-based modules to Flash and each time we introduce a new Flash module, our 22,000+ users love it. It gives them functionality that we could not deliver in HTML – like being able to parse down a list of 10,000 staff members in seconds as they type a search term. The Flash data grid does all of the work.

    Please review how Flash is being used beyond the animation pages. Contact me if you would like to see how the future of Flash applications looks – I would gladly give you a demo.

  8. Yeah this article sounds dated.

    All content in flash can be SEO friendly.

    All content in flash can have direct deep links.

    You can load data in flash sites however you want, so users don’t have to wait all upfront.

  9. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    These days “doing Flash” means using SWFAddress for deep linking, backing with a CMS/HTML version, pulling content from webservices, designing for multiple resolutions, using standard controls for buttons/scrollbars, etc.

    I don’t think this is any big mystery among those to *do* Flash right these days. The general impression that “flash sucks” is very 2005.

    Oh, and why go to all that trouble? Four words: consistent experience across browsers.

    Knowing I don’t have to pick a side in the browser wars was worth the change.