Adobe Flash and SEO – the latest marketing hype – don’t be fooled

So Adobe and Google have announced that Google is now crawling and Indexing Flash content.  You can read Vanessa Fox‘s write up with details here at search engine land.  This is yet the latest attempt by Adobe to snow-job designers and developers.  Ever since they first claimed to add “SEO friendly” capabilities several versions ago, I’ve laughed at such nonsense.  But now that Google is on the marketing hype bandwagon with this, I’m dismayed because I know most people won’t bother to investigate the limits and the implications of those limits and I’m appalled at Google’s complicit behavior…

Even though they state the limitations if you look closely enough, the marketing juggernaut has already taken it’s toll in countless news sites and tech sites reporting only the spin, or glossing over the limits.

Here are just a few of the most important reasons why it’s still a bad idea to try and create any deep content rich web site in Flash if you care about search engine optimization through on-site methods.

  • 1.  No Meta Data
  • 2.  No capacity to distinguish text formatting (so no h1, no bold, or strong, or italics, no bullet points, none of it.)
  • 3.  You have to create your flash file in a way that results in having a separate URL associated with every major piece of content in the Flash file.
  • 4.  You can only have one page Title if the entire site is in Flash so how are you supposed to optimize a 50 page site built entirely in Flash when you only have ONE page title?
  • This is now leaving the door wide open for black hat hacks to stuff text into their Flash file for search engine indexing purposes and where a site visitor will NOT be able to tell such text is there, and where through the use of FLV and images, they can present you with whatever BS they want, and Google will have NO WAY to know.

 Do I really need to go on here people?

Google’s response to such concerns is essentially “this is the same issue with PDF documents, and we index those, so what’s the problem?”

OH MY GOD.

How many web sites that do really well in the search engine results are made up of 50 pages that are all PDF documents?

Sure,  if you have a sufficiently optimized HTML page that happens to link to a PDF document, and where that PDF document’s focus is related to the page from which it is linked, a search may bring that PDF back in the results.

But we’re not talking about one page content here, we’re talking about entire web sites.  That need to have dozens or hundreds of keyword phrases, grouped into tiny bite-size chunk groups of three or four phrases per page.  And where every page’s connection from an optimization perspective to each other page’s relevance relationship matter.

So Adobe and Google, as much as I love you both, do everyone who is less intuitive and visionary as I am (having known every time they have claimed Flash is a viable solution for SEO that they were full of it) a favor and be more forthcoming about the severity of these still existing limitations.

About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

Read more from

6 Comments

  1. MArk says:

    Alan;

    Love all of your expertise. I have been trying to learn all of the SEO stuff. As you know I loved using Flash up to a year age, but have been trying to integrate, familiarize myself with key aspects of HTMl optimization for my clients. You experience is awesome.

    Was doing the surf thing ( about once a month if I am lucky ) went through favorites list, and I was in awe & shock.
    What do I really know that I do not understand ?
    I could go on and on to all of the top Advertising agencies in the World, BBD&O, Weiden & Kennedy, Sachi & , Leo Burnet, into Modeling agencies as Elete, Click;

    THEY ALL have a Flash foundation. Was having a problem finding their Keywording, Meta Tags.
    Enlighten Me Please ???
    http://www.leoburnett.com/
    http://www.saatchiny.com/worldwide/
    http://www.wk.com/
    http://www.bbdo.com/worldwide
    http://www.margecasey.com/
    http://www.elitemodel.com/
    http://www.raybrownpro.com/

    MS

  2. Mark says:

    Another hypothetical Question:
    I love your enlightenment on teaching me the merits of SEO, yet if one were to be totally realistic, and question your reasoning without offending you, I would have to ask you.
    Aren’t the merits of SEO based upon top search engine queries ? In other words, what you are selling is the possibility to clients ,” New Business ” based upon the fact that they shall now be found in a Google Search engine indexing. Where as anyone with half a business mind knows that 90% of all true desirable billable clients already know who their vendor is. When you make a site for a huge corporation it is more for the hype and access, branding if you like to those existing clients.
    What you are selling is unrealistic synopsis based upon random keyword searching. Yes SEO will work, yet only to a very tiny billable client base ? What you are finding are tiny anonymous clients with very little disposable incomes or the lowest common denominator, or the least desirable. When I see ALL of these billion dollar Advertising Corps married to Flash, without any keyword phrasing, it leads me to believe all of this.

  3. Mark – I have no problem with anyone challenging my perspective. The problem though is that you really don’t know and are not stating facts. You’re actually mis-understanding both how businesses thrive and grow as well as who the market is for search optimization.

    First, unless a company has massive budgeting for other advertising and marketing channels (radio, TV, Billboards, Sponsorship of events, Contests, Giveaways, etc etc etc…) or unless all their business already comes from word of mouth, how is a small business supposed to compete in today’s market? They can’t. They’d go out of business.

    If that wasn’t true, when we were growing up, you would most definitely not have seen the Yellow Pages books on every doorstep in America.

    Well today, the Yellow Pages have moved digital. And the actual yellow pages sites only get a tiny fraction of activity compared to Google.

    People who use Google are not dumb, ignorant and stupid people who just type in random words hoping to find what they are looking for.

    In fact, when someone types in any of the keyword phrases that I get my clients onto the first page of Google for, that person is in fact a very highly qualified prospective client or customer, because they know what they want and they know that just typing in random words will not bring them accurate search results.

    Companies that use only Flash that don’t need SEO fall into three categories:

    1. They’re a major company already, with massive amounts of advertising expense and market share that they don’t need or care about SEO.

    2. They are very limited niche market web sites with an extremely limited visitor base and they are good at getting free publicity or articles written up for them within that niche market community.

    3. They are a vanity / brand identity site and not a site made for getting new business.

    Okay so fine -there are a LOT of sites like that. But that’s not my market. I help business owners who need new customers or new clients.

    You are beyond wildly mis-guided if you think that most small and mid-size business relies on 90% repeat sales. But lets pretend you’re not. Let’s pretend for a minute that Joe Business Owner – who just opened up his business and doesn’t already have any clients or customers will some how magically get that 90% repeat business without having to do anything other than open up shop.

    Even in that crazy scenario, what about the other 10% of business? How are they supposed to find that company? Some might ask others – “Hey – who sold you those great shoes…” or they might break out the yellow pages book that’s sitting next to their land-line phone (that most of us don’t even have anymore thank you very much due to cell phones)…

    Well some will use the web. And most of those, if they want a local company to provide them with local services, or who want to hire a professional consultant or a contractor or a doctor, or buy a house, or find a place to hold their wedding, or get a web site built, or hire a photographer, or any of a zillion other things they might want, will do so by going to Google and doing a search.

    And because I have been doing this for fourteen years Mark, and I have had clients in all types of businesses, I know for a fact that those web sites result in sales because of Google organic (non-sponsored) search listings.

    If you don’t believe me, go to my blog’s “Sample First Page Google Results” link at the top of my blog. Scroll down to those web sites I showcase. Go to those web sites. Call the owners of those companies.

    And ask them – hey – did you get any business from this? Or has Alan been ripping you off all these months and years?

    See what they say.

  4. Oh Mark – here’s one for you – have you ever heard of Porter Novelli? What about Hill and Knowlton?

    Theyre’ both clients I’ve provided solutions for. NOT Flash based web sites. Search Optimized HTML based web sites.

    And some of my clients are the very small mom-pop size companies who can’t afford millions in advertising.

    Some aren’t though – one client for example spends $400,000 a year on search marketing. $80,000 of that is to keep them on the first page of Google through organic search engine optimization work – that is how fierce their competition is, and that is how huge the payoff is for new clients who find them through organic search engine optimization.

  5. Mark says:

    Miss guided, I doubt it, miss informed, hardly.
    I have had 25 years of experience working for Burston Marsteller, BBD&O, De Beers, CBS, ABC, Apple, Ect. .
    Yet I can see why you’re so personally offended.
    What I am speaking of is simple, Big Business vs Small ones.
    Everything is not small. To give equal balance to your post.

    I see it all of the time in business, those who rely upon technology for attracting new business. Vs sound basic selling practices.
    Developing new relationships, clients as in pounding on doors, using phones, talking, smiling in person, carousing with prospective clients. Point of Purchase vs Houdini practices.

    Over sitting on your butt and waiting for this magical client to show up on your front door loaded with cash. That is foolish. We can become too reliant upon these great new technologies and forget that selling ( and that is what we are talking about here ) is as old as the hills. Word of mouth is probably the strongest motivator for any prospective new client, ” How did you get there, who did you use ?” Trump to Madonna. No sound business owner will ever make a major decision based upon someone he found in the yellow pages, that’s ridiculous. That is like passing your money under the door to some stranger & preying. We build up relationships over time. Does he pay, is he a bullshitter, you had to wait how long to paid ? Track records. You will never get a major client based purely upon your google listing, ever!

    Yes, 95% of what we All do is for small business owners. SEO applies 90 % of the time, I freak when I do not get a high listing, because I am small. Yet I m always learning, and some day I too as you would love a client such as Young & Rubicam, J Walter Thomson, Porter Novelli, Olgivy & Mather, where they are so huge, SEO is meaningless.

    I am trying to learn and give balance & honesty to your post, and say that there is Absolutely nothing wrong with flash. I have taken 3 years off from learning it only to find out today that ALL of the really huge boys rely it. That there is a time and a reason for everything.
    That was my enlightenment for today.
    I am going to make a flash file today for the first time in 3 years, that the water is fine !

    Yet I am never a fool, I will still Keyword and Meta tag, Everything. Old lessons learned are exreamly valuable. I will probably make a guised xhtml framework with assorted H1, H2 tags, I will make related links, etc . . .

    I thank you for teaching me the merits of SEO, yet it is not the end all.
    Balance is everything !

    http://www.yr.com/
    http://www.jwt.com/
    http://www.ogilvy.com/
    http://www.porternovelli.com/
    http://www.thebeatles.com/core/home/

  6. Hi Mark

    Okay – so I owe you one for being reactionary to your posts! Yet we’re talking about two very completely different markets here. Arguing about Apples and Oranges.

    As much as I do honestly appreciate “balance” in views, I still stand firm in that statements you make, such as “No sound business owner will ever make a major decision based upon someone he found in the yellow pages, that’s ridiculous.” you are completely ignoring (or not aware of) the billions of dollars every year that small, medium, and world class Fortune 100 companies spend on direct advertising. And you do so even having worked for such companies as BBDO!

    You’re a savvy smart and thoughtful purchaser. You take the time to research before you spend. You have the patience and willingness to speak to other people before you make a decision to choose a provider of services. But do you honestly do that with every single purchase you make? Is it really necessary?

    In the year 2008, a very smart, and wise way to find a reliable and trustworthy place to make purchases is the web. You can search on Google, click through to a web site, and evaluate a company at that web site. You don’t need to talk to ten people if the web sites you visit are well designed and communicate the information you need.

    Here’s one very great example of a business scenario where the web has PROVEN that it is not necessary, to use old-school research to find a business, and to kill your statement that people who base a decision on an advertisement are “foolish”…

    My client, Key Maps, of Texas – they became my client in 1997 or 98 (yeah it’s been a long time). I built their web site – http://www.KeyMaps.com ten years ago. It’s not the prettiest site on earth. It uses 10 year old technology.

    So anyhow, they sell maps. Street maps and wall maps. Of Texas roads. That’s their business. They’re not the only company that sells Texas maps.

    Now, they were by far not a brand new business when they first hired me all those years ago. They have a store that people can walk into. And they distribute maps wholesale to retail stores across Texas. Great people work there, selling maps that people rely on every day to find their way around Texas.

    Mark, their web site has sold so many maps that it’s in the high 7 figures. Millions of dollars in sales of $19.95 street maps through their web site. People find them at Google – people who had never heard of Key Maps, Inc. before. People who need maps.

    YES – even with Google Maps and MapQuest. Even with GPS devices in cars. People still search for, and click through to buy hand-held fold out maps. And guess what – because Key Maps does such a stellar job at making their maps, because they offer superior customer service after the sale, because their site is easy to navigate, (fairly anyhow), many of those customers who found them the first time by searching on Google, ARE now repeat customers. The web site did the old school footwork in concert with the staff at the company.

    Every single day, millions of people all over the world DO make buying decisions based on advertisements. If they didn’t BBDO, Hill & Knowlton, Porter Novelli, Ogilvy would not have nearly as much business as they do.

    Sure, a LOT of what agencies and firms like those do is help build brand awareness, and not help build direct sales. Yet brand awareness DOES lead to sales, Mark. New business sales. That’s what it’s designed to do.

    Every day, billions are spent by people who search for something at Google, click through to a web site, and make a purchase. I’ve managed web sites for hundreds of clients – I never keep track of the total – but back at ANT Internet, while we had clients like Princess Cruises, Fortunoff, Weight Watchers International, Starkist Tuna, 90% of our clients were small business owners. Since then, most of my work as an independent consultant was also for small business owners.

    When you need a house painter, you may talk with your friends and colleagues to find that painter. Or you may actually go on the web. Why is the web as good as word of mouth for things like this? Because you can reach a much larger audience. A much wider prospective client base than you can trying to build your business purely by word of mouth. And that web site is an amazingly powerful way for you to communicate why someone should hire you instead of the next guy. If it’s designed right. And if it showcases your work.

    So okay – Flash would be a GREAT way to present a portfolio of work. As you well know… Imagine having a Flash virtual walk-through of a house, before it was painted and after. Imagine using Flash to choose colors for YOUR house’s paint scheme! My God, the possibilities with Flash are simply phenomenal.

    Related to this blog post, however, my point is that if you want your web site to be PROPERLY indexed at Google,

    If you need your web site to be found at Google, because as a small business owner you don’t have the time to spend hours a week networking and personally pounding the pavement for sales, because you’re too busy working 12 hour days just to keep your business open, you need a web site.

    If you can have your web site properly indexed at Google, that listing can do that pounding of the virtual pavement for you. So in those scenarios, Flash is a very bad choice.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv Enabled