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SEO Basics – Flash Web Design: an Empty Package

SEO results Let me share with you a sad experience I often encounter as a search engine optimization consultant. The scenario involves a client who has just launched the prettiest website you ever laid eyes on and I have to burst his bubble and flatly tell him, "It has to go." Typically, the site has all the "bells and whistles," is often gorgeous and comes with a big price tag. Flash web design is not cheap. That's unfortunate from an SEO perspective. Flash certainly adds sparkle and pizzazz to a web design — the flourish that dresses up or replaces all that humdrum black and white boring text. We humans love the stuff and we have no trouble processing the information so flashily presented.

Search engines however, compared to humans, are rather inferior, simple creatures. For all of our anxiety, deference and yes, trepidation and fear of the mighty Google, at the heart of this Goliath lies nothing more than a simple text reader. The powerful Googlebot reads words only, folks. Flash — all those beautiful moving, expensive images? To Google, you might as well have paid someone 20 dollars to publish a blank, white page. If your website is built entirely in Flash, search engines see no content whatsoever, nothing, nada, just a black hole. Sorry — I'm just the messenger. You want a search engine ranking? The Flash has to go. Better start over again; go back to your web designer and ask for a refund. Good luck with that. Consulting with a search engine optimization expert before you build your website is a whole other topic.

You have already paid a fortune for this great flash website and your designer is telling you that he delivered exactly what you asked for, so no refund and no help. After all, that's what he does and he does it well. You asked for this pretty site — Martha was tickled pink the first time she saw those life-like butterflies flutter across the screen. And there is plenty of text to tell the reader what you are all about — and how clever is that the way the words enter from stage left and do a two step and a back flip before they settle in place on the page. What do you mean; you found out that Google can't read one single word of it? I know some pretty dumb people who have no trouble at all understanding the words. I thought Google was so smart! But it sure is pretty — right?

So, what’s the fix? Your Flash web designer is going to look at you like you have two heads. After all, he delivered just what you asked for and besides, what does he know about search engines? Both valid points and both very common scenarios. A typical consultation goes something like this:

"You need to give the search engines something they can read. You need text."

"There is plenty of text on the page. It's all about my business. I can read it; my customers can read it; even my slow cousin Bobby Joe can read it."

"Unfortunately, Bobby Joe is actually smarter than Google."

"No way!"

"Way! You just have to add some text to the site, written into the HTML code but outside of the Flash."

"But it will ruin the look of the page."

"Add it somewhere below the Flash movie file. You can even add lots of space and place it way down under it — as far down as Australia, if you want to."

"Then there will be an ugly scroll bar on the right side of the page."

"People don’t mind scrolling a bit up and down — they are used to it. Some won’t even bother, but then they will have already seen your message in the Flash file. Remember, this text is for the search engines."

"Then why not hide the text? I heard that you can make it the same color as the background and it won’t even show."