How to optimise Flash for search engines.

08Aug FLASH! AH AH! Saviour of the Universe

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNf9rEPoc8Q

Not much happening that I can impart my relative wisdom on, just been making a few updates to the blog.

  • I’ve added links that I read most days into my blogroll.
  • I’ve added a glossary and am adding terms as quick as I use them. There does seem to be a problem with it in that it highlights every term rather than just the first on a page/post, but I’ll look into that or get the plugin designer to update it.
  • I’ve added a resources page which will hopefully end up with a bunch of useful links.
  • Just to give you something to look forward to reading, I’m working on a project which will hopefully be live on Tuesday and may result in PRIZES!!!

*update*

Of an update no less. Turns out that the glossary highlighting was simply because the settings were wrong on some pages. The pages I’d made when I’d ticked the ‘Highlight every occurance on the page’ were the only ones effected and a quick post edit sorted them out. Super!

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05Aug Flash Meta Descriptions

Whilst not doing much of anything I ended up typing “swf Icon” into Google UK and saw that after the ‘official’ results there were 2 car racing games. One from Peugeot and one from Red Driving School.

In the search results though the Meta Description showed a bit of a difference. 

redcarswf

Go-Red results

peugeotswf

Peugeot Results

Given the choice what one are you more likely to click on?

Quickly looking at the page it becomes obvious that whilst the Red Driving School site is pure Flash Icon, the Peugeot site has the game embedded into a normal HTML page with all appropriate tags included.

The Red Driving School site does rank higher than the Peugeot site (however I doubt either are looking to optimise for the word ‘swf’) but I would be much more inclined to click on the latter as it’s easier to tell what I’m going to be taken through to.

Looking into why the Red Driving site doesn’t have a Meta Description archive.org shows the site was first recorded in April 2005, so would have been made even before then. The ability to add Meta Tags to Flash only came about in Flash 8, which wasn’t released until September 2005, and has been part of the reason why old school search engine optimisers have always avoided Flash sites.

The moral of the story is to remember the basics when optimising a site in Flash. These days forgetting to add Meta Tags to your site is unforgivable, but people still do it!

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31Jul There are no bad Flash functions…

… only bad Flash Icon programmers. 

Flash is often criticized for creating unorganised pages, where the core message of the page is lost amid the flashing, blinking, animated images that Flash programmers, in general, love to create.

With the functional, minimalist look that identifies new pages as being ‘Web 2.0’ it seems that someone has forgotten to tell many Flash programmers that less is more. Whilst programming something in Flash to look as bad this bot generated mess would take a monumentally ‘gifted’ programmer there are still people who break the same basic design rules as before.

1) Design compliments function

A web page should be designed to present your ‘pitch’ to a visitor. This pitch can be what your product offers them or something less sales focused such as simply showing them a picture. Distracting their focus from the pitch negates the point of the page.

On the other hand, if a page has no defined function, pages can degenerate into a display for display’s sake. User made GeoCities pages had hit counters, clocks, animated backgrounds and changing mouse cursors that came to define the user generated web at the turn of the millenium. These people had no reason to make a page other than they could – and many seem to have now become Flash programmers.

2) Images speak a thousand words

Web users like their information quickly and efficiently. With those two thoughts it stands to reason if you can get people to look at 3 images, when they won’t read more than 800 words, then you’ve told them more than you could without images.

However if you bombard them with hundreds of animated images the information becomes too much to process and the impact of each is lost. Choose your images carefully and don’t lose the visitors focus by giving them too much to take in.

3) The web is interactive, not passive

Flash would seem to be the perfect way to interact with visitors and, when implimented properly, this is true. However when it takes more than a couple of seconds to load a page or if you make users navigate through an intro page people lose patience and go somewhere else.

When navigating between sections, elaborate and lengthy animations before arriving at the link destination are frustrating when most users are just looking for specific information. This leads onto…

4) Navigation must be intuitive

Just because you can hide the link to the dog toy page in an animated puppy doesn’t mean you should. Links must clearly be links. Users do not want to hover over every element of your page to try and find the way to the information they want.

There are hundreds of mistakes that designers can make, but when navigating a Flash site I find the lack of focus to be the biggest drawback to giving designers the creative reins.

Of course when implimented correctly Flash can be a powerful tool and even sites that do some of the above can make a good user experience in the hands of a good developer.

What examples of good or bad sites have you seen and what mistakes would you like to see Flash programmers correct.

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30Jul Optimising Flash text for search

As I’ve discussed in my guide to Flash SEO, spiders and data centers are unable to evaluate the importance of text within swf Icon files as there are no HTML comparable tags to indicate headers, so at best it all counts as standard paragraph text. You can however select what text search engines do pick up…

One of the advantages of Flash Icon is the ability to load symbols once and reuse them an unlimited amount of times without any additional loading. In theory these symbols could take the form of letter characters and be use in place of text, you can also do whole words in this manner.

As you can infer if the crawler can only read your important words then it is more likely to assume that’s what your page is about. Of course a page with only 5 or 6 words on it is not going to look like a good search result to display but without knowing what weight the search engines are assigning to what it can read from Flash it may give higher importance to what little it can see.

If you have a longer amount of text on your Flash site then remember that there are words that are already discounted from most indexer’s calculations, things like ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘of’, and if you manage to have a couple of hundred words comprising of your keywords and the words it already discounts, then it may assign even greater importance to those keywords and that your page is an appropriate result to display.

Alternatively it may think it’s spam. More testing will be required to find out.

The other option is to assign text to paths, where you can group the letters/words and turn them into a movie clip.

Be aware though that this is probably a bit of a grey area. Although you’re not showing the users anything the spiders can’t see the spiders can’t make sense of what they are seeing and you’re presenting a deliberately obscured version especially for them.

You’ve been warned.

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29Jul Optical Character Recognition in Flash

Will Google ever be able to read Flash Icon symbol text?

A big stumbling block in whether or not future updates of crawlers will be able to do more with Flash has to do with Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Many sites use stylised text ‘symbols’ instead of the ‘dynamic’ graphical text, this cuts down on the size of files as it doesn’t matter how many times a symbol is used it is only loaded once.

With the most recent update for crawlers encountering swf Icon files Google has only now added the ability to read dynamic text, despite it being introduced in August 2000 with Flash 5. If it has taken them a full 8 years to develop a way to do this relatively more simple task, it looks like it will be a long way off before they are able to do fully automated OCR.

In April 2007 Google sponsored an open source project into character recognition called Ocropus. It’s goal was not to develop an AI that could recognise text in symbols, but rather one that could assist in cataloging libraries and helping vision impaired web users.

Building on their acquisition of HP’s 20 year old software Tesseract (another OCR designed to help catalogue physical book) as well as their recent announcement of working with Adobe Icon, Google would appear to be working actively to catalogue even more of the world’s knowledge, much of which is in picture format.

Whilst piecing this together is a big leap from these facts alone, other information would seem to suggest that they are interested in being able to read and recognise images on the web. In June 2007 Google filed a patent for recognising text in images, although a spokesperson for Google later stated that they

…file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services; some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications.

With the advent of search engines like kooaba allowing users to send images via multi-media messages from their phones and get seemingly accurate results, how long will it be before everything Google are investing in allow it to do the same?

Personally, I don’t see this technology happening for the next 3 to 5 years in any usable format and until that point I’d recommend still following all the usual practises for optimising Flash sites.

Have I made too bold a leap here? Let me know in the comments.

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