Hotel Industry Blog

Flash-based websites still a no-no for Hotels

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, August 18, 2008

We all know that Adobe’s Flash can be used to make great looking sites, with cool animation and interaction. We “humans” love this. But the problem is that search engines aren’t human, and the spider programmes they use to crawl and index the internet often have no idea what the purpose or content of a Flash-based site is. This can be a critical flaw if you are relying on search engine rankings, which most businesses do.

Getting a Flash-based website indexed properly and search engine optimized is a difficult task, far more difficult than a standard HTML-based site.

Google’s online help specifically state that their search engine is text based (see http://www.google.com/support/). In order to be crawled and indexed, your primary content needs to be in text format. Of course you can include images, Flash files, videos and any other media you wish – but any content embedded in these included files should also be available on your site in text or description format or it probably won’t be crawled.

Last month, Google with the help of Adobe began a project of spidering the content of Flash Shockwave files insofar as it could in order to try to properly index such sites (see http://www.adobe.com/devnet). In a press announcement that effectively admits to a serious problem with search engines and Flash sites, Adobe said it is “providing optimized Adobe Flash Player technology to Google and Yahoo! to enhance search engine indexing of the Flash file format (SWF) and uncover information that is currently undiscoverable by search engines. This will provide more relevant automatic search rankings of the millions of RIAs [rich internet applications] and other dynamic content that run in Adobe Flash Player.” Google doesn’t appear to be as optimistic as Adobe though (see http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com). Yahoo! hasn’t yet committed to a similar spidering project. There is no indication at all that Microsoft will ever follow suit, being a less than enthusiastic supporter of Flash, so it is likely MSN will never spider Flash-based sites.

While these approaches to Flash spidering are welcome, they are not the solution. In fact this can lead to additional problems through complacency. Flash content that is loaded via Javascript remains inaccessible (as does pretty much everything executed via Javascript). The design approach of Flash lends itself to less content in any case, tending to be far less text rich and far more image rich. Also, embedded text pages within Flash may contain the requisite content, but the information is likely to be completely out of context since it lacks the organizational tree structure of a standard HTML website. Context is as crucial as content for optimizing your search engine ranking, since it determines the authority of your content. Without context, you can easily see a site spidered as an authority on some completely different and unintended topic.

Also, all of this new search engine aware technology still relies on the designer getting it right with the back-end content. Flash designers need to become much more search engine savvy, since up to now many have tended to not be too concerned with this and concentrated mostly on the look. So we may see improvements for future Flash-based sites designed in this new way, but existing Flash-based sites are unlikely to gain much.

Things are certainly improving, but the potential for trouble remains. For now, best practice is to avoid Flash as the basis of critical information and use alternate, text based information if you do have Flash so that search engines can spider and understand your site.

Bottom line: If you are that individual or business that does not care about web rankings or search engine optimization, but just wants an eye-catching presence, then Flash is certainly a good option for you. But bear in mind that unless you are using some method other than search engines to get your web address in front of your desired audience, chances are few people will ever lay their eyes on your creation. Or if they do, it may be because they were searching for something else entirely.

Des O'Mahony, BookassistDr Des O’Mahony is co-founder and Managing Director of Bookassist

Labels: web design, tips, seo

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