Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Google reads Flash text, so optimize it

With Matt Cutts admitting that Google's using the Adobe Search Engine SDK technology to pull text from Flash files, new modes of SEO for Flash can be explored.

Jeff Muendel
Jeff Muendel is a Search Analyst for Netconcepts, a search engine marketing firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He began his technical writing and SEO career with the IBM Corporation in Poughkeepsie, NY, and then rode the dot-com boom through startup companies in California, Texas, and Wisconsin. He specializes in SEO related to social networking, video, Flash, and other Web 2.0 parameters. Jeff can be reached at jmuendel@netconcepts.com. Disclosure.
Jeff Muendel
2 min read

With the recent admission by Matt Cutts to Stephan Spencer that Google is using Adobe Systems' Search Engine SDK technology, a new set of optimization opportunities opened up.

That fairly definite confirmation of how Google reads text within Flash files makes it possible to create Flash .swf files with some level of search engine optimization.

"It used to be the case that we had our own, home-brew code to pull the text out of Flash, but I think that we have moved to the Search Engine SDK tool that Adobe Macromedia offers," Cutts said. "So my hunch is that most of the search engines will standardize on using that Search Engine SDK tool to pull out the text."

This has long been the suspicion of Flash developers and SEO professionals concerned with .swf files, but to my knowledge, this is the most direct and clear confirmation to date. The implication is simple but important: if Web developers--and specifically Flash developers--have the ability to test .swf files during development for textual SEO parameters, then Flash files can be designed to offer specific text to search engines.

While the concept is simple, the practice may not be. Flash is a complicated multimedia program with tremendous flexibility and many layers of content. Also, parent Flash .swf files can load secondary, child .swf files ad nuaseum, and this is a very popular, load time-friendly technique. The path between viable textual content and the "front" of a given Flash presentation can be very intricate.

There have been tests measuring what sort of text can be discovered by the Search Engine SDK program, much of it dealing with where in a Flash movie it resides, when the text crosses the stage, and what sort of text is most likely to be read. While there may never be absolute rules for optimizing text within a Flash file, now that it is known with fair certainty how Google reads Flash text, more testing is in order.

Well-designed Flash content can be a fantastic user experience. Google may not be pursuing this content, but it certainly has opened the door to the possibility. The ball is in Adobe's court to continue to develop and improve the SDK tool, but this is a great opportunity for Flash designers interested in SEO or for search engine optimizers interested in Flash.

Despite the shortcomings of the current Search Engine SDK software, (it would be nice to see an update, Adobe!), it is quite likely that SEO standards can be developed for dealing with Flash text so that Flash files can "tell" search engines about their content with more clarity.