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Flash authors ponder Google pitfalls

Flash developers at San Francisco conference hear tips on making their sites Google-friendly.

SAN FRANCISCO--What if you built a Web site in Flash and no one could find it?

That's the anxiety that packed more than 100 Flash authors into a meeting room on Wednesday at San Francisco's Herbst Theater during the Flashforward2005 conference, which runs through Friday. The main question on everyone's mind: whether Google indexes pages written in Macromedia's Flash animation format as well as it does "static" Web pages, such as those written in HTML, SHTML, ASP or PHP.

"Flash is a self-contained unit," said workshop leader Gregory Cox, owner of the Leyline Web site promotion consultancy in Ventura, Calif. "The way search engine spiders work, they collect text--what I call 'Google food.' With Flash, there's nothing for search engines to sink their teeth into."

Cox acknowledged reports in the search optimization industry that Google was, in fact, capable of combing through Flash movies for keywords. (Google, which typically keeps mum on its indexing techniques, was not immediately available to comment for this report.)

But that doesn't put Flash sites on equal footing with their static page competitors, Cox cautioned.

The chief hazard is a site written entirely in Flash. Cox said Google will treat that site as a single file. As a result, the site will lose out in important Google indexing metrics, like the ratio certain keywords make up within a page. On a 100 percent Flash site, Google will calculate that ratio based on the total word count of the site.

Moreover, when Google and other search engines fail to index separate pages within a site, merchants and other Web site operators lose out on opportunities to land specific pages high in the search results for specific queries.

"The more pages you have, the easier it is to promote your products," Cox said.

Cox suggested two strategies for making Flash sites more receptive to Google indexing. One is to offer the site in both Flash and static versions, an already common practice.

His second suggestion was to embed Flash files within multiple static pages.

Workshop attendees chimed in with suggestions of their own. One participant noted that Flash had a feature for exporting text into a Web site's metadata--invisible information describing the page to search engines--for easier indexing.

Another participant volunteered with an assessment of this approach.

"It doesn't really work at all," he said.