Google Search reaches out to Flash content
In my previous article about RIAs and SEO, I talked about a solution to expose HTML pages through XSL transformation of dynamic content. I also mentioned an attempt of Google to crawl Flash content, inefficient as it could only read static data. Well now the situation evolved and looks very promising.
Adobe, with it’s recent “open mania”, has lifted the SWF (and FLV) format specifications and created the Open Screen project on the fly to help Adobe increase the Flash Player embedding into various devices (anything with a screen basically). Following this, Adobe has been working in cooperation with Google in order to make Flash more indexable by search engines.
Google was given a special version of the Flash Player so that its indexing robots could retrieve data directly from a SWF. The player just behaves like a standard human user and accesses data, writes it in a comprehensive robot-language and gives it back to the robot. So Googlebot is now able to crawl dynamic data !
Soon Yahoo will follow in the venture and probably other vendors as well.
Here are a few articles you’ll want to read :
- Google Webmaster Central Blog : improved Flash indexing
- Adobe’s article : SWF Searchability FAQ
- Adobe press release : enhanced search results for RIA
Google sums it up with this short news :
Now that we’ve launched our Flash indexing algorithm, web designers can expect improved visibility of their published Flash content, and you can expect to see better search results and snippets.
Ron Adler and Janis Stipins from Google relieve the designers :
Basically, you don’t need to do anything. The improvements that we have made do not require any special action on the part of web designers or webmasters. If you have Flash content on your website, we will automatically begin to index it, up to the limits of our current technical ability.
So they say. Oh wait. Perhaps it’s not that simple. There are two important problems. Ron and Janis said there are still three technical limitations, two of them being the following.
2. We currently do not attach content from external resources that are loaded by your Flash files. If your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, another SWF file, etc., Google will separately index that resource, but it will not yet be considered to be part of the content in your Flash file.
It is a major problem because a lot of ActionScript developers use a light SWF files that loads the rest of the application on demand. Sections are often broken down into several modules, sometimes meant for re-usability (an Object Oriented convenience).
Andrea Hill wrote some interesting thoughts on this topic.
Another major challenge in opening applications up to search is being able to direct the searcher to the relevant section within the experience.
I couldn’t agree more with that. There is a huge difference between RIAs and HTML in that the RIAs aren’t accessible automatically, you have to decide what is to be accessible. Adobe’s answer is in the SWF Searchability FAQ (listed above) :
To generate URLs at runtime that reflect the specific state of SWF content or RIA, developers can use Adobe Flex components that will update the location bar of a browser window with the information that is needed to reconstruct the state of the application.
For complex sites that have a finite number of entry points, you can highlight the specific URLs to a search spider using techniques such as site map XML files. Even for sites that use a single SWF, you can create multiple HTML files that provide different variables to the SWF and start your application at the correct subsection. By creating multiple entry points, you can get the benefits of a site that is indexed as a suite of pages but still only need to manage one copy of your application. For more information on deep-linking best practices, visit www.sitemaps.org/faq.php.
With all this in mind, it is not safe yet to think Flash web sites will be indexed easily. Google is already working on the limitations of the Googlebot and I’m looking forward to hearing news of their progresses.
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- 07.06.08 / 3