Google Indexing Flash – Don't Party Just Yet

Ian Lurie

index flash
Search Engine Land reports that Google will now index Flash.
Woo hoo! Party! We can now design every web site on the internet in 100% Flash!
Not so fast.
While Google’s announcement sounds exciting, there are still significant search engine optimization and more general internet marketing issues that they haven’t addressed:

Link Value

Yes, Google will crawl all those links in your Flash animation. But will they accord them the same value as links in an HTML page? They’re not saying.
I’ve long suspected that Google and Yahoo! award less or no value to links in Acrobat PDF files. That makes me think that Flash links won’t carry much weight, either.
Yes, this is conjecture. But it’s conjecture informed by years of betting chocolate on just these kinds of questions, so I have a strong incentive and track record.

Text Value

Again, will keywords and the like in Flash files get the same attention? Probably not. Here’s why:

  • Semantic markup: You can’t designate (as far as I know) level one and two headings in a Flash file. So there’s no way to show search engines the structure of your Flash content.
  • Paragraph markup: There’s also notag that I know of in Flash. Another semantic markup issue.

Again, this is conjecture. But I reviewed the SWF specification and don’t see how you provide semantic markup. I’m all for playing it safe, and Flash content usually looks like gobbledygook when you try to read it with a spider.


Not the web kind, the information kind.
Google is secretive enough with their regular crawler algorithms, but we can use text-only browsers like Lynx to see how our sites will behave for a spider.
No such luck with Flash. How do we test for SEO happiness?


Flash still has all the same usability bugaboos. If your home page takes 10-20 seconds to load and then dances around like a spastic jitterbug, you’re going to lose customers no matter how easily they find you.
So my advice: Continue to exercise caution with Flash. Watch how the rankings shake out over the next few months. Then think about how you might work Flash into your internet marketing strategy.
Related: An SEO Workflow that Works

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Great article. It’s going to be interesting how Google will compare, a site with mostly text and one with Flash. Flash has its used, but mainly visual, not for information. Hopefully you won’t see a Flash Blog any time soon, or…

  2. Google has been indexing flash sites since many years now – what you probably mean is that they are now able to index them better, to actually “read” their content. SEO for flash will keep the same patterns as before, although personally I don’t see hwy people will go on creating 100% flash based sites when the web development technology today is so advanced that a web page can practically include everything from flash, video, complex graphics, custom widgets and certainly text. Flash is pretty for sites that need special effects, it is also nice for image galleries and for ecards… but not for business sites.

  3. I sure hope you’re right. Designers seem driven to do 100% Flash when all then need to do is animate one tiny quadrant of the page.

  4. Interesting article. I’d have to say there are way too many bad uses of Flash on the web. The key is using it appropriately and correctly. Yes, Google has been able to index the content in Flash for some time now but only text which has been embedded/hard-coded. It hasn’t been able to index any dynamic content including images, which I believe is one of the new main features.
    But as you’ve said it will be interesting to see whether it will recognise the various markup and give them the same values.
    When bringing in dynamic content into Flash (which is the way I do 90%+ of the time) you certainly are able to use a fair amount of markup and their presentation can be controlled via external style sheets. Heading tags, lists, bold, italic, underline, anchors/links and images can all be used in dynamic html text boxes in Flash.
    This would still be no reason to create a full site in Flash if it can be done otherwise, but it does allow for more control where block(s) of text may be required in Flash elements.
    Even with this new indexing ability I’m not certain two identical sites, one in Flash and one without, would get the exact same treatment. Nonetheless, it’s still a step forward for Flash content.

  5. I’ve started an experiment – – to test out a lot of the questions you raised here by creating a WordPress blog with a Flex/Flash interface. It still uses the same WordPress Admin on the backend but the view to the visitor is all in the Flash player.
    I’m hopeful that in the coming months we’ll know a lot more about just how Flash sites will be indexed. I’ll be sharing the things that I discover on my blog.

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