For most people on the Web, if Google or Yahoo cannot find something, it doesn’t exist. That has been one of the biggest drawbacks to creating a Website or application that displays itself as a Flash (SWF) file. Search engines could see the file, but they could not see what was in it. Until now.
Adobe has come up with a way for the search engines to read SWF files and index all of the information they contain. That means any text or links in a Flash application can now be indexed. This is a huge step forward for Adobe and anyone who develops in Flash/Flex. Michele Turner, Adobe’s VP of marketing for its platform business, explains:
We are releasing technology to Google and Yahoo that enables them to crawl and index SWF files. They are now searchable. This will open up millions of Flash files to search.
Adobe has created a special Flash player for the search engines that acts like a virtual user going through each application. It actually goes through the runtime of each Flash application and translates it into something the search engines can understand. So all of those fancy interactive Flash Websites and other rich Internet applications that have been invisible to search engines, can now be seen by them.
Turner acknowledges that this invisibility so far “has been a big problem for those developing rich applications.” After all, it doesn’t matter how pretty your Website is if nobody can find it. Flash applications and Websites (many ironically created by ad agencies) have not been able to take advantage of any of the search-engine juice that so many online ad campaigns depend upon. This should be seen as part of Adobe’s larger efforts to remove any remaining restrictions associated with Flash (in April, for instance, it opened up the Flash runtime as part of its the Open Screen Project).
Google is already rolling out the SWF-indexing technology, while Yahoo still “has some work to do,” says Turner. Even so, this won’t solve all the problems with Flash content showing up on search engines.
Becoming visible is one thing, actually ranking highly is another. Google currently can find about 73 million Flash files on the Web. But until Adobe makes it easy for the average Webmaster or blogger to link deeply into those Flash files, they are not likely to appear at the top of many search results.