Google reads Flash … sort of

Every now and then in forums, someone advises that Google reads Flash, as if that's the beginning and the end of the discussion. Having messed around with Flash a bit, I always think, "Yes, but how do you get H tags and other HTML tags into Flash?" — because you can't.

Now Matt Cutts has given a bit more clarification in Stephen Spencer's most excellent Interview with Matt Cutts:

I think that we do a pretty good job of reading textual content. Now, stuff within Flash is binary and you can define it in terms of characters and strokes – so you can have things that look like normal text – but that are completely weird and are not really normal text. So it can be difficult to pull the text out a Flash file. I think we do pretty well.

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. So, my hunch is that most of the search engines will standardize on using that search engine SDK tool to pull out the text. The easiest way to know whether you have textual content that can be read in a Flash file, is that you could always use that tool yourself and verify as well.

So, great: Google may well indeed read all the text in a particular Flash file. The question remains, though: would the text in that Flash file rank as well as regular HTML text?

10 Comments to "Google reads Flash … sort of"

  1. Todd Gallant says:

    Google can not read flash or javascript… however it is possible to optimize flash and javascript based sites to get rankings

  2. Diane Vigil says:

    Hi, Todd. Yes, I know that it's possible to optimize Flash for search engines.

    My comments were based on the Can Google read Flash content? thread at the SearchEngineWatch forums:

    According to Mike Grehan's interviews with Google staff, Google can read Flash – but generally doesn't care much for it due to little text content, which is important for document matching.

    That's just an indication that Google *was* reading Flash content. There's also the above quote from Matt Cutts, which indicates that Google *can* read actual Flash content (to whatever degree it can decipher that content).

    While I like Flash, my personal thought is that a Flash-only site is not so great for users or search engine rankings, although you can do some things to optimize a Flash site for search engines.

    What are your thoughts in this regard?

  3. Chloe Baby says:

    The main point i think thats been missed here, is why on earth would anyone make a site entirely from flash anyway ?

    Surely that would be the most idiotic thing ever.

  4. Diane Vigil says:

    Hi, Chloe. I can't disagree with you. While I happen to like the judicious use of Flash, I find whole-Flash websites annoying and difficult to use, including the download time.

  5. Chloe Baby says:

    Yeah, with broadband speed increasing, its fine, but so does the size of flash sites, and they still seem to be so much slower than html.

    Also with ajax and mootools (and other js effects libs) you can now acomplish quite alot without resorting to flash.

    *last moan* – when will flash actually push the browser scroll bar down, and not having to scroll text within the flash .swf itself ?

  6. Diane Vigil says:

    Yeah, I get it.

    My thought, too, is that usually pages on a Flash website share the same layout; still, you might have to sit through seconds upon seconds of something drawing something out, along with sound effects, in order to get the page content — and this is on every page. Thing is, once I've clicked on a link, it's clear you've got my interest — so it's time to stop the drawing and sound effects and just let me get to the content.

    At least, that's my thought. :)

  7. Cole Haan says:

    I think that this is a huge step in the right direction for Adobe. Search Engine Optimization was a strong legitimate argument one can have against Flash. Soon, that will all change.

  8. Diane Vigil says:

    Yes, and let's note that this is about all-Flash websites. Using bits of Flash in the right places has never been a problem.

  9. Rich in Dallas says:

    I really like flash, however my designer always told me that it would be horrible for my SEO efforts.

  10. Diane Vigil says:

    Hi, Rich. Okay … so did your web designer say that Flash is bad for SEO efforts, or *any* use of Flash at all?

    I find that this is a generalization that is not true. But what do I know? ;)

    It's very much like the difference between using images on a site versus a site composed of pages with nothing but images.

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