Google: Flash Fixes Can Be “Dangerous”

This is Part 1 in an 5-part series of posts on a recent SEMNE session that gave the audience access to a Google insider. Dan Crow, Program Manager of Crawl Systems, was the guest speaker to an audience of about 100, ranging from SEO novices to industry experts.

Google displayed a new degree of openness at the latest SEMNE session held in Providence, RI. Dan Crow covered a lot of ground on what Google likes and dislikes, but most of all focused on what Google can actually find.

One topic of interest, both in his presentation and in the follow-up Q&A, was the pros and cons of using Flash, and the options for making them work with Google.

The Q&A was where the session really started to get good. Here’s the skinny:

  • Flash – You can have the rich media on your website, but if you want to have your site crawled and indexed to reach that all-elusive “Position Numero Uno” then you have to use HTML for the most relevant content and navigation.
  • sIFR (scalable Inman Flash Replacement) - sIFR is a JavaScript that allows web designer to customize the headlines displayed on their pages. Headline text rendered in HTML can look blocky and unrefined - sIFR paints-over that HTML with a Flash-based equivalent. This gives the headline a smooth, refined look, while still preserving the indexable text that Google needs to process the page. Dan said that sIFR was OK, as long as it was used in moderation. He said that extensive use of sIFR could contribute negative points to your website’s overall score. Yes, that’s a bit vague, but “vague”is not as bad as…
  • SWFObject - SWFObject is a more elaborate JavaScript designed to swap-out an entire section of Flash with its HTML equivalent. Think of the Flash section of a webpage as being painted on a window shade. SWFObject decides if you have Flash installed (i.e. you are a web surfer) or not (i.e. you are a search engine.) If you don’t have Flash, the window shade rolls-up, and an HTML text equivalent is displayed on-screen. Dan pulled no punches on SWFObject: he characterized it as “dangerous.” He said that Google takes great pains to avoid penalizing sites that use technical tricks for legitimate reasons, but this was one trick that he could not guarantee as being immune from being penalized.
  • Instead, Dan recommended having a splash page, with links to Flash and non-Flash versions of the site. This avoids the “which-version” behavior of SWFObject, and thus avoiding any resemblance to cloaking.

A great session, and a lot of food for thought. We’ll be posting more news from the session, along with some options for how to circumvent the issues raised. On toPart 2…

3 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2007 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Google has posted an opinion of techniques like SWFObject here:
    Google Groups thread (scroll down to Berhgausen’s comment)

  2. Mauvis Ledford
    Posted September 13, 2007 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    SWFObject has almost become a universal standard and we should end all this ease of use and instant cross-browser fix to go back to circa 2001 with splash pages just so google doesn’t penalize us? Technology should adapt to us not the other way around. It doesn’t take a PHD to know that. :(

    I believe Bergy’s (another Google employee) long and thorough response in the link from the comment above is much more logical than the “guidelines” written above, which creates a “dangerous”-ly poor user experience (but hey, at least you’ll have a high google ranking! And that’s all that matters, right?)

  3. Posted September 13, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Mauvis-
    I agree with the sentiment i.e. that the web is built by users and if we (the web builders) choose a certain standard then they (google) should bend to us and not the other way around. However, I believe that the ‘we’ is getting outvoted by a do-no-evil ‘they’ and system has become Orwellian in every sense.

    I’m interested to see just how far the analogy plays out. I.e. will we begin snitching on competitors to stay in Big Brother Google’s good graces or will we, the creators, improve system internally and make Google obsolete?
    dun dun DUUNNNN.

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