Google is Now Indexing Text in Flash Files!

Say it ain’t so! While doing a bit of research, and trying to audit the indexation of Flash files, our head of SEO, @lukeregan, stumbled upon something very interesting… It appears that Google can now index text within a Flash file.

As SEOs, we’ve always advised clients to avoid putting any important text into this format as, in the past, Google and other search engine bots have not been able to read and understand the content within them. It seems that that this is now a thing of the past!

To illustrate this point, we conducted a simple test using Amazon.com. We typed the following in Google:

“site:amazon.com filetype:swf”

These parameters narrow Google’s search to Flash files within the Amazon domain.

This is the result from that search (we’ll be focusing on the first result):

 

As you can see in the results on the search-engine screenshot, Google has grabbed quite a bit of text from the Flash file in question.

It seems that a whole load of previously unavailable information can now be seen…

And just to make sure we’re not imagining things we found out that Google had updated their support pages with the info! We found out by conducting this search. Note the date the page was updated: 3rd December 2012 (very recent):

A quick look at the Google support pages confirmed our investigation:

What does this mean for search and SEO?

In the past, Google’s help documentation has advised against flash-heavy sites:

In general, search engines are text based. This means that in order to be crawled and indexed, your content needs to be in text format. This doesn’t mean that you can’t include images, Flash files, videos, and other rich media content on your site; it just means that any content you embed in these files should also be available in text format or it won’t be accessible to search engines.

This has been a bit of an issue for users and webmasters alike as it has meant that a whole host of engaging and useful content has gone unrecognised by search engines and has therefore been absent from relevant SERPs.

This new and improved ability to index text in Flash files will further improve Google’s relevance, putting more distance between them and their competitors.

Flash has always been a frustrating issue for us SEOs. Up until now we have argued that text should be in HTML, and only non-textual or unimportant content should be set up in Flash, such as video illustrations.

Like alternative-text optimisation, will Google’s new ability open up another area for on-site SEO? Either way it looks like it will be a lot easier to work with Flash-based sites in future, and will perhaps go some way towards subduing the ever-present, designer-SEO friction concerning design/appearance vs optimisation…

What are your thoughts on this exciting development?

Jan, 22, 2013

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