Full Flash websites and SEO

Is someone trying to force you into building a website that consists of nothing but a huge Flash file? Are you perhaps doing this voluntarily? Are you also concerned about how well the site will do in search engines if you make it 100 % Flash?

You will probably find the well-thought-out, easy-to-understand Flash Website Flowchart posted by Russ at TheGoogleCache very helpful while trying to decide whether or not you should go all-Flash.

Incidentally, you can use that same flow-chart when considering how an all-Flash website will affect accessibility (or perhaps I should say interoperability…).

(via Backendmedia)

Posted on October 6, 2006 in Accessibility, Quicklinks, Search Engine Optimisation


  1. That’s the best thing I have seen all day. ha.

  2. October 6, 2006 by Brett Mitchell

    The fact all-flash websites are a big no-no for anything short of pure entertainment value must continually brought to light is indeed depressing.

    Unfortunately, as long as people ask for it, there will be people to build it.

    Well, perhaps there’s a sales idea — talking to companies with all-flash websites. At least the resources of why flash sucks (again, for anything more important than an online game) are growing, right?

  3. First, if the target audience has been determined, I don’t see a problem with Flash (only) Web sites.

    Second, search engines are quite capable of indexing (most) Flash sites.

  4. Second, search engines are quite capable of indexing (most) Flash sites.

    Only text within the text fields though. The problem is there is no structural elements, so it’s semantically sterile.

    How many Flash sites have you seen listed?

    First, if the target audience has been determined, I don’t see a problem with Flash (only) Web sites.

    That’s a difficult thing to do if it’s public but yes, if private or controlled such as a vending or cash machine, then it’s perfect.

  5. That flowchart had me laughing all day :)

    While I am here Roger - thank you for your informative posts which I have found very useful in the past.

    • Michael
  6. Making a flash website SEO friendly is not all that difficult, but it does require effort.

    Flash has it’s time and place and it is often abused.

  7. I like it.

    However… clients like some of the features of Flash, right? Shouldn’t we be trying to meet those client desires in good ways, rather than dismissing them? Isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that clients want things for irrational reasons?

    I say: improve Flash. Make it as good as HTML at all the things HTML does. Then make it better. HTML doesn’t have some inherent right to be the lingua franca of the web.

  8. please post a (good) link about seo and flash.

  9. October 6, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    First, if the target audience has been determined, I don’t see a problem with Flash (only) Web sites.

    Fair enough. However, I’d guess that accounts for perhaps 5 % of the full-Flash sites out there.

    Second, search engines are quite capable of indexing (most) Flash sites.

    Indexing, yes, perhaps. Sending people to the right “page” within a full-Flash site, not as far as I know.

    Michel: :-). Thanks for reading!

    web: Yeah it’s possible, but that doesn’t say it’s a good idea.

    pauldwaite: I’m not dismissing Flash entirely here (and I didn’t make that flowchart ;-) ). I find that most of the time when a client asks for Flash content, they don’t know what they want. After questioning them about what it is they actually want, I find that most of the time it can be achieved without Flash. Faster, cheaper, easier to maintain, more accessible, more SEO-friendly.

    Of course there are things that Flash does better than HTML, but HTML is the lingua franca of the Web. A proprietary format that requires a plugin can never be that, in my opinion.

  10. I know you’ve linked to this before, but it seems very relevant to this discussion:

    A modern approach to Flash SEO

  11. October 6, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Geoff: Yep, it’s relevant so I edited your comment to make the URL a live link (and my previous link to your article is actually listed under “Possibly related posts” at the end of this post ;-) ).

    chr: See the link in comment #10 for good advice.

  12. I die a little bit inside each time I go to SIRIUS’ Web site to listen to the online radio stream.

    There is some non-Flash content, but I can’t get to the online radio stream from it. I think they’re using Macromedia Flex, which encourages this sort of thing. I mean, you could use Flex to make a pretty cool intranet app, but for a general, public Web site, I’d stay away.

    Pretty much every car maker’s Web site seems to do the Flash orgy, too. I don’t mind people using Flash for some whizz-bang demonstration (I think it finally solves the plug-ins for video problem), but a whole site? Blargh.

  13. Flash developers can do some amazing work, especially those that use action script, but the first thing they should learn (or know already) is how to get their content from a single flat file or database and then they can provide an accessible alternative (WAI checkpoint 11.4), taking care of their SEO and accessibility needs all in one fell swoop. It’s simply smart to do that. There is more to life than art, but some need convincing. Good topic Roger.

  14. Roger: Sending people to the right “page” within a full-Flash site, not as far as I know.

    Flash supports GET so it’s quite easy with a HTML sitemap to index or even bookmark a particular page ‘within’ the movie, akin to Google Maps ‘link to this page’ feature.

  15. October 7, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    Flash supports GET so it’s quite easy with a HTML sitemap to index or even bookmark a particular page ‘within’ the movie

    Right, but I was thinking of raw Flash files with no HTML backup here. Is it possible in that case as well?

  16. I was thinking of raw Flash files with no HTML backup here.

    Without an internal HTML sitemap, the only other way is if external sites link in to the relevant address of the content within the movie. With enough links, it will get listed.

    The problem still remains ranking what to a search engine is effectively plain text. It will never compete with markup.

  17. Aside from SEO and flash, I see flash as (still) a big barrier to usability. And, just as with anything - flash is a TOOL - and, unfortunately, many abuse it.

    Yes, flash CAN ge accessible. You could use the _GET method above, and have the variables point to the right point in the timeline. You could build it to access from a flat file or database (as stated above) - which would allow you to seamlessly create accessible versions as well.

    But, what about the browsers? To me - flash still suffers from… 1. Browser support of back/forward/bookmarking. 2. Status bar and link destinations (I like to see where I am going). 3. Copy/Paste of text (not as big of an issue). 4. Printing (still an issue) 5. Control of the user: resizing text, browser windows, magnification, etc (just to name a few).

    I would never suggest an all flash website for a client for many of the reasons listed above. Flash CAN be nice - but it takes a skilled developer to really understand how to cover all the bases (and most of which can best be attained with ActionScript/XML/Database - etc).

    I understand both sides, but I still have yet to see a decent flash site that covers all of the bases to be accessible and usable.

  18. Still gotta love Nielsen’s Flash: 99% Bad

  19. Flash is a godsend for video.

    But for practically everything else I agree. Nowadays, you can achieve all your ‘whizzy effects’ (if you really must) with javascript, and the ubiqiuity of libraries. (whilst enabling it to degrade gracefully, be seo friendly etc)

    The JS library, Jquery, makes it fantastically easy (and fun!) to add a sprinkling of magic when required: http://jquery.com/

  20. October 9, 2006 by Oliver

    First off I completely agree that in the majority of cases a client request for a full flash site isn’t likely to be an informed choice therefore in all probability a bad one.

    Nevertheless this sounds like a rehash of the same old argument that’s been going on since the 90’s and summed up by Nielsen in 2000 with the famous “99% Bad” diatribe.

    The point is that you can misuse any web technology. Flash absolutely does not prevent adherence to the priciples of accessibility, standards and searchability unless it’s coded and embedded that way. To keep on writing about it as though it does is redundant.

    Building sites that use anything in addition to HTML that degrade gracefully, remain searchable, accessible, standards-compliant and cross-browser compatible (etc, etc) can be time-consuming to build. Can anyone point me to a funny flowchart that makes this clear?

  21. RE: Oliver Mind pointing me to a site done in flash that is accessible, adheres to standards, and is searchable? I still have yet to find a working example.

    Its the same cry, because the situation is still the same.

  22. Just an example of “good” all-flash site: go2web20.net Also it doesn’t work with JS off…

  23. October 10, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Nate: Though Flash can add to usability and accessibility, it is extremely rare to see it used in that way. So yes, Flash still has serious usability problems.

    Oliver: Until Flash developers mature and start using their tool sensibly, that old argument will be valid.

    FataL: Good one :-). The only reason I can think of for making that a full-Flash site is that the author doesn’t know HTML + CSS + JavaScript.

  24. Oliver is spot on! Fact is: A lot of developers build all-flash-sites that is both accessible and bots friendly - and they have been doing this for a long time now. However, the same old complaints; that they do not - never seem to go away…

    Here is an old all-flash-site we did in 2002, that is also xhtml compliant (indexable). Try to do a site: lookup on yahoo.com and click the links.

    Here is another all-flash-site with xhtml-output currently turned off (only because we don’t want the content indexed). But try back/forwarding it, do a refresh on a “sub-page”. Go to Exempler>Matematikk 8.trinn, and manipulate some of the math-problems, then try forward/back/refresh. Try closing the site and open it in another browser, navigate to the same math-problems you manipulated and see what is there. My challenge to anyone: Show me a non-flash alternative, that has this level of functionality!

  25. October 29, 2006 by Stephen

    I haven’t seen anyone really mention yet that as a proprietary technology, Flash is only available to those to whom Macrobe decides to provide a client. 64 bit Linux? Nope. Many mobile devices? Nope.

    Of course, you might argue that these are a small minority, and you’d be right, but then so are many target audiences, e.g. people with poor/no sight.

    If you do use Flash, then the proprietary nature of the format means that users have no choice of clients, and by extension, you have to trust the code content of Macrobe’s client.

  26. October 29, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    The complaints don’t go away because the examples of Flash sites done right (as right as they can be done that is) are all but nonexistent.

    Your first example doesn’t seem to have the same content in the HTML as in the Flash. The location field does not change when you navigate the site, so copying and pasting the URL for the current page is not possible.

    The second example I would call an application, not a website. The math tests/lessons are good examples of valid use of Flash, though I don’t see why the entire app is Flash based. It has the same problem with the location field as the first example, and copying text doesn’t seem to be possible.

    Both examples force the user to use non-standard mechanisms for scrolling, so mousewheel scrolling does not work.


    If you do use Flash, then the proprietary nature of the format means that users have no choice of clients, and by extension, you have to trust the code content of Macrobe’s client.

    Agreed. That is one of the reasons you should carefully consider if you really need Flash or if there is another, better way of achieving the same goal. In most cases there is.

  27. 1. Scrolling and copy/paste: These issues are only mac-related. Yes it’s a drag, but this will be solved in future releases of the Flash Player. Copy/paste is no problem on macs, but because of some buggy FP-releases for the mac, we disabled copy/paste for macs.

    2. Reflection of URLs in location-feld: Not implemented in my samples, but is very much doable on flash-sites. See: Yahoo! Maps and also SWFAddress

    However, try this link, and you will see that deep linking was implemented even on my sample from 2002.

    3. Not the same content in HTML as in Flash: Yes it is excactly the same content, getting pulled from the same database. The reason you don’t see the reflected HTML in the source, is because when you are browsing the Flash-version, the HTML doesn’t get rendered along with it. We only pull data to Flash when browsed through a flash-enabled browser. But if you turn off javascript, you will see what Google “sees/indexes”, which is plain XHTML. So search-engines will spider this site just fine, based on the alternative XHTML, and the spiderlinks will send you to the correct spot in the Flash-app. You can even read the entire page through Lynx or any screen-reader too.

    4. Why we do the whole thing in Flash? Because we serve thousands of test-users at the same time. The Flash-app only loads once for each client-user, and thus “wheighs in” about 1/10 of a similar dynamic application done in HTML, which has to render each page for every item.

    Also, did you try to open the math-app in another browser after manipulating a few items? Try it, and see what happens :)

  28. Flash is about multimedia experience in a web browser and it is not supposed to behave like a html/plain text site at all.

    Even though there are all sorts of work arounds and fixes for SEO and accessibility, that is not why flash exists.

    With that said, there is a place and time for everything, even if you do SEO optimization from top to bottom there is no guarantee you will be ranked 1st anywhere. But if you know your audience you can go full flash with PPC and have excellent results.

  29. March 14, 2007 by Matt

    Full flash websites get a bad rap. There is no problem with SEO and flash sites if you know what you are doing. For example, google grenade gloves, disney, Coke ect. The have a much great er impact on the viewer. If you have problems with SEO and flash sites, start reading about javascript. There are wonderfull things that you can do with it to make your site 100% visible on all search engines.

  30. March 14, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Full flash websites get a bad rap.

    And they fully deserve it, for many other reasons (usability, accessibility, device independence, loading time, etc.) besides making SEO much more complicated.

  31. I think flash should never beee used as a full solution, flash has bad integration options but there is fall back solutions that works great. If these solutions works? well yes bbut the questions is maybe to not compare the mwith a full html solutions. That will be a disaster.


  32. Roger thanks for your enlightment of the above article about SEO

    i have learnt something from it today

    thank you very much Regards

    Alex wong

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