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Google Can Now Index . . . Flash! An Interview With Michael Marshall

Robin Nobles
Expert Author
Published: 2004-09-07

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As you know, a Flash movie as the index page of a site has always been a major problem with search engine optimization. There's simply no content for the search engines to index.

So when I learned that Google can index the contents of Macromedia Flash movies, I was astonished. It seemed this remarkable discovery had gone virtually unnoticed in the SEO community.

But as you probably know, Google has always been the first to index different types of content: PDF files, .doc files, etc. Google has also made amazing inroads in being able to index dynamic content.

And now they're the first major search engine to index Flash ­ another significant step forward in the SEO industry.

So why has Flash presented such problems in the past?

Background of Macromedia Flash Movies and SEO

With a Flash movie as the main page of a site, the Web site owner is giving up the crucial text necessary to prove to the search engines that the main page is about a particular topic. Without that text, the search engines have nothing to index. Therefore, the main page rarely does well in the rankings, unless off-page factors such as link popularity or link reputation are sufficient to carry the page on their own.

In the past, legitimate work arounds have been few and far between. This made things extremely difficult for businesses who wanted to create a rich user experience with a Flash home page, such as Web design firms, photography studios, graphic design firms, and so forth.

So, these businesses often sacrificed rankings for the user experience, since they could rarely have both while still following all of the guidelines set forth by the search engines.

Introducing . . . Michael Marshall

When I learned that Google is indexing Flash from Michael Marshall, creator of ThemeMaster (http://www.theme-master.com) and chat/forum moderator for our online search engine marketing courses (http://www.onlinewebtraining.com), and when I learned of the fascinating discoveries he'd made, I immediately wanted to interview him for an article.

So let's take a look at what Michael has discovered about Google and Flash.


Michael, how do we know that Google is now indexing the contents of Flash files? Is there a way that we can search the index just for Flash?

Michael Marshall:

Yes. You can enter your search term in Google, and along with that search term, use the filetype operator and restrict your search to the file extension ".swf". This will search for your search term only in Macromedia Flash files. You should see [FLASH] just before each listing in the results page that is a Flash document.

For example, put the following in the search box at Google:

"Best Free Banner Exchange Market" filetype:swf


How can we extract the text found in a Flash file to see what Google sees?

Michael Marshall:

Macromedia has a Flash Search Engine SDK (http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/download/search_engine/) that will give us just what we need. The SDK (Software Development Kit) includes an application named 'swf2html'. Swf2html extracts text and links from a Macromedia Flash .SWF file, and returns the data to stdout or as an HTML document. Swf2html is provided as a compiled application and as a static library for linked library implementation. For complete functionality, see the file Readme.htm included in the SDK.


Do you have an example of a Flash file that we can see, as well as an example of the text that the Macromedia tool extracted from the Flash file?

Michael Marshall:

Yes. I have an example of each. If you look at the extracted output in Web page form, you will see that it is not very pretty. Nevertheless, you've got lots of SEO-worthy content there, and that's what we are most concerned with. You should visit the Flash presentation itself, mouse over the text, and click the links in the presentation so you can be familiar with the Flash presentation. You can compare where certain text appears in the Flash presentation and where it is found in the extracted text.

Example of Flash file:


Example of extracted text:


(Note: This Flash example is based on one of Michael's own products. However, I chose to use it for two reasons: 1) because of the many different types of Flash involved; and, 2) because it is a text-heavy Flash example, as opposed to many other examples of Flash that I could have chosen to use.

Added Note: Be sure to highlight the entire page by clicking on Ctrl A)

In the output file, you'll notice that some text seems to be repeated on multiple lines and one portion of it even appears invisible since the font color comes out white. This is just a side effect of the conversion/extraction tool and is not really invisible text and is not spamming in any manner.

In other words, you're doing nothing wrong when this happens ­ it's simply due to the tool itself and not spamming or true invisible text.

(Continued in Part 2. This is a two-part article.)

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About the Author:
Robin Nobles conducts live SEO workshops (http://www.searchengineworkshops.com) in locations across North America. She also teaches online SEO training (http://www.onlinewebtraining.com). Localized SEO training is now being offered through the Search Engine Academy. (http://www.searchengineacademy.com) Sign up for SEO tips of the day at mailto:seo-tip@aweber.com.

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