Creating a masterpiece people will actually see - making sure your Flash websites are SEO optimised

Sean Singleton, managing director of digital creative agency Skive, explains how ad agencies can ensure that immersive flash sites for brands are actually found by web users.

Search engines...Flash sites can do well in SEO
Search engines...Flash sites can do well in SEO

The internet continues to unite people all over the world, facilitating collaboration and information sharing at jaw-dropping speeds.

Gill Scott Heron was right, the revolution isn’t being televised, it’s taking place online. As more agencies and brands wake up to the full potential of online as an advertising medium, creativity within the space is blossoming, not least in the case of brands’ traditional online hubs – the humble website.

Brands are beginning to realise that it’s no longer acceptable to build an average website and then expect users to spend quality time on it, recommend it and even return to it once in a while.

Many brand websites need to deliver a rich, engaging, immersive experience, if they’re to stand out from the crowd.

There’s a problem however.

Despite numerous brands having fantastic websites, many of them are simply not found by users, even when they’re actively looking for them.

'Pulling' content

Yes, user traffic can be ‘pushed’ to websites as a result of short-term media campaigns (an expensive and short-term solution compared with SEO which builds a longer term search engine presence).

But if users can’t ‘pull’ the website content to them when they want it, then surely the website’s very raison d’etre should be questioned.

This is normally when online search comes to the rescue, directing users to a relevant website for the search they’ve conducted.

This is assuming that the search engine can find all of the relevant websites for the search in question. If a brand has a relevant site but it can’t be found, then there’s a big problem.

This happens surprisingly often and is due to the way in which many brands’ websites are built using ‘Flash’ software - Flash delivers that ‘rich’ experience through video, sound and 3D animation. Interestingly, the majority of traditional advertising agencies also use Flash to showcase their work online.  Currently, over 70% of IPA members have Flash websites. 

'Invisible' Flash sites

Until recently, it was widely believed that search engine spiders could not read Flash content and therefore, sites that heavily featured it could not be indexed for search queries.

Due to this issue, many advertisers have been forced in the past to make a choice; build an engaging, good-looking yet ‘invisible to users’ site in Flash, or a plain looking site with high search visibility.

This lack of knowledge and application of Flash & SEO best practice across the industry is causing more issues than people realise.

Many brands are over spending on their paid search campaigns and many agency websites are incredibly hard to find.

However, this choice between beauty and visibility is no longer relevant.

Flash sites can be optimised to perform well in terms of natural search but there is a lack of knowledge within the advertising & digital industries about best practice.

Search agencies don’t employ Flash developers and Flash developers focus on delivering great looking and performing sites with little regard to search performance.    

Combining Flash and SEO

To share some of our Flash & SEO strategy knowledge, at Skive, we initially draw on traditional techniques when planning text to ensure high positioning for key search terms in the search results.

For optimum SEO, we ensure each piece of content in a Flash embedded site has its own URL, so that it can appear as a separate indexable result.

Once all the textual content is collated, it sits in a flat XML file to provide an HTML alternative. Finally the Flash is embedded into the rendered XHTML SEO content.

In the US, Google and Adobe have recognised these issues by setting up a Global Council for the Advancement of Search and Flash. 

As the only UK member, Skive is working alongside multinational giants such as P&G, Yahoo! and Disney to establish a global best practice with Flash and SEO.

Some forward thinking agencies, like CHI & Partners have recognised the problem and decided to tackle it head on (see case study below).

As the internet competes harder with television in delivering more emotionally engaging brand messages,  it has never been more important to ensure search visibility and drive users to brands’ multimedia destinations.

The digital advertising industry needs to embrace the developments in Flash & SEO to benefit marketing budget accountability and consumer alike.



CHI website case Study

CHI website

In 2008, CHI & Partners appointed Skive to improve the visibility of its website within search results. The site was built entirely in Flash with no indexed content and the company name and initials are shared with one of the most popular words  in the Chinese language — ‘chi’. This presented a significant SEO challenge.   There are 230 million results for the word ‘chi in Google!

Skive moved the site onto a more robust hosting platform. We then split the site into individual pages with separate URLs and repurposed the XML driving the Flash to provide an HTML alternative. This prepared the site for search engines indexing and a link building programme was undertaken to drive page rank for the category and campaign pages.

Natural search now accounts for over half of all visits to CHI & Partners site, up from 14%. Paid search advertising for the agency’s brand name is no longer required, saving the company significant budget. The site now ranks in the top ten for all client campaign searches. It also ranks 2nd out of the 230 million Google results for ‘chi’.

Sean Singleton, Managing Director, Skive