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Friday, April 19, 2024

Don't Expect A Magic Flash Solution For Search Engines

Call me Mr. Rain On The Parade, but after reading an interview in The
Guardian with Google product manager of crawl services Dan Crow, I can’t help
but feel people are going to come away with the mistaken idea that Google will magically make
their Flash content suddenly more accessible to Google’s crawlers. That ain’t
going to happen.

Interview: Google’s Dan Crow
is the article, and in it, we’re told:

If we hit a web page with a Flash movie on it, we just extract the text out
of it and index that text. But a Flash movie is much richer than that. So one
of the projects I’m working on is to try and improve our Flash processing –
that’s an example of an area where we could be better. But it’s not unique to

At the moment our advice is that webmasters need to give us a lot of help – a
Flash movie is basically a set of virtual pages. If you used HTML for the links,
then we’d be able to see the overall structure. The content will still be in
Flash, but we can at least get some of it. Ultimately we’d like to be smart
enough to look inside the Flash movie. We’re not quite there today.

Not quite there? Not quite there? Try nowhere, and that’s not really the
fault of Google or any search engine.

Look, most Flash content I’ve seen is not made up of words. It’s video. It’s
images. It’s non-textual content that cannot be indexed by a search engine
designed to process text. There are no words to index.

I have a long-running way I try to explain this to people who build in Flash
and who get frustrated that search engines can’t handle their content. I say
it’s like taking a TV commercial into a radio station, then getting mad that the
radio station won’t play the pictures in the commercial. It can’t. It’s radio.
Radio plays only sound. If you want images, that’s TV!

Search engines don’t understand images. They understand text. Show them
images, and it’s like trying to play those images on the radio.

Yes, someday in the far, far future, search engines will understand what’s in
an image. They’ll see an image and be able to describe it. But that’s not now.
That’s not anytime soon. And I say this because
after a decade of us
being told image recognition is coming, we’re still no significantly further

Even when they do, it still won’t be that helpful for general purpose,
textually driven web search. I mean, they’ll see an image and be able to tell
you "Now the company logo is flying horizontally. Now it is flying vertically.
Now it’s getting all big. Now it’s getting all small." How descriptive is that?

Search engines ARE better at finding actual text that can be embedded in
Flash movies. So if you have a lot of text in there, then maybe they’ll extract
that text, and your page will do better. Search engines, including Google, have
been doing that for several years now (and

Google’s help page about that). But if you have that much text in
Flash — why are you putting it in Flash? Put in regular HTML, and save the
Flash for pictures and images.

Overall, don’t expect that things are going to change soon. They haven’t for
years, and even suggestions of secret talks with Adobe in this article ("I can’t
talk about that") aren’t going to make some dramatic change. It will be terrible
if those finally getting the message that Flash means problems with search
engines suddenly seize on this interview as hope that a solution is coming. It’s
not. You want a solution — try the workarounds

you’ll find here
, for a start.

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