For Flash-y results, some look to tech work-arounds

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Adobe's Flash software enables Web designers to add animation and interac­tivity to Web sites, which creates a richer user experience. However, search engines are unable to read Flash, which creates problems for search marketers.

“It's hard for the search engines to know what to do with the content that's inside this big block of code,” said Craig Macdonald, VP of marketing, alliances and product management for Covario, an interactive marketing analytics solu­tions company.

However, there are some techniques that can solve this problem.

“This has always been one of the chal­lenges in the industry since Flash has been around,” said Peter Kim, founder and president of Interpolls, a rich media advertising, sweepstakes and promo­tions company. “It's not a catastrophic problem. It would be catastrophic if there weren't any work-arounds.”

The challenge is, “how can businesses make sure they provide a rich and robust online experience for users and make sure that people can find their site on the Web?” Macdonald asked.

At the Search Engine Strategies con­ference in New York City earlier this month, Craig Hordlow, chief search strategist at of the interactive marketing company Red Bricks Media described himself as “a recovering Flash hater.” After Hordlow stopped fighting the Flash-loving designers at his company, he began investigating various Flash work-arounds. After all, Flash is “here to stay,” he admitted.

Developers are far ahead of search en­gines' ability to index this content, and Hordlow says it will be some time be­fore engines will be able to read Flash. “It will take another five years, if not more,” he said.

To get around the Flash problem, many search engine optimization experts recommend that people create distinct HTML, or hypertext markup language, pages for each Flash page. HTML provides a text-based way to describe the information presented on a Web page, such as interactive forms or embedded images.

Hordlow also suggested using “tabs” on Flash-heavy pages. When users click on these tabs, the Flash content “just unravels” making the page more search engine friendly, he said. This content is typically kept in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), he said.

Even with these work-arounds, Flash should be used judiciously, said Eric Papczun, director of natural search optimization for Performics, an SEM firm that is a division of DoubleClick. During the panel, he advised firms to “use [Flash sites] carefully.”

Another reason why Flash should be used in moderation is that it can take longer to load than other sites. Google recently announced that it will soon start incorporating landing page load time as a factor in its quality score for AdWords. So Flash-heavy sites that with slow load times could see an undesirable change in their quality score, which in­fluences an ad's position on Google and the Google network. It is also used to calculate a keyword's minimum bid.

“Having a very heavy Flash-based site isn't very beneficial in many ways,” Kim said. And if a site is purely in Flash, it's very difficult to track on the ad side as well, he added.

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