Is Flash Bad for SEO or Can You Work Around it

Perhaps it’s related to Apple not installing flash on the newest air macs, but there’s been more talk than usual about flash & SEO in the past few weeks.

My position on flash and SEO is as follows:

  • I’d prefer to not use it, but I do understand that there are some circumstances in which flash makes a better user experience
  • If you do use flash, putting it anywhere along the mission critical path or main navigation is dangerous
  • If you do put put it in the mission critical path, you are going to have to maintain a separate HTML version for bots and the 20 million+ iphone and iPad users

Personally, I’m lazy. I like low maintenance websites (see how I manage a wordpress website). But if you’re a big corporation and have the manpower and other resources to support two websites, that’s fine. Just make sure you configure it properly so you don’t get flagged as cloaking. I would stay away from user agent detection and instead use JavaScript to detect the shockwave plugin. Are there some people with JavaScript disabled but flash enabled? Sure, but they are an outlier condition. Using JavaScript will cover the users and the bots.

Another thing to be mindful of is doing redirects. Since you will be creating an HTML version, that’s what will show in the SERPs. So, when a user clicks through, you’ll want to redirect to the flash version in the appropriate place. It can really get tricky, so be careful if you go this route.

Let’s recap:

  • Unless using flash adds to the user experience in a meaningful way, avoid it
  • If you do use flash, try to avoid using it in mission critical paths like main navigation and checkout
  • If you insist on using it in mission critical areas, you’ll have to create multiple versions of the same website. Make sure you have the resources to support it
  • Use javascript to detect for the the flash plugin instead of user agent detection to help you avoid the appearance of cloaking for nefarious reasons

photo credit: law_keven

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