SEO-friendly Alternate Content for Flash

Flash may very well be the bane of SEOs everywhere. Search engine spiders read code, parse out the text, and use that to determine relevancy. Combined with that data and a variety of other factors (backlinks, social signals, site speed, etc.) the engines determine where a site will place in the SERPs. Well, what if the search engine spiders hit a site and can’t find any visible text content? There may be some serious technical issue going on, but more likely, the site is built using Flash or presents its main content via the plugin. Long story short, it’s an SEO nightmare.

Before we get on the Flash-bashing wagon, let’s take a moment to review the pros and cons of this controversial plugin.


  • Super “Flashy”
  • Creative control down to the pixel
  • Can provide great interactive and animated features


  • Relies on a plugin to deliver site content
  • Users who don’t have or want Flash get a terrible experience
  • Search inaccessible

There’s a near consensus at this point that best practice on the modern web would be to create your interactive content using SEO-ultra-friendly HTML5 and CSS3. However, that’s not the point of this post. We’re talking about the situations where we have a site that is built using Flash and it’s stuck there. This is about how to make the best of a bad (okay, maybe just not-so-great) situation.

So what’s the key to opening up a Flash-locked site to search engines? It’s SWFObject2.

What is SWFObject2?

SWFObject2 is an open-source JavaScript library that can be used to embed Flash while also offering alternative content. Basically, when a user visits a page with a Flash object that is embedded via SWFObject2, a script checks to see if the user can actually view the Flash content. If the user can’t, alternate content is pulled up instead.

SWFObject2, Flash, and SEO

A search engine spider only sees text, which is parses from the code of the websites it visits. Spiders don’t see images, run client-side scripts, or play Flash. So, when a search spider visits an SWFObject2-enabled site, the library does its magic and pulls up the alternate content instead of the Flash object. The search engine spider can then index that content and, boom, the keyword relevancy of the site gets a huge boost.

How does Google Treat SWFObject2 Content?

I like to think of SWFObject2 content as the middle-ground between text-based content and content within a NoScript tag. The SWFObject is hosted on Google Code, so it’s safe to assume that it has at least some measure of approval from the dominate search engine out there. We also see the content presented via SWFObject2 appear in search result snippets on a consistent basis. But how does SWFObject2 content actually stack up against text-only content and NoScript content? That remains to be seen. We’re currently in the process of developing a test that will attempt to judge the quality of results achieved by each content delivery method. If you’re interested in knowing as well, let me know in the comments.

Cloaking Concerns when Developing Alternate Content for Flash

Three words; Play it Safe.

Remember that the purpose of SWFObject2 is usability and progressive enhancement. If search engines catch you taking advantage of the fact that the majority of users won’t see your alternate content and you stuff it full of unjustified content, keywords, and links, your site is going to be in a bad way.

Getting Started with SWFObject2 for Flash SEO

To get started with SWFObject2, head over to Google Code. Download the library and brush up the implementation options. If the Flash you’re optimizing is simple (not interactive), I’d recommend sticking with “Static Publishing”; It’s amazingly simple. Then, go ahead and create your alternate content. Remember, you can use anything you want here; HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript…it’s all fair game.

Now, go forth and optimize.


How to Disable Flash

how to disable flash

Follow Mike Arnesen on Google+

Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen - Director of Analytics & Optimization

A diehard SEO and web analytics geek, Mike is the Director of Analytics & Optimization at SwellPath. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with SEO and analytics, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.

Watch Mike talk about his role and life at SwellPath

4 Responses to “SEO-friendly Alternate Content for Flash”

  1. How to Optimize Flash for Search at | Mike Arnesen

    […] out SEO-friendly Alternate Content for Flash at SwellPath. This entry was posted in SEO and tagged SEO, swfobject, web development by Mike. […]


Leave a Reply

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Get Our Newsletter

To keep up with the latest news from SwellPath on digital advertising, analytics, and SEO, sign up for our newsletter.