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Exactly how search engines deal with the content of Flash-based websites and information in SWF files has notoriously been a bit of a grey area for a long time. Historically, website creators had to battle with clients as to whether the aesthetic potential of Flash was enough a pay-off against their judgement of the importance of this new idea called ‘SEO’.

In July of last year, Adobe announced a collaboration with Google (1, 2) and Yahoo! to develop a new Flash Player technology specifically to enhance the search results of dynamic content in Flash – ultimately, to make the SWF searchable.

But it was unclear how it worked, what it actually did and what provisions the Flash developer or content creators would have to make.

Peter Elst aired his thoughts and agreed as I did, it looked like a ‘backup’ or intermediary solution. There also lacked a standard or recommended approach to deploying the content for this new technology – presuming this new platform hadn’t just become instantly intelligent to all possibly methods of delivery.

Adobe later published an FAQ, but still it wasn’t very technical, so a few developers started experimenting. After seeing Peter’s attempts, Ryan Stewart announced a Flex SEO Contest – an outright declaration that we’re confused but determined to find out what exposure our content has. As well as being a bit of fun. 😉

Dominic Gelineau constructed fourteen test cases, essentially finding every possible way you could contain a simple text string in a SWF file (see 1 – 7 here, 8 – 14 here). He used both static and dynamic TextFields, populated them in various ways, MXML components, standard Flash UI components, whether to use states, etc – covering all the bases across Flash and Flex.

Initially he concluded Google wasn’t really finding anything new, but in a later article for InsideRIA he listed his principle observations:

  1. Most of the content that was on the stage/timeline at compile time would be indexed even if it was outside the viewing area.
     
  2. The TextArea, Text, ViewStack and custom MXML component in Flex would get indexed if they were in the MXML (the Flex equivalent of being on the stage) but the Label component would not.
     
  3. Until October, SWF files embedded in the HTML using JavaScript (SWFObject, AC_RunActiveContent, etc) could not be found on Google.
     
  4. Again until October, anything related to the ActionScript 3 method addChild would not get indexed. As an example, adding a MovieClip from the library with static text in it using addChild method would not show up in Google’s search results. In the same way, using states in Flex wouldn’t work. My guess is that since states uses addChild in its MXML syntax, once compiled it would get converted to the addChild method in AS3.
     
  5. Finally, any content loaded externally from the embedded SWF file wouldn’t get indexed, but was clearly stated by Google.
     

Fortunately, Jim Corbett, Flash Player Engineer at Adobe offeres some much-need clarification, answering many of these questions at the Adobe MAX conference this year. The video can be found at Adobe TV, (I’m having problems embedding it with WordPress) – it’s lengthy, and gives a good insight into the Player’s search mechanics.

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