Flash websites now indexed by Google – A black hat’s wet dream?

Photo by anyjazz65The announcement that Google can now index flash pages thanks to a plug-in by Adobe should be welcomed by web developers and SEO practitioners but I’m afraid it leaves me with a rather cold sense of foreboding.

I’ve never been a great fan of Flash websites. Note that I’m not saying that I don’t like Flash – for things like image galleries then they’re great and add a touch of style that you can’t get from standard HTML (although Ajax does a good job of getting close).

But to have a whole website written in Flash with pages zooming backwards and forwards for no sensible reason is simply a way of distracting your users from reaching your website’s goal. The fact that Flash is/was an SEO killer was just another reason for me to avoid it.

So why am I concerned that Google can now index Flash files? Simply put, because I fear that we’re going to see the return of some nasty old SEO techniques of the late 90s that Google is doing a pretty good job of catching and penalising:

  • Can Adobe’s plug-in cope with hidden text and keyword stuffing? With all of that animation zooming around, covering swathes of text then I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be complex enough to catch all of the hidden text (and don’t tell me that on-site SEO doesn’t matter anymore!).
  • What about widgets? How can I be sure that the Twitter widget on the side of this page doesn’t have 10,000 links stashed in it somewhere? At least in the old HTML days I could give the code a once over before sticking it on my site. Who knows where I’m linking to now?
  • My flash file can take up as little as 1 pixel. What can I put into my flash file that I wouldn’t normally have done in HTML due to space limitation?

I’m not a black hat SEO but it took me about 10 seconds to think about using those techniques in a flash file for SEO. Imagine what a creative black hat sort would be able to come up with? Will Adobe be able to keep on top of fighting Flash-based spamming techniques in the way that Google has struggled to do?

So do I see this as a step forward for the web? If anything, I see it as a step backwards. Aside from the re-appearance of tired SEO techniques, it’s an endorsement by Google for building entire websites in Flash and therefore encouraging the painful user experience that nearly always goes with it (with obvious exceptions of course).