Google and Yahoo Roll out Flash Search

With the rise of Flash content on the web over the last few years, webmasters and site designers have had to make a choice: use HTML, which can be optimized for search engine results, or use Flash, which looks impressive but wasn't as easily indexed by the search engines.

Today, Adobe announced that it is releasing a server-side player that allows search engines—in this case Google and Yahoo—to search Adobe Flash SWF files. This is done via a "virtual user" concept that allows the search engine to index content, metadata and ActionScript programming that loads at the time of the SWF execution."This version of Flash player is optimized for search," said Justin Everrett-Church, Senior Product Manager for Adobe Flash Player, "as it's able to run in the run time, meaning that it is accessible via ActionScript."

The elimination of a search bottleneck that has for years plagued SWF content, which was both more dynamic and more encapsulated than HTML, also bodes well for the rise of Flash video. While the new technology, which runs on the search engine's servers, isn't intended to search Flash Video files, the fact that metadata for a standalone FLV file such as file location and playback size are embedded in the SWF file means that additional indexed information about an on-demand streamed file are available to the search engine.

Google has already rolled out the SWF search feature, with Yahoo promising to follow in a future update of its Yahoo Search engine technology.

"Google has been working hard to improve how we can read and discover SWF files," said Bill Coughran, senior VP of engineering at Google. "Through our recent collaboration with Adobe, we now help website owners that choose to design sites with Adobe Flash software by indexing this content better. Improving how we crawl dynamic content will ultimately enhance the search experience for our users."

This search capability also does not extend to the desktop, for tools like Google Desktop, but that was not completely ruled out for future versions, as Adobe has promised to maintain parity with the search-engine version of the server-side player as it releases updated versions of the Flash desktop player.

When asked about why the Flash SWF search engine technology had not been rolled out by Microsoft's search engine, Adobe representative said they chose to focus on the two biggest search engines for initial rollout but that they plan to offer the technology to many search engine companies.

"The biggest part of this news is for the web developer, though," said Everrett-Church. "To have their content optimized, the web developer who works in Flash has to do absolutely nothing. Since the search engines use the most recent version of the Flash player, all existing content will be indexed with no modifications from the developer. While there might be additional suggestions from the search engine companies in the future on how to additionally optimize SWF content for search engine optimization, Google searches done today will reveal content that was previously considered invisible."

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