Adobe Flash and SEO

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Due to the rise of mobile browsers, and the fact that Adobe Flash isn’t licensed for most mobile browsers, I have been advising all webmasters to immediately remove any Flash from their pages, and use a more suitable technology such as HTML5.

A Brief History of Flash

Flash originated in the mid-1990’s as a method of developing desktop computer animation. After a number of acquisitions and mergers the technology began appearing on websites in the 2000’s. In 2005 YouTube, as a startup, used Flash to present videos on the web. That same year Macromedia, then the publisher of Flash, was acquired by Adobe. By 2007 there was already a movement to adopt HTML5, because Adobe did not license Flash to Apple for its new iPhone and iPad products.

Flash Technology

Flash is an application framework for building rich Internet applications. Flash on the web required the user of non-standard HTML markup, or JavaScript to insert an animated object in a page. The user also had to have a Flash player (plugin) installed on their browser.

Because Flash incorporates a Turing complete programming language called ActionScript, there is no way to automatically verify the security of a Flash download. This lead to numerous security breaches. By 2014 Flash was in rapid decline.

During the hayday of Flash we used a search engine friendly JavaScript program called SWFobject to replace search engine indexable static content with Flash animation. This process was called progressive enhancement. The result was content that achieved search engine optimization, while also being available to the user as rich content.

At first many SEO practitioners were concerned that progressive enhancement could be viewed as a black hat technique called cloaking. Google publicly commented that SWFobject was acceptable as long as the content being replaced was equivalent to what was displayed via Flash. Google eventually hosted the SWFobject project.

What to Do About Existing Flash

If you have Flash on your website, now is the time to replaced it with mobile-friendly, secure code. HTML5 has features that support animation and interactivity, and because it is open source (or open specification), there is a large community of developers who watch for security holes and patch them.

About the Author

After graduating from Yale with two degrees in Computer Science, Jonathan Hochman set up his own consulting company in 1990. He has been an Internet marketer since 1994.