Search SWF – Missing Link

One of the weakness of Flash was the fact that search engines did not index SWF very well. This “missing link” was that indexing SWF was not easily possible. In the past only static textand links were indexed but to be honest – no serious Flash application works with static content. The problem was how to access the dynamic content because all Flash apps are coded differently and use trillions of different techniques to load external data. So the only one who can access all parts of a SWF is the Flash Player itself. For that reason Adobe developed a special headless version which runs on the server.

Mark Anders describes it like this:

“So what we’ve done is to enable the search engines to actually run the app just as an end user would. They can not only run it and see the information that’s displayed, including data dynamically loaded from the network, but can interact with it as well, pressing on buttons and links to interact with the app and explore all of is content.

To enable this we have created a special version of the Flash player that is designed to run on the server as part of the indexing process. As the code executes, there are special API that notify the search engine when something changes and that allow inspection of the textual and other data that would be displayed to the user.

There are other API that enumerate links and allow the indexer to instruct the player to simulate a “click” on various objects that are displayed. In this way, the indexer can navigate the running app.”

This new technology was developed together search industry leaders Google and Yahoo! and Google is rolling out this today! The nice thing is that SWFs do not have to be changed so all existing SWFs are ready to be indexed.

Justin Everett-Church:

“All of this is going on now! Google is already in progress with spidering SWF content through the new system. Over the next weeks and months, you should see some pretty significant impact on the indicies as SWF content is made a first-class citizen for searchability”

More links:

6 comments to Search SWF – Missing Link

  • Hey Sonke, from what I could ascertain from the Google post on the subject, we are not quiet there with the dynamic content yet :S I was hoping too…

    From the post:
    Q: What are the current technical limitations of Google’s ability to index Flash?
    There are three main limitations at present, and we are already working on resolving them:

    2. We currently do not attach content from external resources that are loaded by your Flash files. If your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, another SWF file, etc., Google will separately index that resource, but it will not yet be considered to be part of the content in your Flash file.

    So that’s a bit of pain… Google will list your XML resource in the search results, but not your website. Although the fact that they said they are making progress on the issue is great sign :)

  • Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment. I must say that I thought this would already work. What happens for instance with dynamic content which is loaded via remoting. This can not be listed as a seperate search result. Anyway, let’s wait when the first results pop up in Google and SEO best practices will come and hopefully the XML, HTML and SWF thing is also a matter of time.

  • Yeah, I would have figured by the way that they describe there custom flash player worked that it would have just read the content as it sees it. And yeah, what about serialized content, or SWX content or anything else?

    I am intensely curious to see how results get listed though, how they choose to reference pages that are not deep linked and so forth.

    Be sure to post an update on what you find out for us all!

  • […] In the past only static textand links were indexed but to be honest – no serious Flash appli the Wire – AlterNetMore from Peter Kafka&39s June 26 piece: What are semantic search engines, […]

  • Andrew, if you want more details about what is index check out the video interview with justin everett-church: