I recently had a good friend ask me to figure out why her friend’s website was not coming up in Google. After a quick review, the answer was obvious: the site had no text content, it was 100% flash. It also had zero backlinks. There was no reason why Google would rank this site, in fact, it wasn’t even in the Google index at all. It had a splash page, and played the same music on all pages. Which leads me to a familiar theme that keeps running in my head: who should you select to design your website: an Artist or an Engineer?
Ok, so I’m biased because I’m an engineer. Not just someone who calls themselves an engineer, but a real one with an engineering degree. I’ve created concepts, designs, prototypes, tests, and finally production quality products. Engineers might not be the most aesthetically driven sort of folks, but they sure do care about how things work. And websites are not just static pictures that you look at like a painting. They are dynamic. They are part of a living, breathing organic network called the Internet.
Now I agree that websites should be pleasing to look at, after all it’s a visual medium for the most part. They should also be easy for people to use. But the purpose of the internet is the sharing of information.
I typically design websites for small business owners. Not artists, musicians, entertainers or media companies. Small business owners are not in the entertainment industry. Their websites have one main purpose: to get more paying customers. They do this by communicating information about their products and services in a compelling and clear manner.
Artists create art to convey messages, stir emotions and inspire us. They are experts at creating beautiful things. But, they are not driven to create things that DO something. Websites must do many tasks. They need to capture your attention, lead you to perform certain behaviors (like checkout out a shopping cart or filling out a contact form). They must run and get content from a database and serve it to your visitors at lightening fast speeds. They must process credit cards securely. They allow you to create virtual communities by utilizing blogs or forums. They are very, very busy, and anything but static.
And they must be designed in such a way that other people can find them. Do you want your website to be a piece of art that hangs in a museum that no one knows the address of? Or do you want your website to be available to the entire world? Focusing exclusively on what your website looks like, and constructing it entirely of images or Flash, makes your website appear to search engines like a blank page.
Remember what “HTML” stands for? Hyper TEXT Markup Language. TEXT, TEXT, TEXT…it’s about written words. This is how search engines “see” the content on your website. They can’t “see” images, they can’t “see” Flash movies…but boy can they read text!
See how many times this is mentioned on the Google Webmaster Guidelines:
Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
Note they said text links, not images.
Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images.
Again…Google is telling you to use text, not images.
And again…the more plain, regular, standard text, the better.
Still not convinced? Read this article from Google on “Working with Flash, images and other non-text files“. Here’s the very first few sentences (the bold is added by me):
In general, search engines are text based. This means that in order to be crawled and indexed, your content needs to be in text format. This doesn’t mean that you can’t include images, Flash files, videos, and other rich media content on your site; it just means that any content you embed in these files should also be available in text format or it won’t be accessible to search engines.
Why then, given this clearly stated rule, do some web designers still create websites who have literally no content in text? Why do they make websites that are 100% flash, like the one my friend asked me to review?
Perhaps they simply don’t understand how the internet works and have never cared to learn. They are artists at heart and like to make eye candy. Or maybe they know and simply don’t care about whether or not their website customers EVER get any traffic.
Either way, as I’m sure you can tell by now, this annoys me to no end. How someone can call themselves a web designer and take people’s money and then give a 100% flash website that is completely invisible to search engines, not to mention people with visual impairments who rely on text readers, is simply beyond me.
So before you hire your website designer, figure out whether they’re more like an artist, or like an engineer. Do they focus on appearance to the exclusion of functionality? Are they knowledgeable about even the most basic search engine principles? Ask them, and look at the sites in their portfolio. Is there more to it that just shallow surface flashiness? Do their websites WORK for their clients?
Use this handy tool to check out their portfolio – it will show you how a website looks to a Search Engine
1. Enter the exact website address of the page you want to view. (eg. www.iwebtool.com)
2. Enter keywords you want to search for.
3. Click the “Show Me Search Engine Spider View” button.
The results will be displayed the the box below.
Look at what’s in the window above. (If it’s not working, you may have to come back later and try it, the iwebtool.com site that provides this tool is very busy!) What you see is exactly how the page looks to search engine spiders as they crawl over your website. If your website has no or little visible text in this box, then you need to add content that is text…simple as that.
ADDENDUM: To Folks With Flash Sites Who Are Paying For Clicks
For some reason, I’ve been recently contacted by several folks who have 100% Flash websites who are looking for Google AdWords (Pay-Per-Click) consulting. I sent them this article in the hopes that they will understand that while I’m more than happy to help them with AdWords, I also feel that ethically I should tell them about how poorly their websites are performing in Search Engines.
There’s absolutely no reason that people should have to pay for all of their website traffic – search engines like Google are continually trying to find websites that are relevant to what people are searching for. Why have a website that’s designed to be invisible to Google and then turn around and pay Google for traffic? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
So if you have a website that’s Flash, and you’re thinking about Google AdWords or another Pay-Per-Click service, please take a moment to learn/read about Search Engine Optimization – I think it will be well worth your time and possibly enable you to ween yourself off of Pay-Per-Click and attract some free traffic that your competition, who doesn’t have a Flash website, has been getting.Jill
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.