HOW A SMALL, SPECIALIZED TECHNOLOGY MAY BEAT THE GOOGLE GIANT AND HELP VIEWERS SEARCH VIDEO ON YOUR SITE

Nino Del Padre Source: Studio Monthly

Last summer, Adobe announced that it was working with search engine giants such as Google and Yahoo! to improve search results of Flash-based Web sites.

Throughout the land of Web developers, a cheer rose up from the crowd.

I was among the masses, excited at the prospect of improving the searchability of the dynamic, visual sites my company creates.

But then reality set in, and some limitations began to surface. For one, Google does not index any images, video or any other non-textual content. It also fails to execute some types of JavaScript, which most Flash programmers use. In addition, content from external resources loaded by Flash files are not yet considered by Google to be part of the content in that file.

The reality? Virtually every professionally made Flash Web site uses JavaScript to load the Flash content and many programmers use JavaScript Flash Player detection and embed scripts like SWFObject, which can detect the Flash plug-in in all major Web browsers and is search-engine friendly.

While there’s been plenty of talk that support for SWFObject will be rolled out by Google in the near future, we knew we didn’t have time to wait for the giant to make its next move. So we forged our own route, using customized solutions and small-run, open-source technologies, such as SWFAddress. We launched a complete redesign and relaunch of our company Web site, delpadre.com, and thus far, the results are impressive. Google may be a giant, but a shot between the eyes from the little guy can still make an impression.

Site Unseen

The original delpadre.com had served my company, Del Padre Digital, well during its lifespan. Some 65 percent of our projects in the last decade were commissioned by clients who found the business online. What’s more, our site has long been a showcase of just what our firm could do, a preamble to what would be in store for clients.

The new and improved delpadre.com, which went live on June 1, 2008, is a full Flash site that features a fast-loading dynamic project portfolio and full-screen video. Perhaps most important, it’s also fully indexable by Google and other search engines. This is due largely to its use of SWFAddress, an open-source developer tool that provides deep linking — a hyperlink that points to a specific page or image — for Flash and Ajax.

In short, SWFAddress supports the creation of unique, virtual URLs, while also offering a platform for a number of capabilities that are missing from many of today’s Web technologies. Some of its most notable features let viewers:

  •       Bookmark in a browser or social Web site
  •       Send deep links via e-mail or instant messenger
  •       Find specific content through the major search engines
  •       Use browser history and navigation buttons

SWFAddress is the first utility that ties into search engine optimization (SEO). Individual sections of a Flash site can be indexed by Google, giving a visitor a new address with every new page. This lets them use the back button while browsing. Prior to SWFAddress, it was common to hit that back button and end up somewhere you didn’t want to be.

The technology is highly adaptable and can be integrated into many aspects of a Web site, including content management systems (CMS), making updates and maintenance much easier and quicker.

We used the basic implementation of SWFAddress, for example, to generate new Web site addresses on the fly whenever content is added through the CMS. The update is made globally; all of the content for the site is pulled from an external xml database.

If the user does not have the proper version of Flash, or has JavaScript disabled, SWFAddress recognizes what address someone is attempting to go to by serving up the exact same content in valid HTML format for that address.

Simple Gifts

The developers of the three-year-old SWFAddress are Bulgarians Rostislav Hristov and his business partner, Maria Lubenova. In 2004, the duo co-founded Asual, a software and Web development company based in Sofia, Bulgaria. According to Hristov, SWFAddress has become one of Asual’s most popular creations, simply because it lets you do something you couldn’t do before: create Flash Web sites that are both graphically rich and include navigable Flash content that can be bookmarked and recognized using a browser’s back and forward buttons.

“There wasn’t a solid dedicated solution that would allow me to do this so I decided to write one from scratch,” Hristov explains. “I started developing a Flash Web site for a fellow photographer, and I wanted to make it as good as possible. I was working mostly with Ajax at that time, and I already had a good understanding how deep linking for single-page Web sites can be implemented.”

Hirstov drew inspiration and direction from many existing programs on the Internet, blending them into a new solution that was still simple to use for the developer. “It included all the good tricks and solutions that were available on the Internet, which I tried to package in the simplest possible API,” he says. “Our goals for SWFAddress have always been high, and therefore it supports every Action Script language version and development environment.”

SWFAddress is Hristov’s third open-source project, but unlike his previous releases, it shipped under the MIT license, which he says is very marketplace-friendly. “This helped its wide adoption and allowed me to set some standards in this field,” he says.

Quality control is also important to each successive version of the product, he says. “Best practices really depend on the quality of the development team that implements the functionality. Every release of SWFAddress brings interesting new features, and it’s always exciting to see a site that takes advantage of them. The perfect example uses deep linking in a way that makes sense. It should also be dynamic, so that the content can be easily exposed to search engines, and it should be integrated with a statistical tracking system.”

I was happy to hear that Hristov thinks we’ve brought this high level of implementation to our site. In fact, he called it one of the best uses of SWFAddress since the program’s inception. I asked him why he thinks SWFAddress worked so well for us. Clean design, usable navigation and unobstrusive Flash effects are the main reasons, he says. The other key to implementing the tool well is to use naming conventions and integration tools properly from the beginning of development. “Lots of people just can’t understand how this indexing for deep linking works,” he adds. “Using the right naming conventions and features, even providing integration with popular social networks, is one of the most important things you can do from the start. It’s almost impossible to add such functionality to an existing Web site.”

The fact that we developed our new site from scratch certainly gave us an edge. We will continue in the fight for adequate Flash-site indexing, and SWFAddress is one of our sharpest weapons. Hristov himself refers to the technology as “small but powerful,” and that’s exactly what we need to keep our services out there in front of prospective clients.

For more information about Flash Search Engine Optimization, go to http://www.delpadre.com