QUESTION: I have just started my own design company and although very well trained in both designing and programming, earning two associate degrees in this field, not one professor ever said anything about making your websites search engine friendly. I recently designed a website for my sister and i cannot even get her site to show up in any search engine. I have several keywords at the top including a description as well. one problem may be that the index page is sort of a splash page except it is just a handler that detects whether or not the user has flash installed and whether or not they have the bandwidth to view the flash page accurately. it then redirects them to a new page based on the feedback. therefore, there is no real content on the index page. Another possible problem is that she is mentioned on hundreds of other websites. do you have any suggestions for me? Any advice would help. — Laura P.

ANSWER: As with most questions I receive I could use more information to be certain I am providing an insightful answer. That said, it sounds to me like your design has shut the door to the search engines or in the very least made their task of indexing content more difficult.

Unfortunately Splash pages are extremely search engine unfriendly; especially when they are designed to redirect users to specific content. There are different ways that the design put in place could be hurting results. For example, a search engine spider may be less than happy that you are redirecting it to what appears to be different content (it could look like cloaking) but this one is an unlikely scenario (because search engines tend to be more intelligent these days). On the other hand, the search engine spiders may not have a problem at all with the redirect but the addition of extra steps to reach content never helps rankings.

So what is the solution to this issue? There are a couple ways to fix this and they all vary in the work involved. I will start with the best solution and work my way down.

  1. Flash Integration: I know I am going to get some nasty looks from Flash designers but I honestly feel that Flash is best integrated within HTML. This is especially true if the site in question is concerned about obtaining rankings. So the best way to fix this whole problem is to combine the content with the Flash. In this situation the Flash would appear within the content like images do on a standard HTML page. I realize this will be a load of work but I believe the pay off is substantial; the slick benefits of multimedia with the ranking benefits of spiderable content.
  2. Improve Spider Accessibility: Another option is to remove a step and simply have the Flash option available immediately, continue to automate the detection process but add a final option at the bottom of the page which would be a textual link to the sitemap of the HTML version. By offering a link to an HTML sitemap you provide the search engines with second level access to a page that can access every page within the HTML version of the site. This will improve the search engine friendliness of your website considerably.

    In addition, I recommend adding a Google Sitemap and submitting it to Google using Webmaster Central. Here is a link to a Google sitemap tutorial written by StepForth’s Senior SEO, Scott Van Achte.

    Note: it would be to your benefit to offer a prominent link somewhere on the page for users to go directly to the HTML format if they wish.

  3. Working With What You Have: The final option I recommend is to provide content on the splash page (essentially your home page) by way of an introduction. Make the introduction at least one sizable paragraph and ensure that your target phrase appears a couple times within it. Then offer the two options, Flash or HTML for users to choose from thus removing the automation script. Now the home page will actually have some optimized content and you still provide visitors with the two media options.

I hope this helps. Honestly the more I think about the question the more additional options come to mind but I think I have provided some helpful suggestions above. Please let me know how it works out Laura.