I almost called this article "Are RIA’s SEO Friendly?" but quickly realized that is far too many acronyms for one title. The nice thing about this topic is that it is a cross-section of two things our company specializes in: rich Internet application development and search engine optimization, particularly website conversion rate optimization.
As part of solid user experience design, many development companies (even ourselves) will recommend incorporation of either Flash™ or Silverlight™ into your website development. But because these are so often visually and not textually-based, are RIAs at odds with SEO goals? They can be if you do not take the right steps and know how to leverage them.
So what is one to do? Let’s walk you through each development tool and what the steps are to optimize each for your conversion goals.
The reason that websites entirely encoded in Flash can be problematic for search visibility is because there is a lack of links for the search engine crawlers (bots) to follow or HTML text to copy. Noting the difficulty that many were having with Flash search-friendliness, Google™ improved indexing of Flash files by making Flash files crawl-able. They did this by starting to index the SWF (Shock Wave Files) that encapsulate many Flash websites. This means that all of the content that your users can see, including buttons, menus and clickable links will be index-able.
So how can I improve the visibility of my Flash elements?
As happens often with the SEO world, everything goes back to keywords. Identify your top-performing keywords and working to incorporate those into your SWF files and the textual elements that your website users see. There is always an artistic balance to incorporating keywords without it looking like you are keyword stuffing, but identifying 1-3 keywords to incorporate into relevant RIA files and visual elements will not only help you improve its index-ability but also its relevance to the user.
Because Silverlight came to the market a bit later than Flash, it got somewhat of a head start in terms of search-friendliness. It has really begun to pick up speed in terms of its usage and technical capability, so it is definitely worth considering not only for RIA development, but also knowing the best practices and benefits it provides for search engine optimization.
How do I optimize my HTML for best results?
The benefit of Silverlight is that it allows HTML to ‘nest’ within the Silverlight code. Since HTML is what the bots crawl, this is extremely good news for your search efforts. This means that you have the ability to optimize your meta, title, keyword, image and alt tags with solid keywords. Going about optimizing your HTML for RIA applications with Silverlight is the same as doing it for regular development. This means picking relevant keywords for the meta and title tags.
Because there are other scenarios where users might not be able to access the Silverlight content (Opera/Lynx browsers, Users who do not have Silverlight installed), it is important to not rely solely on the HTML content within the RIA application, but rather leveraging other items from the SEO toolbox. Another way to do this is to specify alternate content with an object tag. For websites or applications that are purely Silverlight, this is the way to go. Microsoft has a great white paper with the exact code to help you accomplish this goal.
Working with an RIA development Consultant
The best thing that you can do when you have identified RIA development as your next step is to find a developer that not only can handle the creation of the application, but has in-house specialists who understand and can guide the development for optimization. If you have a current relationship with a development company, make sure that you let them know how to optimize your application. While they can optimize the overall user experience for your site, you may be taking a hit on your visibility.
This is where our team comes in handy. I stated earlier that these two services are at the forefront of what Amadeus Consulting does. Please contact our RIA development and search visibility team to find out more about how we can create searchable and meaningful applications for your company.
Stay tuned for a follow-up discussion on RIA/SEO best practices when we discuss other elements of rich interactivity: Video and Images.