SEO is all about visibility
I visit websites for a lot of different reasons - potential new client for MidBoh, possible link exchange candidate for one of our clients or just surfing the net. In any event, when I see a new site I usually can't help casting a quick, professional eye over it. Is there something positive I can learn or a pitfall I can avoid? If I look deep enough I often find something interesting. Some research I was doing for one of our clients led me to a website worth discussing on these pages.
At first glance there was nothing special - a Flash script header that incorporated the primary navigation. That is unfortunately too common but not significant. (You can read some of my thoughts about Flash on my Is Flash safe to use in the context of SEO? page.) Clicking one of the menu options updated the visible content but the URL didn't update. My immediate thought was the site used Frames (masking the URL is a very common symptom of Frames). So I checked the page source but found no trace of Frames. So what's going on?
"Flash ... Ahaaa ... He'll save everyone of us!" :: Sorry! Not today, he won't
Then I needed to know what Google and the other search engines thought of the site. One of the special search strings we use to see what Google knows about a website is this - site:website-of-interest.com.au. When used at Google and Yahoo, it will list the pages they know about, the page titles and the default "snippet" (the text shown as part of its results). In this case, Google listed the home page and the Flash script, while Yahoo listed only the home page, but with no snippet. As far as Google and Yahoo are concerned the other "pages" don't exist. MSN doesn't know about the site at all, but that is probably another story again.
I mentioned earlier Google knows about the Flash script. Despite that sounding like a good thing, this will NOT reduce the problems here. Let me try to explain. Google is always looking for links to other sites, pages, images and even Flash scripts. In this case, it found the Flash script and included it in its index. When you follow the link to the Flash script, it is loaded in isolation. It displays the header image and the navigation options, but nothing else. As the necessary HTML structure is missing, the content for the secondary pages cannot be loaded. Now the visitor has a browser window dominated by the Flash script showing a menu that does nothing. How long would you keep trying to work a menu that refuses to co-operate, before returning to Google to find some other site with an interface that actually works? If I wasn't trying to work out what was going on I would have been gone after the third frustrating click. In reality this may be an academic question. The site is unlikely to be found in a search result position anyone will reach.
The usual quick fix for bad navigation is to add a sitemap to ensure the search engines can find every page. That won't work here because they can't see the other pages. The only HTML page on the site is the home page.
While there may be multiple options to correct this situation, I think the major choices are
Here's another thought. How will this site track visitors to its pages? I don't know enough about Flash to be sure, but as I understand it Flash is a client side scripting language, so it won't have the authority to write to a log file on the server. It may be able to write to the visitor's local hard disk but that's useless as far as the website is concerned.
I think the use of Flash in this way is very innovative. Someone needs a pat on the back for creativity. Unfortunately, I don't think a pat on the back is warranted for the detrimental effect this ineffective solution may have on the website. I wonder how much the customer paid for the privilege of a "solution" I consider at best experimental and at worst a lemon and what it will cost in terms of missed opportunity over the next few years. The cost to create the site was probably at least as much as it will cost to undo the damage. The long term cost of this implementation is difficult to predict.
This situation asks more questions than I have answers at the moment. Call me foolish but I would still love to hear your questions. You can contact me by visiting the MidBoh Contact Us page.