Flash & Search Engine Marketing

» Is It Worth It?

The era of Web 2.0 has arrived and we’re all scrambling to become a part of the “web as a platform” movement. The result? Net users now have higher expectations than just a few short years ago.

They’re looking for site blogs to share information, forums where answers are found and the ability to do more than scroll through pages of static text — as exciting as watching b&w television when HD (with surround sound) is today’s standard.

If your site does no more than just sit there, visitors won’t sit there to read through it. If it doesn’t have a bit of sizzle, or perform a useful function for visitors, most site traffic won’t stick around for your latest weekly specials, no matter how low the price.

Search Engine Optimization vs. Smoke and Mirrors
Today, as a successful site owner, you must adopt a two-pronged program to remain successful. First, you have to drive people to the site. Second, you have to get them to stick around long enough to accomplish your MDA — Most Desired Action.

While getting visitors to your site isn’t an exact science, like genetics or mechanics, there are guiding principles and best practices with regard to search engine optimization (SEO). As the major search engine (Google and Yahoo) chip-geeks tweak their search-results-weighting algorithms, SEM strategies adjust accordingly, but still adhere to the myths and facts on how SEs really rank sites. (Is it true that meta tags overstuffed with keywords lower a site’s page rank?)

With some general principles of search engine marketing in mind, and an understanding of the real purpose of a search engine (to deliver the most accurate, relevant SERPs to its users), the latest SEM pros can perform an all-out analysis on everything from keyword density to the HTML title tags on every page of your site (assuming you have title tags on every page). In other words, there is more than smoke and mirrors behind SEO. It works. You can improve your page rank, but what about your conversion rate? Can you get visitors to stick around to perform that MDA you had in mind?

EyeBall Optimization
Sure, you can drive more traffic to your site, but what will visitors find when they get to your pixels? A heap of hard hype? Static clip art? A maze of pages that don’t deliver answers? Today, your site not only needs SEO, it needs EBO — EyeBall Optimization.

The colorful art that festoons the local tattoo parlor walls is called flash in the parlance of the skin and ink biz. It’s the flash that draws in the customers, shows them the goods, and demonstrates the quality of the tattoo artist. It’s called flash for good reason.

So, where’s the flash on your site? Slick Flash animations are becoming more prevalent as more and more web users hook themselves up to the Big Pipe — broadband DSL. Back in the days of dial-up, a 30-second loop of your animated banner took about an hour-and-a-half to download and most of us just couldn’t take the long, slow crawl of the long, blue line. So, we left, and that slick, pricey animation was only enjoyed by the in-laws who thought it was cute.

Flash, in the age of high-speed web access, is no longer just an online dream. In fact, as you bounce around the web, you’ll see these little animations everywhere.

Flash movies and animations are on sites big and small. They’re used for catching the eye of the visitor (Hey, there’s a movie on here!) but they can do much more than dazzle the eye, though let’s not underestimate that benefit.

Flash animations and flicks are eye-catching, but more importantly, they show products in use. This is strong marketing — show the product in use. (Visit any industry trade show for proof of this point.) These mini-cines can also be used to explain and demonstrate key concepts associated with your products or services. In other words, Flash is, indeed, flash, but it’s also educational, instructional and motivational — motivating more of your visitors to become customers.

Gasp! — It Talks!
One of the best features of Flash is its ability to bring sound to your site. Now, instead of putting up some text and hoping visitors understand what they read, Flash enables you to speak directly to the visitor. Filling in the blanks, connecting the dots and closing the sale.

It’s always easier to understand new concepts (new products and services) when you hear about them rather than read about them. It’s just they way most of us learn. So, the audio in your Flash productions is another, powerful selling tool. However, use it wisely.

Some sites run a 30-second sound loop of the same piece of cheesy, rights-free music over and over and over…and over. Nothing — nothing — will send visitors scrambling for their mouses faster and with more desperation than a loop of noxious and obnoxious music. Less is more when it comes to sound — especially in loop form. Avoid like hemorrhagic fever.

Cash for Flash?
You bet. Move it or lose it, as in make it move or lose your customer base. If you only optimize your site for search engines, you just won’t have as many people stick around to get to know you, your products and those wonderful, “low, low, lowest prices on the Net.”

The downside? Sure, Flash is great for EBO, but does virtually nothing for your SEO. In other words, Flash is for human eyes only. The text and other important information contained in your Flash flick are unrecognized by search engines, even if you did spend $500 for that 30-second loop! SEs don’t care. They can’t read text in Flash productions or any other graphics, so you won’t score points with Google, but you will score points with your visitors.

Flash Can Save You Cash!
Let’s say you sell a widget with “some assembly required.” And you find that you’re spending a ton of money on customer service calls from those of us who are ‘assembly-required’ challenged.

It costs a lot more to have a human explain how to insert Tab A into Slot B than it does to develop a Flash animation showing how to put the widget together.

Showing the product in use will also cut down on the costs of processing returns because you’ll have fewer of them. Using Flash animation, buyers can see the widget in operation before the purchase to determine if it’s the right widget for them.

Think of these micro-movies as on-line instructors, demonstrators and money savers. The more you can rely on your site to deliver complete information, the less you’ll spend on customer service and order processing. And, you’ll move a ton more widgets.

Behind the Flash
The key, then, is to develop both an SEO and EBO site, right? Well, thankfully, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, any top-notch site design firm will be able to add lots of SEO text behind the flash, so SEs get the whole picture. Now, some of you are thinking ‘black hat’ site design, right? No, it’s all legit.

Black hat site design includes elements like invisible text — white on white. The visitor can’t see it, but it’s spider food, nonetheless. SEs hate anything that smacks of deceit and rightfully so. These tactics are intended to subvert the mission of the SE — to deliver the highest quality search results. When discovered, these unethical practices drop you like a stone in PR and may get your site banned — the death knell for any online business.

There are licit methods to provide SEs with optimized text that won’t be seen by the visitor. The information presented is useful, not subversive, and so SEs are able to more effectively analyze your site’s purpose and assign an accurate page rank.

Talk to your site designer or webmaster about adding some descriptive, qualifying text behind the flash. Your PR is likely to increase and your conversion rate will go up because more of the ‘right’ people are finding you.

Ahead of the Curve
Within the highly competitive world of e-commerce, would you rather be six months ahead of the curve or six months behind the curve? (Those who answered ‘six months behind’ please leave the room.) Of course. You have to be the first with the latest and the most to keep your PR where you want it to be.

That’s why you and your site designer need to talk about adding more to that static text and those uninspired pix. Depending on the purpose of your site, consider adding some movement and sound to stay ahead of the curve.

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