As any SEO will tell you, or nearly any web designer with the slightest knowledge about the behavior of search engine spiders, designing a site entirely in flash is a recipe for disaster. As search engines become more sophisticated, the game of search engine optimization has become more complex….indeed, the process of becoming a highly ranked site has become quite a complex task. But at the most basic level, sites designed in flash are essentially invisible to search engines. A large component of determining the relevancy of a site by a search engine spider lies in the spiderability (ability of the spider to crawl) of high quality, keyword rich content. In the car industry, there are literally thousands of keywords that can be built into a website to dramatically increase traffic. In west palm beach alone, the location of a used car dealership I am currently in the process of optimizing for, there are literally hundreds of car related keywords which can be used to pull new traffic. This means that any new content that can be built into the site, any content which contains keywords that customers may be searching for, is content that can and should be seen by the search engines. It is content that should make it onto the web. If this content is presented in flash, however, it will never be indexed, and will therefore provide absolutely no value to ranking goals of the site. The bottom line is:

2.) Duplicate Content

For those sites not built entirely in flash, an even more ominous problem is usually lurking. Duplicate content is abhorred by search engines. As many may know, a great deal of keyword rich spam sites are generated dynamically through scripts that scrape the internet for content that is likely to be searched for by the general public. With a strategy designed to create revenue through volume, huge spam networks have been created (thousands of sites have been generated) by scraping or stealing content from legitimate websites. As a result, search engines approach duplicate content through a process known as canonicalization. What this means is the the search engines look at sites containing duplicate content and make a judgment about which site best represents the content contained on all of the sites. Whichever website is chosen as the most relevant for the content it contains then becomes the only site that is given any weight by the search engines and all other sites are completely devalued…or de-listed. To illustrate how extensive this problem is, visit any site. Then examine any non-flash content, choose a text string (perhaps a piece of text from the about us section), and enter that text into Google or yahoo with quotes around it. The results are astounding. Google has crawled literally thousands of pages created by that contain the exact same content. In fact, almost every page created by that is in the slightest bit search engine friendly (meaning it was at the very least not built in flash), is keyword content that belongs to hundreds of pages already on the net. The bottom line is:

Many Dealer Websites do great harm to themselves by having their only spiderable content be content that exists in duplicate on the pages of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of similar sites.

Any site containing non-original content will very likely be heavily penalized in the SERPS (search engine result pages), or will be de-listed altogether.

3.)Hidden Sitemaps and Links

One of the primary ways to garauntee that a site will be completely indexed (all pages will be crawled and included in the SERPS) is to include a sitemap on index pages or main pages that are sure to be crawled. A sitemap is essentially a list of links to all of the pages on the site, organized in an organized fashion. The inclusion of sitemaps is seen by many seo’s as essential, and is a step many dealer website have taken in the right direction with regard to designing sites that have a chance to rank well. What they do wrong in this regard is the inclusion of sitemaps whose links are either a.) Hidden Behind Flash Movies or b.) Hidden using CSS. Hiding text behind a flash movie is fairly easy considering Flash typically floats above any site content when properly positioned, and is desirably for many designers wishing to create a seamless and immersive flash experience for their visitors. This has largely been the goal of many dealer designers such as BZ results. While often beautifully designed, the templates set up by such companies are often designed in such a way that links, sitemaps, and often keyword rich text is hidden from human eyes in an attempt to lure search engine spiders into indexing deeper pages. This type of design trick may have been a work around solution in the past, but it has become a major no-no in the SEO world. A basic rule of thumb is that search engine spiders have a great aversion to any attempts at trickery. This means that if you have hidden content on your site, whether it be links to other pages or just text, you will be penalized in the SERPS, or de-listed. Search engines see hidden content as an attempt to trick search engines into thinking a page is about something other than is being showed to that site’s visitors. As you can imagine, in the eyes of a search engine, this makes such a site irrelevant to all search terms. The bottom line is:

4.)Heavy Reliance on Meta Tags

In the early days of the internet, much less sophisticated techniques were needed to deliver very high quality search results to users. As the net became a place where revenue was considered by many to be directly related to traffic volume, sites hungry for profit began to use the system in place to deliver more and more traffic. In the past, search engines used what are known as meta tags to determine what a site was about, and therefore what types of searches it should be shown for. Meta tags are basically tags written in the head of HTML documents that contain a list of keywords relevant to the site (as determined by the webmaster), as well as a description of the site. This information was once the primary method for determining relevancy in the SERPS. Due to misuse, however, the use of meta tags has become nearly obsolete. Unfortunately, many dealer websites have not kept up with the times, and still rely on meta tags as one of the only ways they inform search engines of their content. This is usually done with a very large list of words in the “keyword” metatag. This type of optimization can be seen by examining the source code of any, bz results, reynolds & reynolds, or cobalt site. What is even more disturbing is that the keywords in these meta tags are often the most general and therefore some of the most competitive keywords in the industry. As a poignant example, my current client’s old site did not contain the words “west palm beach” or “used cars” in its keyword list. These keywords were the most important keywords for driving traffic to this site. Instead, chose to include in its keywords a list of every car manufacturer in the world….even though my client rarely sells a number of these brands. Additionally, for the local keywords that were included, there were major spelling errors that in this case held absolutely no value for my client.