Despite What Google Says, Flash, Dupe Content And URLs Are Still Major SEO Issues

In recent weeks and months, the Google Webmaster Central blog has featured several posts that de-emphasize the risks and impact of various well-known and accepted search obstacles.  Among them, they say that Flash is now fully search-engine friendly.  Google has said that there is no "penalty" for duplicate content.  And yesterday, the company recommended that Webmasters should not rewrite dynamic URLs, suggesting that it might not be a legitimate tactic.  Unfortunately, the perceptions generated from these blog posts (along with the subsequent blog buzz) are creating more confusion about natural search optimization, rather than helping to clarify best practices. Today I want to apply a bit of critical thinking to help those who may tend to just scan the headlines, and are being led to believe that all of the above statements are totally true and should be abided by, because I disagree with Google's blog posters on all of the above points.  

Below is my response to those who believe that Google's latest statements are correct. 



Duplicate content can still decrease performance in various search metrics if not managed properly. In its blog post, Google wanted to clarify that there is no "penalty" for duplicate content. To be fair, Google has published quite a few articles about the impact of duplicate content; unfortunately, most people will only remember the title of the most recent post -- that there is no penalty. The fact is that duplicate content can be a major issue if not managed properly, contrary to what is implied.  While it seems that Google does not like the term "penalized," whether or not your pages "disappear," are "ignored,"  or are "penalized" is a matter of semantics, and doesn't diminish the importance of understanding the problem.  There is a scale of acceptable internal and external duplicate content that should always be considered, particularly in the context of factors such as domain authority and inbound links, in order to determine if it is posing a liability to search performance.  The impression that there is no impact from duplicate content is simply not correct. This is especially important to remember when duplicate content is being considered as a best practice for optimizing for all engines, not just Google. 

Flash is still not fully search-friendly without balancing natural search optimization practices, nor is it an equivalent to HTML in terms of search performance.  While the late June / early July announcements from Google and Adobe were a step in the right direction, the fact is that Flash is still not an out-of-the-box, search-engine friendly solution, and other natural search optimization best practices still apply.  While Google may have improved its Flash crawling and indexing ability, I would make the argument that there is now a greater risk of losing search value for Flash developers than ever before, due to the wave of blog posts and news about Flash being "search-friendly."   The perception among many Flash designers and marketers who lack a basic understanding of natural search is that they no longer have to worry about natural search optimization.  This perception couldn't be any further from the truth. 

URL rewriting is a legitimate tactic for Web development, usability and search.   While the Google bloggers may have been trying to alleviate concerns for those relying on outdated information, they ultimately made a recommendation not to rewrite URLs.  At the end of the day, Google is a search engine, and when they make recommendations to Web developers and designers, the search optimization aspect is implied.  The fact is that rewritten URLs look cleaner and are more intuitive for users, they can help simplify a path for search crawlers, and can also display relevant keywords that can help reinforce page content and themes in a way that would have impact in multiple search engines.   Ironically, even Google is rewriting URLs on the very blog post that recommends against it. 

Don't optimize just for Google -- optimize for all engines.
As I've mentioned above, Google isn't the only search engine in town, and a good holistic SEO strategy also takes into consideration Yahoo and MSN Live (at the very least).  I can't recall a single time when I have recommended that a client should only optimize for one engine over the other.  Keep in mind that Google's advice most often only applies to its own results.  Yahoo and MSN have a substantial share of market. And don't forget that there is actually a long tail of search engines.  Going the extra mile to ensure that Flash is optimized, that duplicate content strategy is sound, and that clean, intuitive, and crawlable URLs are implemented, will improve overall search performance across multiple engines. 

Listen to what Google says, but put even more weight in engine-agnostic assessment for the benefit of a holistic program.
Overall, the Google team has done an outstanding job of outreach to Webmasters in the form of speaking at conferences, participating on popular Web master forums, blogging and talking in person.  Undeniably, they've done this better than any other engine.  Hopefully this column will reinforce the importance of having an engine-agnostic agency, consultant, or in-house search optimizer/marketer to help sort out these types of issues in a way that benefits search presence across multiple engines, in addition to weighing in on what Google says.  Because if you or your search marketer/agency/consultant believes that the Google points above are wholly true, then your natural search program may be in deep trouble.
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