All-Flash A Fast Track to Failure

This article explains how Flash can kill a business Website, but rest assured it’s not an anti-Flash rant!

Flash has a definite and, most likely, permanent place in the Web designer’s toolbox. But, used without careful thought and consideration, Flash can mean the death of your online venture! I should mention up-front that I’m talking about all-Flash sites — while a site built entirely in Flash might be ok for some purposes (for example an online portfolio), for a business site, it’s a real killer!

What’s the Problem?

So what exactly is the problem with an all-Flash business site?

  • Usability takes a tumble
  • Accessibility dies
  • Modem users suffer, and
  • Search engines don’t index Flash files!

These problems arise mainly when inexperienced or negligent developers attempt to create the abominable all-Flash site. One big Flash file for a 10-20 page site? Yech! So let’s take a look at these points one by one.

Usability Issues

If you design Websites for a living, then you’ll know that the concept of usability is often lost on the client. But it’s never lost on that client’s visitors!

Your average surfer is a simple beast:

  • He wants information
  • He wants in now, and
  • He doesn’t want to have to jump through hoops to get it

If a Website is made overly complex through the use of Flash navigation systems, long introduction animations, or useless effects you’ll lose potential buyers in droves. So if your Website is one giant Flash file, it’s on the ropes before you even publish it.

Usually, the only people who are impressed by excessive Flash content are the designer and the poor fool he’s working for. To think of this another way: why don’t you see Flash menus and effects on Amazon? Because this kind of content would only keep users away from the site’s purpose — convincing people to buy.

Accessibility Issues

Remember we’re talking about the all-Flash site here. To anyone with needs that require text resizing, screen reading, etc., your Flash content is useless.

Okay, if you’re selling a highly visual product to a Web savvy, younger audience with 90% DSL Internet access, then go ahead. But if you’re selling anything else, who’s to say that your products aren’t of interest to other, less technologically-advanced groups? Do you really want to deny access to these users (who are, of course, potential customers)?

There is nothing accessible about the all-Flash site!

Modem Issues

That’s right pal: not everyone has a super high-speed DSL connection. In fact, most people still use a 56k modem.

How do you surf when you’re looking for information? I don’t even give the Flash sites a look-in. I’ll click through a list of search results until I hit a page that grabs me immediately by presenting the exact content I’m after right away!

The Web is about information. Users don’t give a darn about the graphical aspects of the average business Website: they want your content!

And if you don’t give it to them immediately, someone else will.

Search Engine Indexing Issues

Need traffic for your all-Flash Website? Forget it. Unless you want to get spammy with your site and the search engines, and run the risk of being reported by a competitor or tripping a spam filter, you’re doomed.

HTML is a content medium — search engines pick up HTML just fine. Flash is a graphics medium, and should be used for …er… graphical content!

The indexing of Flash files is incomplete at best, and is still a shady, unexplored area. This means that all that hard work, or if you’re the client, all that cash, is probably for nothing.

If you are faced with the task of optimizing an all-Flash Website, then currently the best way forward is to develop an alternate HTML Website. Have the home page run as a loading page for the Flash site with a prominent link to the alternate HTML version.

Just for your information, someone I recently spoke to who implemented this solution reports that between 70% and 80% of users click the HTML link on average. Says it all, really!

Who’s To Blame?

So who’s fault are the problems around Flash usage on business sites? Do the issues arise because Flash as a medium is inappropriate, or because the designer has misappropriated the technology for the wrong purpose?

The overall feeling of most Web professionals today is that excessive use of Flash in general, and more specifically, the use of the technology on business sites, is most definitely not the fault of Flash itself.

The problems lie in the fact that Flash, like many other Web technologies, is a fairly simple tool for the "have a go" amateur to "cobble something together" with.

However, dedicated Flash designers tell me that, like many Web technologies (such as scripting languages like PHP and ASP), Flash really takes years to master.

Dedication, experience and an understanding of the Flash medium enables designers to use it very effectively and efficiently to enhance a Website’s overall look and feel, and communicate particular messages.

Thus the "My friend knows Flash" approach for a business Website whose primary purpose is to serve information and attract customers is a killer every time.

When Flash Is OK…

As I said earlier, Flash is not a bad tool, it just needs to be used in the right way, preferably by a talented and experienced Flash designer.

Good uses of Flash for business Websites would include:

Visual product explanations

Used to describe the workings of a product, or in visual help explanations, Flash can be really useful.

Interactive maps and diagrams

Flash can be advantageous in sites that require highly visual content, such as real estate sites. Here, a walk through of a blue-print or site diagram could be most helpful to prospective clients.

Non-essential enhancements

Flash can be useful in the creation of extras such as logos, teasers and small effects purely for visual enhancement — provided restraint is exercised.

Don’t Let Flash Kill Your Business Site

Well, probably the most important thing that we, as site owners, developers and designers should pay heed to, is the fact that Flash may be easy to learn, but it requires a dedicated professional to implement it effectively.

Also, keep in mind that the all-Flash business site is usually a nightmare for both users and search engines, and that you should always provide HTML if you really must go this route.

Flash is not a great medium for textual content: you wouldn’t put all your text in gifs, so don’t put all your written content in Flash!

And finally… used sparingly and thoughtfully, Flash can really give a Website that polished, professional look. But, used by amateurs, or negligent designers, it really can kill your business Website.

Remember, your business site’s not for you, it’s for your users!

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