March 4, 2008

That Great Big Sexy Mistake: 5 Reasons Not To Use Flash

Supermodel photo by Jose Miguel SerranoA Flash-based website is like a supermodel date: awesome to look at, but after a while, you’ll just want someone who can carry on a conversation…*

For all the non-geeks reading this, Flash is a multimedia programming language for building websites. It enables some amazing functions, such as video integration, games, and other interactivity that works in all browsers. And when a friend shows you a “cool” site, it’s probably Flash-driven.

But most designers use Flash simply to add animation and slick graphics — what I call “Flashturbation” — and in marketing terms that’s usually a mistake…

1. Flash is difficult and expensive to program. Not only will it cost you more time and money to build a Flash website than a basic website, it will also cost you more time and money to update it. Your average intern might know basic HTML (today’s kids learn how to program before they can walk), but not Flash.

So Flash makes sense for movie sites, which are not frequently updated (and despite what they tell the writers, movie studios are loaded). But if your site is, say, a news or e-commerce site, designing it in Flash would not be financially sensible. In fact, it would be borderline psychotic. You’re better off using that money to buy more ads.

2. Surfers have to download a Flash plug-in to view your site. Most savvy surfers already have Flash installed on their browsers. But many of my foreign business students, for example, did not even know about it.

3. Flash cannot be bookmarked. Your readers can’t bookmark a particular page on your Flash-driven website, nor can you send them a link to a certain section. You just have to email them something like, “Go to the homepage, and under the Products menu, click Specials, and in there, on the far right, hit the button that takes you to the Exclusives Collection, and from there… oh never mind, I’ll just tell you what we’ve got for sale.”

As a blogger, it bugs me that I can’t link to sub-pages of Flash-driven sites that I discuss — and if your site ain’t blogger friendly, you’re so not Marketing 2.0.

4. Flash cannot be printed. In order for a page to be printable, you have to program an entire printing function (more time and money). Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

5. Flash is not search-engine friendly.
Google and other search engines cannot see the words in a Flash-driven site. This is a critical point in this day and age, where getting a good Google response is the basis of a multi-million-dollar industry.

Yes, you can add metatags and metatext, which are words hidden in a website’s coding to attract search-engines. And that was fine until webmasters started adding metatags that had nothing to do with their sites — you know, like using the word “supermodel” in an article about website programming. At least here on this non-Flash site, the gratuitous pandering is visible and honest. Google reportedly blacklists sites that abuse metatags and metatext, but to keep people from gaming its system, the search giant doesn’t explain the exact difference between using and abusing. (Gee, Google, how very Hollywood of you.)

Now one of the benefits of blogging is that it produces a lot of words that turn up on search engines. (You didn’t think I blog for the big bucks, did you?) I wrote an earlier article describing how my name dropping helps attract readers to Cool Rules Pronto. In just two months I’ve had nearly 100 people find my small obscure blog through various searches, and I didn’t buy a single keyword. That would not have been possible had my blog been in Flash.

And yet, you’ll find both large corporate sites and small agency sites designed entirely in Flash. In my article on Blue Moon brewing company, I noted that even Blue Moon’s blog was done in Flash. Talk about time and expense! (Of course, whatever wastes the money of Blue Moon’s parent company, Coors, makes me happy.) None of those words they blog will ever show up on a single search engine.

Granted, a giant beer company has other means of driving people to their website — unless they’re Blue Moon and neglect to put their web address in their ads. But small companies with limited marketing budgets are blowing a lot of search opportunities just for the sake of a little animation. Indeed, it amazes me how many ad agencies build their sites entirely in Flash. They want to show that they have style, but it makes me question how much substance is in their thinking.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s why my Atomic Tango site is entirely Flash free. It’s definitely not as snazzy as the sites of my competitors, but I don’t hear many of them generating a massive buzz based on their looks.

So if you’re planning to use Flash simply for aesthetic reasons, my professional recommendation is to not bother. After all, what’s the use of looking like a supermodel if no one ever sees you?

*Note: this author has zero experience dating supermodels. Indeed, author has never been within one mile of a supermodel. At least to his knowledge. And should he ever meet a supermodel, he hopes she’ll realize that he wrote this sentence strictly for illustrative and entertainment purposes. No offense. Author simply believes supermodels make for great article leads, particularly for articles about subjects as riveting as web programming languages. So it’s kind of a compliment. Really. And because he’s never dated supermodels, mocking them gives him a false sense of superiority. In actuality, supermodels are probably just as interesting, or perhaps more so, than marketing bloggers.

Gratuitous supermodel photo by Jose Miguel Serrano through Creative Commons.

Update 3/5/8: Someone out there just found this article by searching the word “supermodel.” Ha!

Related Article: You Can Lead a Horse to Water But… The Limitations of SEO

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

11 Responses

  1. WOW, you got my Texanisms DOWN! That totally sounded like me, just without the accent (what accent?)

    I’m thinking Mrs. CoolRulesPronto may take offense to the never-dated-a-supermodel reference. Haha.

    RE Name dropping – totally helps me with my blog. I reported that Maria Sharapova bought an apt in Israel and have gotten dozens of views just from that!

  2. Says Mrs. CoolRulesPronto: “Freddy could never get a date with a supermodel, so I’m not worried.”

  3. We just did a job with Maria Sharapova. Does mentioning that drive more people to your page? :-)

  4. I hope so. Can you provide some pictures and videos, too?

  5. Mrs. CoolRulesPronto – I haven’t seen you in almost a year, but you’re looking a lot like Mr. CoolRulesPronto nowadays.

  6. How funny: I am one of those people who found your “small obscure blog through various searches” – “google flash driven site” was my search. I was looking to share, with a potential client, why a flash driven site would not rank well in google. So, thanks for the fun and informative article – I’ll definitely return to read more, but right now, I have to share your ‘direct link’ with my prospective client!

    Bethany
    http://UniqueThink.com

  7. No offense, but most of these arguments are dated.

    Freddy’s Comment: I do appreciate the updates, since this article was written in March 2008.

    1.) Flash/Flex can use XML for page content, nav, etc. Which means, any server side language can update it. There are other ways to connect the flash player to dataservice as well.

    I can develop an Flash app in half the time as most people take with JS. Not to mention, if I build once, it works the same everywhere. If you build in JS, you have to trouble shoot browsers.

    2.) Most users over 98% have flash player. Some foreign country’s developers are creating amazing sites in flash.

    Freddy’s Comment: No question about that. But I still have to tell most of my students in the developing world to install Flash.

    3.) This is sort of out dated. Since AS2 in Flash MX 2004 developers have been able to program back button functionality, while most designers don’t, it has been possible. Flex has this natively built in.

    As for the blogger nation there are over 120 million blogs, and no one reads blogs anymore. Well, designers/developers do, but ask people who aren’t in the web biz, and most of them will tell you no, they don’t. Google doesn’t look at blogs for inbound links anymore either, so search engine wise, kind of a no point.

    Freddy’s Comment: No one reads blogs anymore? Where’d you get that info? Better tell that to Michael Arrington and Arianna Huffington, etc. (And you do realize the irony of your saying this on a post I wrote over a year ago.) Indeed, my readership is growing, and not just among designers/developers.

    4.) I have never heard of this. Something I will have to try.

    5.) Google can and does index flash content. http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/06/improved-flash-indexing.html it also says that “Googlebot does not execute some types of JavaScript.”

    Freddy’s Comment: Interesting — but is that true of other search engines, like Yahoo and Bing? Google may be the biggest, but it’s not the only one out there.

    Hmm… Funny too that every flash site I have built, shows up as number one for their keywords.

    Freddy’s Comment: That makes you not only a Flash pro, but an SEO god. All the power to you.

    I guess it comes down to you have your tools, and I have mine. My clients say wow, and are usually blown away by their sites. When I did html/css/js they didn’t. Flash pays the bills, and pays them very well.

    Freddy’s Comment: Yes, Flash programmers do get paid well, which proves my point that it’s too costly for most websites.

  8. In response to the previous poster, John:

    Quoted from http://www.seomoz.org/blog/seo-best-practices-seomozs-new-policies-based-on-updated-correlation-data

    “The Use of Javascript and Flash on Websites

    Best Practice:

    We do not recommend using Javascript or Flash for any navigation important to search engines.

    Reasoning:

    Although we believe the search engines can crawl Javascript and Flash in a limited capacity, we choose not add the risk. Their ability to parse these languages is inferior to their ability to parse HTML and choosing to code in the former can lead to lower search engine rankings.”

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