Web Designers vs. Flash (why most steer clear)

Posted on: August 7th, 2007 by afox

Flash is a wonderful invention. It has its uses, it benefits many people, and its fun. That’s my disclaimer. Also, I’m not a very big fan myself for a few key reasons. That’s what this post is about. I am not bagging on flash in any way, but for the most part I really feel it is simply not a practical move for most websites.

Search Engine Optimization
The first point here is this. Flash does not play well with others. Meaning : An all flash website is a search engine disaster. Search engines cannot see inside of your flash movie, and for the most part, it makes it virtually impossible to have your website information crawled and properly cataloged. There are always debates in this area as there are certain methods to get around this obvious pitfall, but there is simply NO substitution for good old home grown CONTENT. I am sorry, but that’s fact. Content will always be king.

Firms with a large budget for web design can obviously disagree because they can sink loads of money into PPC ads, back links, and other short cuts. Yes, thats what these are, short cuts. They are expensive, and bring you immediate traffic. But here’s the catch. Once the money stops so does the traffic. So, for most of us, this is not a practical means of business. Not to mention, flash work is often quite a bit more expensive.

But What About The Bells And Whistles?
I’m not disagreeing with the need for your website to captivate your audience. And there are a million and one ways to go about this not including flash. I am not stating that no flash should be used, but entire websites, or even large chunks of a website should not be only flash. ‘So, what alternatives do I have?’ Well, with the internet where it is and the many advances being made, it is very easy to hook a website up with ‘bells and whistles’ without the use of flash. Ajax, Mootools, jQuery, and more, for instance, all have the power and ability to add great functionality to your website. It doesn’t reduce the readability of your website (by search engines) and certainly adds appeal to your website.

Most designers are very happy to ‘spruce’ up your website with these tools. Chances are, it will cost a lot less than having a bunch of flash work done. These tools excel in keeping things simple, clean, efficient and provide less opportunity for customers to get confused on your website. Not to mention load times. Flash intensive websites greatly increase the load times of your web pages and further increases the likely hood that your website will be passed up in favor of something more user friendly. Using advanced scripting languages to add your bells and whistles will not increase your load time like flash. In fact, usually not at all.

Why Do You Hate Flash So Much?
The truth is, I have nothing against flash, but I run into customer after customer who wants their website to be entirely comprised of flash. In the same breath they’ll also mention the want to be #1 in the search engines. In order to really help my customers I have to advise against this. Every time explaining all the reasons why this isn’t a good business move. While most do not quite grasp the importance of having as much crawlable content as possible, it is my job to make sure they get the most out of their website and marketing. This is why I avoid flash. It provides no use for any one when it comes to being seen by search engines and this is a HUGE factor in most websites. Traffic, being high in rankings and search engines. All things that flash is notorious for hindering.

I certainly believe, as with everything, there is a time and place for flash, but I cannot stress enough how detrimental it can be for someone trying to achieve high search engine rankings. It also, depending on where you get the work done, can prove to be extremely expensive.

I strongly recommend anyone looking into a flash website to explore other options. Possibly limiting flash to photo albums, maybe a header, or some advertisements / product promotions. Certainly avoiding anything that would tie up a large amount of your content.

So You Say There’s Alternatives…
I most certainly do :). Here’s a handful of websites using things like Ajax, jQuery, and Mootools that show what can be done without flash while still providing the fun and functionality usually associated with it.

AjaxM – check out their demo
Ajaxian Showcase
jQuery Demos
Mootools Examples

In Closing…
There are some things that can only be done in Flash, but those things are few. I have much respect for flash developers as well as the platform, however, from a practical standpoint and other obvious reasons I do not recommend it to most of my clients. This isn’t a debate about why flash is good or evil, these are just facts. I’m sure that there are a million rebuttals to what I’ve stated here, but Flash, for the most part, isn’t a cost effective, efficient means to accomplish what most people are looking for.

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