5 Reasons Not To Use Flash

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Despite the documented problems over the years, businesses and web development firms are continuing to use a flash base in site design, without regard of the challenges an all flash site poses for search engine rankings and SEO (not to mention usability).

Sure, some hybrids of flash and text work well, with the mutual understanding that flash is embedded within a site.. and not the site itself. But as a whole, this concept seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Oleg Ishenko, of SEOResearcher.com, recently sent in his tips on why to avoid flash, which I believe is a nice basic and timeless piece for any business looking to design a site, and listening to pitches from designers whom prefer Flash over a basic HTML base.

Flash Is Evil. Five Big Reasons Not to Use Flash.

Building Flash-powered websites is wrong. Storing your content in Flash movies is wrong. Implementing site navigation in Flash is wrong.

Then why are there so many Flash sites? They look pretty with all those neat vector graphics, gradients, animations and cool sound effects. Flash is the favorite toy of big designer studios and numerous amateur graphic artists alike. Flash is visually attractive, and in general attractive websites are more successful than the ugly ones (notable exceptions: craigslist.org and plentyoffish.com). But this is not the case of Flash websites. All the benefits of the nice outlook are overridden by the disadvantages in terms of SEO and usability.

Flash requires bandwidth

Despite of the DSL Internet access being available almost everywhere, there are still lots of people surfing the Net via dialup or other limited bandwidth connection. Flash files, especially those using sound effects, embedded movies or bitmap images, can take a while to load.

Disabled back button

Some Flash designers use meta refreshes or other tricks to disable browser’s Back button. As the famous usability expert Jacob Nielsen says, ‘Back button is the second most important navigation element after hyperlinks’. People not able to use Back button will click the third most important navigation element – that X button in the top right. Besides, if you are going to promote a Flash site via PPC, you should know that Google AdWords doesn’t approve pages with disabled back button.

Flash ignores users needs

Whereas the ground rules of marketing emphasize the concentration on the users’ needs, Flash websites ignore them. Take the infamous site intros and splash screens that are as much annoying as the 45 minutes of advertising and previews in cinemas. Or another example: the sound effects – they are can be especially inappropriate and harmful when you are browsing the Net from a cubicle in a quiet office or from home in the late hours.

Problems with third-party Flash developers

Unless you do Flash yourself, you might face some serious troubles with developers. Some of them code their project to prevent them from editing, thus making you to hire them over and over again as you need to do even the smallest modifications. Aaron Wall in his SEOBook (a highly recommended SEO reading) describes a case of a Flash developer who disabled the back button and then asked $4000 from his client to re-enable it, although the problem was caused by his own incompetence.

Search engines do not like Flash

And perhaps the most important: not every search engine is able to crawl and index the content of Flash movies. Even those that can often do it with errors. This is in particular the case of a website fully implemented in Flash as a single file. Search engines just wouldn’t be able to direct visitors to the proper page within that file.

What is Flash really good for? Banners and ads – it provides far more useful features then the traditional gif animation. Online games – remember the ‘Yeti Sports’? Flash technology – the Flash videos – for video blogs.

But as a website engine – Flash is evil!

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
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  • theMarketingCard

    Google + Flash = no go. Even with all the latest updates it is hard to optimize a flash page.

    I’ve got some info on SEO on my blog as well: http://www.marketingcard.com/blog

  • Paul Neave

    This argument is soooo old. Welcome to 1996. It’s not the technology, it’s how you use it that matters. Anyone can make a badly designed website in HTML or JavaScript or Flash. Blame the designer, not the technology. Just because you can make a bad website doesn’t mean you have to. Use the technology for its strengths not its weaknesses.

    Flash is great at video, vectors, animation and fully-fledged rich applications. HTML is good at text, JavaScript/AJAX at integrating the user experience. Don’t use Flash for text, don’t use HTML for vector graphics or video and use standards-compliant, well-written JavaScript. It’s simple. It’s what web designers/developers do for a living. So please stop patronising us with these alarmist, naive statements. Thank you.

  • Natasha Robinson

    I agree with Paul, this is an old (and useless) argument. With Flash, it is how you use it that matters.

    And any SEO who works in a ecommerce space who has had a look at Adobe Flex, better wake up and start figuring ways to approach SEO for flash. Because I’ve seen the look on people’s faces when they see Flex (http://examples.adobe.com/flex2/inproduct/sdk/flexstore/flexstore.html). Their first question is “When can we use that for our site?” Especially since it makes the user’s life easier.

    As a group, marketers should be putting it to the search engines to get better at reading flash, quickly. Instead of having useless, “Don’t use Flash” discussions”.

  • Drew Schug

    I agree with Paul as well. Blame the creator not the tool. Just because you can use the hammer as a screwdriver doesn’t mean that the hammer is a bad tool, or evil. I know plenty of Flash creators/viewers on the other side of the fence, saying why would anyone just want text, we’ve seen this same article written by Joe SEO since 1996. Overly opinionated ignorance (in either direction) is bliss!

  • Jeffrey Paul

    One way to enhance the search capability of a flash video is to use the veotag ( http://www.veotag.com ) service to add deep tagging, menus, descriptions and annotations to any flash file. It is very popular with some bloggers ( blog.guykawasaki.com . I have used the service and have been pleased with the results

  • The One

    I agree with Paul =) And in either way, let society speak for itself =) People use Flash more often now. And, there is Flex and Flash if you don’t like Flash, and XML integration. Can’t say that XML docs won’t appear on Google or Yahoo, can you?

  • web design

    Flash is visually attractive, and in general attractive websites are more successful than the ugly ones (notable exceptions: craigslist.org and plentyoffish.com). But this is not the case of Flash websites.

  • shine

    I have found that google indexed my flash page and displayed the text inside flash as the search title | how google display the title with the text in flash?

  • CAJ

    Here is another “Go Joe!” for Paul. I can’t believe this article was published in 2006. Wake up and try it for yourself. This guy simply copied an article published in the year 1999 and placed a new date on it.

    The biggest problem with Flash is that it was released into the hands of designers and marketers rather than developers. These are the same people that write the irritating commercials on television that pollute our subconscious minds.

    Like the DVR, Flex promises to change that. Give us what we want, the data, not a sales pitch.

  • DBW

    How comical this article is!!!!

    Obviously written by someone who doesn’t know how to solve a technical solution!

  • Boycott flash,choose silverlight.

    Flash is useless garbage.Go to sportsatthebeach.com and see what it does to your internet explorer

  • Bill Gates is Evil

    Internet Explorer sucks!

  • jimi

    hehe, is so funny to see all those old fashioned HTML – AJAX lovers defend their obsolete tecnologies… Have any one of you taken a look at FLEX 3??? It makes ajax an old thing, as it uses XML, Strong object oriented programation and a View-Model-Controller system that really puts WEB developing where it should’ve been. Finally, the real software engineers can develop professionally. New times come for the real developers!!!

  • Bill Brown

    I don’t mind keeping up with new technology. I don’t mind having to do a ton of work to get accessibility to work properly. However, aside from videos, I can’t see any real need for Flash on the internet.

    I’d love to see an example of a Flash site which couldn’t more easily be done in W3C standard technologies (ie not requiring a plugin) and whic performs any kind of decent purpose on the web.

  • paul

    Wow, I can’t believe that someone would actually post such a careless and ignorant article. Mr. Baker obviously knows so very little about Flash to be so completely incorrect about this subject. If you don’t know what you’re talking about keep your mouth shut.

  • Phil Roberts

    Just to let you all know this guy is just trying to shake the tree so that he can get hits to his website. This is just an old SEO trick. Nobody in their right mind would ever post an article so blatantly ridiculous without having an ulterior motive.

  • Elijah Lucian

    i hope you stay broke.

    if you wont cater to your clients needs and are too lazy to learn a simple program.. then nevermind you. stop posting useless articles.

  • Alex

    I personally think Flash has a time and a place in web design. I think making pieces for a web site in flash can work nicely, as long as there are alternatives coded into the site that allow for those who cannot see flash.

    Who can’t see flash? More people than many understand. Many people surf the net at work, and many more workplaces will block flash content from coming in. Mostly to keep bandwidth usage (Youtube is an example) down as well as prevent possible openings for viruses.

    I am not a fan of Flash. I think it’s nice for a display kind of site where you do not need to change the content regularly and for some embedded applications using Flex. I would not make a blog in Flash, nor a news site, or anything.

    When push comes to shove, you have to not think of the designers and techies who can easily learn and use a site, but the average person who gets lost easily, and does not have patience for a loader bar.

    I prefer trying to show great design without using flash. Great usability, imaginative thinking, and ease of use. That’s just me.

    I also think with the widespread use of mobile devices now to view the internet, one needs to think deeply about how they build their sites, because most mobile devices cannot view Flash.

  • Roger

    Use flash at your own peril, while it may possible to get flash mostly accessible and SE friendly, generally a non flash site will always preform better in the long term.

    The worst problem with flash is that it gives the sort of eye candy that the marketing people love – and they use it with gay abandon because the marketing people are more interested about how a thing looks rather that its functionality. Eg – flash intros.

    Ease of editing, constant updates, cross browser, multiple device (esp mobiles – the next frontier) html will win hands down every time, try making a pdf out of you flash page.

    The 3 most imortant things on a web site are :- content content and content, followed by navigation so you can find the content, after this comes basic formating to make the content more readable, Then in position 5, 6 and 7 you have more content, even more content and then some funcitonality such as search and forms.

    Eye candy is only for the owners of the website.
    Flash looks impressive and can work extremely well but dollar for dollar a html site will always out preform flash except in a few special instances.

  • austin web design

    so is flash still bad for seo ?

  • austin web design

    so is flash still bad for seo ?

  • Yop

    Flash requires bandwidth
    #bam ! not true.
    Use the same image in an img tag and in a swf and the swf load faster because the image is compressed by flash.
    If you remove flash compression the load time will be the same.

    Disabled back button
    #wrong again…
    ajax content have the same drawback, but you always can use back button with flash and ajax using swfadress for example

    Flash ignores users needs
    ??? i want to see a video, i click on the play button.
    i don’t care if the play button is flash or not.
    don’t get your point… and by the way if you not like intro don’t do it. You don’t HAVE TO create an intro when you are using Flash ^^

    Problems with third-party Flash developers
    it’s not flash related…

    Search engines do not like Flash
    wrong again… ajax is ok with search engine no ? so you can use the same technique.
    Because ajax work like flash for dynamic content

    I think you are just a flash hater ^^

  • John Walker

    Sorry to be the one who break the news – but Flash is dead.

    No need for Flash when open technologies like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript is around.

    And why is it dead?
    1. Flash does not work on mobile devices – HTML5 does
    2. Flash doesn’t work well with SEO – HTML5 does
    3. Flash is binary, can’t be compressed in a configurable way, is a hog to develop and maintain – HTML5 is not
    4. Flash is a hassle to install – HTML5 does not require installation
    5. HTML5 is continuosly developed by the largest corporations on Earth – Flash is maintained by Adobe when there is time over from PhotoShop, Illustrator and all other apps in their portfolio

    Eventually, in a not too far distant future, this will be obvious to every web developer on the planet.