Why we don’t build flash websites

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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Every now and then we have a meeting with a potential client who asks if their site can be built in Flash. Flash is a proprietary software made by Adobe that allows developers to build website that are highly interactive and with lots of animation.

I cut my web design/development teeth in Flash ever since I was introduced to it back in the 90’s. For a while there I was building a site every couple of weeks in Flash and really enjoyed the total freedom of working with animation. It was more like making a movie than it was building a website.

But these days Flash has lost relevance especially when it comes to business websites with commercial goals and especially when HTML is able to achieve the same wow-factor that was once the exclusive domain of Flash.

There are some key issues with Adobe Flash that mean we now advise clients to stay away from it:

It won’t work on most mobile devices.

This is a big one. I was once in the unfortunate position of showing a photographer friend what their brand new portfolio website looked like on my iPhone. Well it didn’t look like anything actually. I think we all know how ubiquitous smartphones and tablets are becoming throughout the general population. To have your website not display on these devices is is like setting up your store shopfront in an underground mine.

It’s not SEO friendly.

The major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have a tough time reading the content that is placed within a Flash website. Therefore all that lovely text containing keywords that help these search engines rank your website is hidden and to a large degree your site will be ignored by them. If your online strategy involves attracting customers from the search engines then you would be crazy to build your website in Flash.

It requires the user to have the latest version of Flash installed.

Considering that you usually only have a few seconds to grab a visitors attention and convince that your product or service is right for them, asking them to go off and download and install something first is going to result in a lost opportunity. Marketing your business should be about building opportunities, not losing them.

Large download times.

This can also be cause for a viewer to quickly move on somewhere else while they are waiting for your Flash website to load. Surfing the web isn’t comparable to sitting down to watch TV and sitting through some advertising before their chosen show begins. On the web the viewer has total control of their environment and quick browsing is the norm. If they can’t get what they want in an instant then there is a good chance you have lost them forever.

Reduced web browser functionality.

By using Flash to build a website you are reducing the viewers ability to utilize the browser functionality like forward/back and the browser search tool. Disrupting someones preferred way of getting around is a great way to annoy them. It would be a bit like having a ‘reverse only’ drive-thru!

Not good for screen readers.

A screen reader is a piece of software that reads the text on a website and ‘speaks’ it out loud. These are most often used by the visually impaired. Utilizing Flash to build your site would make it invisible (or silent?) to these readers. It’s never a good idea to piss of a blind person!

More expensive.

Back when we were building websites we found that due to the nature of this development environment it tends to take quite a bit longer than the more common languages like HTML/CSS. Clients would not only pay more for a Flash based website initially, but ongoing maintenance and updates were also more expensive than had they taken the other route.

So for the reasons listed above you can tell we aren’t great fans of Flash. We still love the company behind Flash of course and use tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator on a daily basis. But unless there is a fundamental change to the output of Flash files that makes them open and flexible to all sorts of readers both human and digital then it will remain as something we recommend our clients steer away from.

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