Are you considering a Flash Website? If so, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of Flash Websites. Flash is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity. Flash is a powerful authoring tool, but like any tool some things are best solved with Flash, while others are not.
Advantages: Reasons to Use Flash
Flash use in advertising and online games is increasingly common. Should you use Flash on your Website? Of course, if you think that it can bring extra value to your users. There are several reasons for using Flash as elements of a Website.
1. Cross-browser compatibility
Flash is browser independent. It has no issues with cross browser compatibility. You don´t have to worry about your HTML and CSS code being interpreted differently in different browsers. As long as the Flash player plugin is installed on the user´s computer, s/he will be able to view Flash content with no issues.
2. Image Replacement for Special Fonts
Flash can be used to replace text elements on HTML Web pages with Flash equivalents. This image replacement technique is called Scalable Inman Flash Replacement.
Flash supports audio, animation, and advanced video handling and interactivity. Flash is vector-based, but allows incorporation of bitmaps where needed. Flash applications can collect data, online games, feedback forms, photo slide show, audio, movies, charts, shopping carts, and different web applications that server-side scripts can do. Flash technology makes it possible to make your Website more interactive and expressive.
4. Better Expression Through Animation
Flash is vector based and hence a lightweight option for animation with smaller file size as opposed to real movie files that are raster based with much larger file size. With Flash, you can express something to a visitor in a more efficient and attractive way.
Disadvantages: Reasons NOT to Use Flash
Flash is a powerful tool for delivering animation, games, shopping carts, vector graphics, and sound effects. But this does NOT mean you need to create your entire Website in Flash. If you do you will be at a severe disadvantage. An All-Flash Website is not a good idea, it poses challenges for Search Engine rankings, accessibility and usability. Some combination of Flash and HTML work very well in some cases, where Flash is embedded within the Website and not being the Website itself.
Building an All-Flash Website is wrong. Storing your content in a Flash movie is wrong. Website navigation in Flash is wrong. All the benefits of the visual appeal are overridden by the disadvantages in SEO and usability.
1. Flash Requires a Plugin
Flash Websites require installing the Flash player plugin. If the player is not installed or if it is not the correct version then the user will be required to download or upgrade the Flash player. Do not expect that everyone will do so just to view your Website. Also many users, including myself, disable Flash by default to avoid animated advertising and to improve page-loading speed.
2. Accessibility and Usability are Impaired
Accessibility is a concern with Flash. Unless properly coded, most Flash Websites lack alternative text and can be difficult for screen readers. Users cannot scale the text font size. The back and forward browser buttons don´t work, unless you add extra code. Bookmarking internal pages is not common in Flash, unless you add the proper code, only the main page is bookmarked. Tab keystroke, an important element in accessibility, is supposed to cycle through links and Enter should activate links.
Flash is included in the Web browser as a stand alone during runtime. This means that all keyboard shortcuts, and contextual menu are lost until you click outside of the Flash area.
3. Most Mobiles Can´t Read Flash
Most mobile devices, especially Apple based devices, such as iPhone and also BlackBerry phones don´t display Flash Websites. With a growing number of people using their mobile devices for Internet browsing, creating your Website in Flash will effectively keep your mobile users out. For example in iPod Touch you will get No Flash. The Internet is slowly becoming more mobile prominent. This is a market that can´t be ignored.
4. Search Engine Optimization
Search engine robots can´t index images. Robots have trouble following links that are not standard HTML links. That´s why an All-Flash Website is always at a disadvantage when it comes to SEO. Search engines have a hard time crawling and properly indexing the content of Flash Websites.
5. Longer Loading Time
Despite the High Speed Internet service available nowadays, there are still many users using dial-up Internet access and other limited Internet connections. Flash content takes longer than usual to load compared to standard HTML Websites. The heavier your Flash content is, the slower the Web page will load and this might cause some visitors to leave. Clearly, in this case it does not matter how impressive your Website looks if the visitor does not wait for it to load. It is always better to avoid excessive use of Flash in a Website.
6. Flash does Not Display in Search Engine Previews
Some search engines provide a preview option next to search results. The preview allows a user to get a better idea of what to expect in the target Website before visiting it. For instance, Google has the Instant Previews feature which shows you a visual preview of your search results. The effect of an all-Flash Website can be seen in the following image.
Update: As of May 7, 2011, I noticed that Google has some success with instant previews on some Flash Websites where it displays an image of the Flash content as opposed to no content at all as shown in the image below. There is progress, at least Google is moving in the right direction.
However, take a look at how a standard HTML Website is displayed in Google Instant Previews, and judge for yourself.
Flow Chart for an All-Flash Website
This FlowChart is about 5 years old. But it still holds somewhat true. My point, think twice before you decide on an all-Flash Website. And if you do, carefully read the best practices that you need to follow in the next section. There are several strategies for mitigating problems inherent with Flash usage.
Best Practices for an All-Flash Website
If you must have an all-Flash Website, remember to follow certain ground rules. One important rule is to create an HTML version of your Flash Website. In this case, you provide mobile users the ability to see and navigate your Website, and also allow search engines to properly crawl and index your content. The content for both Flash and HTML Websites should be pulled from the same XML file. Read more in the following important references.
- SEO Friendly Flash
- How to use SEO Flash
- SWFAddress-Deep linking for Flash and Ajax
- How to SEO Flash
- SEO – Adobe Developer Connection
- How to Optimize an All-Flash Website
Hybrid “Flash/HTML” Solution
For many Websites, the best solution to use Flash is a hybrid of both elements: Flash and HTML. Flash should be used for integrating applications, tools, video, audio and other nice experience to the user. However, Flash should not replace HTML for the use of content, menus and links.
Alternatives to Flash
So that you know, there are alternatives to using Flash elements in your Website as discussed in the following references.
This article discussed the pros and cons of a Flash Website. Some Websites benefit from using only Flash (all-Flash Website), other Websites benefit from the hybrid alternative of using Flash in combination with HTML, and many other Websites benefit from No Flash at all. Use Flash where you think it is effective and necessary and always provide alternate content for users without Flash. Do you have anything else to say? If so, please share it in the comments section.