Flash – Is it “Useful?”

Macromedia (Now Adobe) Flash

The question above may at first blush sound a bit silly. Of course flash is useful. It’s used in millions of website all over the world. In fact, without flash we wouldn’t have one of the world’s most popular websites, YouTube. The question then isn’t whether or not flash is useful. The question is whether it’s useful for your website.

Flash Animations

When I say that flash may not be useful for your website, let’s exclude the obvious. Obviously if you run videos on your website, you’ll want to provide them in flash or Silverlight or some other system which can display the videos in a streaming fashion. What I am concerned about however is the increasingly large number of websites with annoying flash animations.

While a small amount of flash animation can make your website look more attractive, I’ve seen too many sites lately that seem to go overboard because they think that flash is so cool and so they run all kinds of fancy animations which can get annoying very easily.

Splash Pages

One thing for example that has me increasingly annoyed is the flash splash screen. Really, if I wanted to watch a five minute animation before I get any information that’s actually useful from your website, I’d go ahead and visit YouTube, where I’d still get the information faster because most of the videos there get to the point quicker.

I’ve also seen a number of websites, including some big names, like the New York Times who are now doing flash animation splash screens as a way to push advertising onto their readers.

While I get that you want readers to look at your ads and that people tend to ignore ads when they read websites, I am also of the opinion that annoying your readers is not the way to get people to keep coming back.

There has been more than one occasion when a flash animation, either for a splash screen or an ad made me close the site completely and look elsewhere for the information I needed rather than having to endure such a long and annoying splash screen.

All Flash Means No Search Traffic

Making your website entirely in flash may seem like a great idea since it can look really cool. There’s just one problem (well, aside from your ability to easily annoy the crap out of your visitors): you won’t be indexed because Google and the other search engines can only read text.

Even if you have an Alt tag included, you’re not going to get page rank from putting only flash animations onto your website. Plus, if you use Google Analytics, you’ll find it’s impossible to see what’s popular on your website because there’s simply nothing for Analytics to read except that a flash animation was played.

Even a Small Amount of Flash Can Be a Problem

Even when you have a website which is primarily in HTML, flash can be a problem if you overdo it. That’s because flash slows down the loading of a web page and as I’ve said before, if your website loads too slowly, people will simply click away and Google won’t index you.

So I Shouldn’t Use Flash At All?

That’s not at all what I’m saying, but the impression could certainly be gleaned from what I’ve said here that flash is bad no matter what. No, what I’m saying is that you need to keep flash to a minimum and use it to enhance a website rather than making it an end unto itself.