When Should You Use Flash on Your Website? NEVER

There was a time when having a Flash intro on your website was really cool. Not anymore.

Having custom animated intros on your website homepage made you look cool and high-tech. It was widely believewd Flash animations would engage visitors. Those days have passed.

What has been found is that when you have a splash page with nothing but a Flash intro, not as many people as you'd think will actually click through to see the rest of your site. There are millions of websites and you have only a second to make a first impression on the visitor. If you're not engaging your visitor straight away, you risk losing them forever.

However, Flash does have it's appropriate uses. When you want an animation on your site, or interactive elements that javascript can't provide, Flash is what you'll want to use. However, there is little html5, javascript and css can't do, further rendering Flash obsolete.

1. Cost

Flash animations and galleries are more expensive to create and even more expensive to edit. They require more time to developUnless you are using an xml image gallery, the Flash animation will be more time consuming to update/edit and of course, be more costly if you are outsourcing to someone who is doing the work for you. Maintenance or changes on a Flash animation are also costly. The process to make changes to a Flash animation (depending on the size and length of the animation) can take several times longer than changes made to an html site.

2. Mobile Devices

Mobile devices have become a medium with which people are more frequently visiting websites. You should know that for the most part, Flash is not visible on those devices. So for those people who want their whole site created in Flash… you may want to reconsider. A visitor who lands on your page while “on the go” will not be able to see anything. That's a missed opportunity for new contacts, business and word of mouth referrals. Your site will be better served by utilizing one of the many jQuery/javascript interactive elements that often times, appear to have the same appearance as flash and are functional on pretty much any mobile device that is capable of browsing the internet.

Of course, not all websites will be viewed on a mobile device, but even I have occasionally browsed the internet on my iPhone to find something “real quick” only to find that the site is built with Flash and I can't see a damn thing. Another missed opportunity.

2. SEO

Search engine optimization is a big part of today's website development process for many companies. When a site is created with text and images with alt tags, a search engine can crawl through the site and pick up on this content, delivering relevant results to folks that are searching sites like google.com. If there is text in your Flash animation, a search engine will not be able to pick up on that. Another missed opportunity.

3. Load Time

This is a hot topic for many people. Even with high-speed internet connections, Flash is a bandwidth hog. The larger the Flash animation, the longer it will take for the browser to fully load the element. Many times, visitors say “forget this” and they move on. According to cnet news,

“…19 million people in this country still lack broadband access…”

I know this seems like a staggering number, but we must work with the information we have at our disposal when we are planning our marketing strategies. Longer load times = Another missed opportunity.

4. Relevance

For the most part, a website should communicate relevant information to the visitor. If you are an ecommerce website or even a painter, and you would like to feature and possibly sell your work on the website, then unless Flash is part of the work you are selling, it's a good idea to think about whether an animation is even relevant. Sure it may look cool and may even be an impressive piece of art. But if it is not relevant to the message you are sending out to your visitors, then it may not be appropriate.

5. Plugins

If you have content on your website with which visitors will need to download, update/upgrade or activate a plugin, this could be seen as an irritant. When we visit websites, we want to see what is there. We do not want to have to spend extra time to download and install additional software or plugins just to see something we may not even like in the first place. Yep, you guessed it, another potential missed opportunity.

6. Cache

When a browser loads a Flash movie, it is not cached in the temporary files. Optimized web images are cached which makes future load times faster. So if you have a flash animation on your site and a visitor returns, he will most likely need to wait until the movie loads again. This can get a little annoying.

4 thoughts on “When Should You Use Flash on Your Website? NEVER”

  1. Whilst I’m never one to advocate the usage of flash for anything other than video in older browsers, there are a few areas in which I feel you’re not quite correct.

    Mobile devices: Whilst it’s true that the most popular of mobile, and tablet, devices are running iOS, that isn’t the be all and end all of devices, there are those that do. I do feel though that even for these devices, a flash based site will deliver a really sub par experience, which will do more to frustrate users than help them.

    SEO: This has been increasingly been becoming less of an issue with search engines, for quite some time. Google have been working on this since 2008, and were able to demonstrate flash sites being spidered with a reasonable amount of accuracy. Whilst it’s reasonably safe to assume that other search engines have implemented similar features, I would agree that it’s safe to err on the side of caution.

    In this day and age Flash is becoming les and less of an acceptable way to create content for the web. Like table-based layouts have gone, Flash is becoming a tool that is no longer required to create the visual experiences that it used to. Such sites belong to a combination of HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript being used to enhance the content that users see. It also has the added bonus of the content being able to be laid out to fit the device it’s viewed on, something that Flash isn’t in any way capable of.

    • Thanks for the great comments, David! I agree with you.. there are some new things that are allowing Flash to be a little easier for Flash to be used on websites. However, there are still MILLIONS of people with incompatible mobile devices. Until all the mobile devices are compatible, a website risks losing potential customers. I guess my overall feeling is that until all devices and browsers are fully compatible, and all search engines are able to “scrub” flash files in order to index the content, I just can’t responsibly recommend Flash content. I still think that most of what people want done in Flash can be done in other (java) methods. Ultimately, the loading time/speed of a website, SEO & compatibility are going to be my top priorities when designing/coding sites for clients. I think we’re on the same page, though. It seems that unless you’re offering actual “animation” content, there’s no need anymore to even USE Flash, with all the available alternatives. Thanks again for the great comments! :)

      • I would never recommend the usage of Flash in a website, for pretty much all the reasons you’ve outlined. It’s good for video embedding in older sites, and a limited set of interactive content, but not much more these days. A lot of people simply aren’t away of what can be done with more accessible technologies, or are too set in their ways to look at the alternatives.

        For a while Flash was the only reliable way to create a lot of sites. Much as with tables for layout, things have changed, for the better. But not everyone lets go of the methods they’ve learned. Eventually they’ll either have to update their skill set or become outdated.

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