A few weeks ago, I had coffee with my friend Michael who owns a construction company. He was telling me all about his new website and it sounded pretty exciting. It seemed the website was a big step for his business. And as a digital marketer I get super excited when a small business owner, let alone a tradie, embraces anything online.
It appeared Michael had finally recognised the need to have a web presence for his business. He was going to showcase all his projects to help build credibility, inform prospects about the range of construction services he offers, provide FAQs so that prospects have all the necessary information to help them make a decision, and generate leads through a well thought-out contact form.
As a digital strategist, words like these are music to my ears.
And then he said, it was all going to be built in Flash.
That’s when I almost choked on my café laté with half sugar.
Because when it comes to creating effective websites, Flash is generally not a good idea. Let me tell you why.
I will preface this by saying that Flash is pretty cool. It’s every designer’s dream because it allows them to really get creative, which is a problem on it’s own. A website needs to be built for users – people who, in their daily interactions with websites, have become familiar with standard (yes, boring) design and navigation elements that have helped them find what they want on a site. Changing these design elements that website visitors have been accustomed to in an attempt to wow and engage users, makes for a very confusing experience. Flash allows you to do very cool, funky stuff on your site but your main priority should be helping website visitors complete a task: download an ebook, find information, submit a query, purchase a product, subscribe to a newsletter, login to a user account, or whatever it may be.
My personal experience with Flash sites in the last ten years has been littered with a lot of pain, disappointment and wasted resources. And although many of the issues I highlight here can be addressed by an experienced (read “expensive”) Flash developer, the reality is amateur web developers abound and they just don’t do it right.
Have you ever visited a Flash site recently? The next time you come across one, try the following:
- Pay attention to how long the site loads.
- Pretend you’re visually impaired and try to increase the font size so it’s more readable. Are you able to?
- Navigate deep into the Flash pages, then press the back button. Can you go back to the previous pages?
- Copy and paste a paragraph into Notepad or a word document. Did it work?
- Try bookmarking a page you like. What happened?
Unless Flash was properly implemented by an experienced developer, I bet the site’s loading time is a little too long and when it finally loads, you can’t even do many of the tasks I asked. The fact is, these tasks represent some common online user behaviour that may be problematic on a Flash site. How frustrating would that be for your website visitors?
Flash websites generally don’t perform well on Google. While advances have been made allowing Flash sites to be read by Googlebots, there are still limitations. It’s harder for the search engine to understand what your website is all about leaving your business at a great disadvantage when it comes to your site’s search engine visibility.
There are also potential accessibility issues with Flash sites. Viewing it requires a particular plugin to be installed on the user’s computer. While this is a relatively minor issue as installing the necessary plugin is fast and easy and almost readily available in most computers, it potentially requires some people to do that extra step. Not to mention that Flash generally don’t work well with some smartphones and mobile devices. The Apple iPhone and iPad, for example, does not currently support Flash, once again making your website harder to access among iPhone and iPad users.
Moreover, as a marketing practitioner, I am trained to count my often small and over-stretched dollar by monitoring the success of any marketing initiative – the website is one of them. And I can tell you now that unless you have a good geek building your Flash site, analysing your website’s performance using web analytics can be problematic and cost you lots of unwanted grey hair.
Finally, consider this, a Flash site tend to cost at least twice as much as a standard HTML site. Then when you need to update the content (doing this regularly is geat for SEO by the way), it will cost you an expensive geek every time.
Again, many Flash developers will jump in to say all these issues can now be addressed. But it remains a fact that you can achieve a seamless online user experience in HTML with less headache, on a smaller budget, within a tighter timeframe and keep those grey hair at bay. And for a small business owner, that’s worth talking about with a friend over a café laté.