We have been asked many times by our customers about developing Flash based websites. There has been a trend, partly driven by fashion, to have websites that whizz around and magically transform under your mouse pointer, but there are some downsides:

  1. The first and most significant is problems with search engines. Flash content cannot be indexed by the search engines and flash based websites deliver very little text content that the search engines can use thus reducing or eliminating your search ranking. Even sites that just use a flash based menu can reduce scoring on search engines as “real” links go towards a site’s score. Google have recently announced a partnership with Adobe that will allow them to read through Flash content but the success of this is still unknown and all the other major search engines, like MSN and Yahoo, won’t see the content.
  2. Flash often breaks some important standards and features that users rely upon:
    1. You can’t copy and paste text
    2. The back-button won’t work
    3. Bookmarking of pages in flash sites often just takes you back to the home page or another page higher up in the navigational structure
    4. Browser features like zoom in/out and text resizing won’t work
  3. Flash is not supported by all browsers so some users just won’t see anything. There has been a marked increase in the use of mobile browsers, which don’t support flash. There’s also the issue of flash versions – which version do you develop in? While most desktop users have flash installed there’s no guarantee that the end user will have the supported version installed or may even not be available – Linux users had to wait months for version 9 of the player to be released by Adobe leaving them unable to view the newer Flash 9 sites.Just to top it all there are some users that disable Flash in their browsers to avoid advertising and longer download times.
  4. Then there’s the cost … Updating a flash website usually requires programming skills as there is very little content management support for flash sites. Normal HTML sites on the other hand have a huge variety of content management (CMS) platforms available from bespoke, to open source, to commercial. So if you want to make text changes to your flash site expect to hire a programmer!

OK it’s not all doom and gloom … Flash does have it’s place when used in moderation. Flash can augment a site and add value by placing flash animations in key places where dynamic functionality or “eye candy” are important, for instance an animation on a home page showcasing a product in action.

The daft thing is that the standards compliant technologies (Javascript and HTML can often achieve many of the effects that flash offers without loss of function for ordinary users, search engines or special needs users.

Microsoft have recently launched “Silverlight” which is their equivalent to Flash in an attempt to get a slice of the Flash pie, but even this doesn’t really solve the problems and adds an extra one – does the user haveSilverlight installed as it’s an optional update from Microsoft?

So do use Flash, but with care.