I recently moved to Orange County, California and upon doing some research I discovered that there is a wide demand for Flash-based websites. I can certainly understand the attraction due to the elegance that can be achieved, but for small businesses it is the worst approach to online marketing.
There are three reasons for this: 1) limited access to search engines, 2) loss of the rapidly growing mobility market, and 3) maintenance. For small businesses that are seeking to gain reputation, Flash may be beautiful, but lacks the necessary impact for getting your business discovered.
Search engines, like the heavy weight Google, have fancy mathematical algorithms that scour web pages for two things: text and hyperlinks. The more references you obtain from outside resources, the better authority your website carries. If you use right words on your page you will be more likely to turn up in search results and increase your ranking. This is called organic traffic – people who find your website through searching key terms.
Flash is a graphical interface that does little to embed these characteristics. For all intents and purposes, using space on your web page for fancy flash animations is like having a hole in your website. It does not turn up in searches.
As a small business, it’s likely that you will have to squeeze every ounce of advantage out of the tools you use. Since many web hosts and servers charge by the page, you have to achieve a lot in as little space as possible to keep costs down. So, by using Flash you are stripping your site of valuable real estate and reducing your odds of attracting new customers.
According to a recent post by Smashing Magazine, about half of the adult population in the US uses a mobile device to access the Internet (Pew says 46% of Americans have smart phones). If you are a small business using Flash for your website, that means you are missing out on an opportunity roughly 150 million people wide. That’s because flash doesn’t work on many mobile devices, especially Apple products.
If people cannot view your website on demand, they will go to another site that is mobile friendly giving business to your competitors. I’ve seen a number of local restaurants using Flash for their websites, but since I’m using my phone from the bar down the street, I can’t tell if their menu has anything tasty at a reasonable price. If I can find another restaurant that has a mobile ready site, I will go there instead, because they are more accessible.
As you can see, local business has the most to gain from technology here, because people are using mobile apps to discover nearby stores. Apps like Yelp provide real-time maps based on your location, allowing people to GPS their way right to your front door. Yelp also provides ratings and reviews for local businesses that can link to your website and if you are a restaurant that has a menu online in Flash format, people are more likely to turn to a competitor that has a basic HTML layout that they can view on their phone. Websites that are specially formatted for mobile devices are even better, offering simple, condensed versions of your web pages where information is easier to navigate than on normal websites.
The final reason I try to dissuade Flash is that it takes a phenomenal amount of maintenance. Creating animations, while you can find templates, is an intensive process and can be costly. Flash occasionally releases updates that can affect the performance of your animations and if you need to update your site, you will likely need a professional to help you, adding to the costs.
By comparison, HTML (PHP and CSS too) is easy to access and free tutorials are available to anyone who wants to pickup a few key concepts. The updates that do occur are not like the software updates that Adobe publishes for Flash every once and a while, so there are no incompatibility issues. Besides, HTML is very stable and rarely needs to be updated.
You can achieve the same or similar effects with HTML as you can with Flash by employing Java Script and jQuery. Although, you will need to find a pro to help you work through these alternatives, you can generally spend less than you would to have custom Flash designed.
Flash Is Not All Bad
The beauty and elegance that can be created with Flash is exciting and if your customers don’t use mobile phones then why not? Also, if you can afford bigger websites, you may be able to compensate for some of the limitations described here with an expanded site. The choice boils down to budget and what you hope to achieve, but for my money, simple HTML is far superior for its flexibility.
For small businesses that want to make an impact with their online media, it’s about having a concise, clear website that maximizes exposure. Using text and links is the best tactic to reach that goal. At least, until Google changes the game.
And if you are a restaurant looking for a simple solution for both regular and mobile websites, Smashing Magazine recommends Maestro. A platform that places your menu online in simple, stylish format.
One last point before closing: when debating this topic with a friend he said, “What about photos that have text?”
Valid question. Text that is embedded in photos is not searchable and therefore seems like another hole, but HTML has a nice fix for just this situation. When entering an image in a Content Management System like WordPress, you can add text with a tag called “alt text”, or alternative text. It appears as a field in the image upload dialogue. For pure HTML sites the tag looks like this:
As translated in your browser and with Google algorithms, that markup reads: image, located at the address “www.website/image.jpg”; should that image fail to load, then replace with the text “image text”. Google loves pictures and if you have ever used Google’s image search, then you know how useful it can be. However, in order for that function to work well, it picks up cues from neighboring text, page headings, and alt-text. So in order to make sure that text in photos are used, make sure to include captions, alt-text, and other indicators that describe what the image is.
Have you had any problems with Flash?