Why are agencies still building sites in Flash?


I don’t get it. Haven’t they gotten the message yet? Flash web sites are still 99% bad. They annoy people by making them wait for content. Flash web sites are not well indexed by Search engines. Flash web sites are not user friendly. If your code is not well optimized for spiders, your web site is invisible to Search engines. I know Creative Directors love Flash. They think holding an audience captive to witness their brilliance through animation is what Creativity with a Capital “C” is all about. But trust me, it’s not what people want on the web. (With a capital Not).

Worse, if your web site has an index page message like this one:



(This is the page (with logo removed) that I got as the first position on a Google Search results).

It is probably the first page a potential client will see when they try to find you in Google or Yahoo. A message that says “Sorry, if you don’t have the latest version of flash player we just think you’re very uncool and don’t want your business. Go away.”

Nice way to treat clients. (And it’s not just the small little agencies out there doing this…I found this message when looking up a MAJOR agency just the other day.) Unbelievable it is. And embarrassing…for them. From an agency that should know better (I won’t name names here to protect the innocent, namely myself.).

So come on Art Directors, Creative Directors, Agencies of the Future…get the message! Don’t create a web site entirely from Flash. It’s probably the number one no-no in the SEO bible (if one existed, and if it did, it would be written by Danny Sullivan and even he says don’t do it.).

Here’s a great overview of Why Flash is Mostly Bad

Of course, you can use some Flash on a page, like a nice little Optional section of a web site. But please, don’t create the entire site in Flash. Please!

Jacob Neilsen (the grand-guru of web site design usability) said it almost 9 years ago in his now famous post…and it’s still true…A web site built with Flash is 99% bad. In spite of the fact that Google can now crawl Flash sites, building them entirely in Flash is not a good idea. Indexing and optimizing on a site are not the same thing!

It’s like designing a sports car using foam rubber. Sure it might be easy to do. Sure it might let you do really cool things. But trust me, it’s not going to be durable and have the kind of functional resilience you need in a sports car! It surely can’t support dynamic database driven content that gives users what they really want – which is content that they really want.

The web is really all about control. Your visitors want control when they are browsing. They don’t want to give it to you. Flash is hijacking that control from them and forcing them to watch a presentation from you in a way you envision your message.

Web 2.0 …and Web 1.0 for that matter (get with the program) is all about handing over the control of your message to your audiences. (Our friend Richard Bush got it right on that one.) Your brand belongs to them, not you. Let them own it.

However, for those of you who are going to insist that designing web sites entirely in Flash is the optimal display our your design-Godness, then, please by all means make sure you at least understand how to get your site properly indexed in the search engines. Otherwise, no one will ever find you. And that just makes you look bad.

Other Flash SEO Resources:

1. One more SEO/Flash Conversation – Results of testing

2. How to SEO Flash

3. Optimize Your Flash Site for Search Engines

4. How to Design Flash Pages for Google

5. Optimizing Flash files for the search engines

6. A modern approach to Flash SEO

7. Does Flash SEO still suck?

The Creative BackLash

OK, so I’m expecting it. What’s your take?


7 Responses to “Why are agencies still building sites in Flash?”

  1. Well said! The problem doesn’t solely lay with the web designers, when in fact, some the fault lays with their clients. Web clients are rarely prepared, have no realistic understanding of SEO fundamentals, and too are mystified by the visual candy. While, in my experience, 75% of designers have little to no experience with SEO beyond directory submission and meta tags. They blind leading the blind. The result is a website that looks cool in the designers portfolio, and a business that’s lighter in the pocket with nothing more than an ineffective online brochure.

    Brett Salisbury
    Preferred Marketing Strategies

  2. I don’t understand it. Why do SEO people insist that the ONLY websites that should exist on the web should be HTML-only, full-on search engine optimized sites? It’s the same type of blindness that you accuse Creative Directors of having for insisting that all-Flash sites are the ONLY way to go.

    Here’s a novel idea: Different goals demand different strategies and different tactics. An all-Flash site would be fantastic for a video game company showing off their latest game, whereas if you tried to use a Jacob Neilsen-esque, all text and no images, one-big-page-loaded-with-keywords-type site for that same video game, the site would be an absolute flop. Conversely, most company brochureware sites have no need for Flash whatsoever, so shoehorning that type of site into a Flash environment is a waste of everyone’s time.

    People say that Flash encourages bad design practices. I don’t buy it. If you crawl the web and look at the number of god-awful HTML sites out there (and I mean from a standpoint of bad design, bad UI, and bad SEO), I don’t think you can say that bad Flash sites outnumber them. Bad design is not the exclusive property of any medium or technology.

    As for Flash not being able to “support dynamic database driven content that gives users what they really want”, I’m not sure you’ve been browsing the web over the last couple of years. Flash sites interface with databases all the time, often presenting users with the engaging, rich experiences that truly ARE “what users really want.” Take a look at the Adobe store, or Ultrashock, or Hulu — all sites that are giving users what they really want through the use of Flash coupled with databases.

    Taking that thought process one step further, users really don’t give a crap whether the content is Flash or HTML. They care if the content is WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR. Both Flash and HTML are able to offer that to them. If the presentation is poorly executed, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s Flash or HTML.

    (By the way: How come people always bitch about Flash usage and never bitch about the myriad implementations of animation, fades, rollover effects, slides, etc. that AJAX, JQuery, and other JavaScript libraries introduce? A lot of these technologies wreak havoc on SEO as well, but nobody complains about them. I guess Flash as a “different technology” presents an easy target.)

    Finally, these kinds of “Flash sucks” rants seem to imply that just because your site can be indexed by search engines, it is going to get great search engine rankings. The reality is that proper content indexing is the first step in a MUCH larger process. For example, quality links from external sites are more important that a simple indexing of the site and they are completely unaffected by the “Flash vs. HTML” argument.

    In conclusion, I go back to my original statement: different goals demand different solutions. Flash has its strengths and weaknesses; HTML has its strengths and weaknesses. Bad design plagues both technologies. The sooner HTML and Flash proponents alike quit waving their “My-Technology-Only!” flags and start viewing all these technologies as different tools with different uses, the sooner we can improve the web experience for everyone.

  3. Eric,
    You make some excellent points! Thanks for your comments. And I think you hit the nail on the head…sites (and the technology used to drive them) should be designed based on the goals of the client (not necessarily the same thing as what the client says he/she wants)…which in some cases may have NOTHING to do with SEO and everything to do with an impressive, wow-inspiring Flash or other cutting-edge design or branding presentation.

    My key point here is to know what you’re doing. Yes, you can design a well-optimized site in Flash (if you know how) and yes, .asp and other database-driven sites can wreak havoc on SEO…the key is, of course, to understand the goals and know how to reach them.

    I’m saying I’ve seen too many sites (or I should say designers) who rely on Flash to meet the “design requirements” but don’t pay any attention to the SEO issues, or even usability or site sales conversion goals (if these were even considered). A marketing agency has a responsibility to ask clients about these issues…to force them to think about it even if the client has given it no thought … it’s good counsel to address the underlying goals for a web site with a client.

    I’ve even talked a client out of a giant site optimization project because for their narrow client base and target audience it made more sense to spend the money on a personalized campaign for key targets than worrying about trying to rank on a few keywords that were too broad to mean anything significant to their audience (sure it would make the CEO happy to come up #1 in Google for “really cool widgets”, but it wouldn’t get them any new clients. That wasn’t how their customers — of which there are potentially less than 50 in the whole world — looked for those products). In fact, for that client, a personalized Flash or video presentation sent to each company would make more sense!

    A product promotional page is a completely different animal from a corporate web site. I can’t think of any company that would want their clients or potential business partners to Google their name and come up with a first position result that is the “Flash Required” index page. (It has happened to me recently and prompted this post). The agency’s actual web page wasn’t even listed in the top 10 for their own name! To me, that is a disaster. And they obviously haven’t thought about how to get their Flash web site indexed.

    Thanks again for your insightful comments. Good stuff!

  4. Hey there!

    Thanks very much for your reply. It sounds like the two of us are on the same page! The right tool for the right job is crucial. And to your point as well, even if Flash is the right tool, the demands of SEO with Flash are significantly more than with HTML sites and very often Flash developers don’t do it right. In my mind, if you build a Flash site without building alternative content, using splash pages and Flash intros, enabling deep linking, and so on, you haven’t finished your job. And all of that assumes that you’ve done your homework, identifying real and valuable goals for the client and the campaign, and have determined that Flash fits into that 😉

    As you say: “understand the goals and know how to reach them.” I agree 100%



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