Flash Websites – Fun and Effective, or Dead on Arrival?

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team January 05, 2009

A custom website design should be attractive, interactive and interesting. There is nothing worse than a plain Jane, uninspired website. All other things being equal, a website that is visually appealing is far more likely to generate a conversion than one that is boring to look at.  One of the most common ways to add some points of visual interest to a website is to use Flash.  In fact, websites designed entirely in Flash are not uncommon. However, before you have your crack designer code your site, there are some things you should know about Flash design.

First, what exactly is Flash?

Flash is a method of coding animation and video streaming used in websites.  The platform is owned and distributed by Adobe. If you encounter a website with moving images or animated video clips, chances are it is done in Flash.

Why would you use Flash?

Simply put, it looks great. A few well placed Flash elements can really make the site come alive. By adding some animation or movement, an otherwise mundane site can take on a striking and provocative appearance. 

Is Flash really a Search Engine Killer?

While Flash can be a great way to spice up a site, it can also have some drawbacks.  The most common refrain from marketers is how Flash is interpreted by search engines. Five years ago, we would likely have recommended against using Flash because search engine crawlers seemed to have a hard time interpreting the relevancy of the Flash files. After all, crawlers are using primarily text to make relevancy decisions about a web page. When large portions of a page are coded in Flash, all a search engine bot would encounter is a Flash file name and not quite understand what the human page viewer was actually seeing and interpreting. Today, crawlers have come a long way and they are able to extract a good amount of text out of a Flash file. Still, sites that are completely designed in Flash have a distinct disadvantage to sites coded in nice clean html. It is easier for a crawler to interpret clear text in an html document than to extract the text from a Flash file and then contextualize it. So, it is really just a matter of which works better. Simply put, Flash is not a search engine killer, but it is not the hero that good old fashioned clear text html is.

So, when should you use Flash?

There are a few instances where Flash design works great and should be used if given the opportunity. Using Flash to create compelling main images on a home page is a good example. You don't need to code the entire site in Flash to get the benefits of it's use. Instructional animated videos is another example of where Flash might be a good choice.

You'll want to avoid using Flash for your main navigation, since crawlers may have a tougher time with it. Also avoid sites entirely designed in Flash for the same reason; it may be difficult to get the entire site indexed and the get pages ranked in search engines.

Talk to your designer about how to incorporate some Flash elements into your site that can take a dull site and turn it into something special.

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