07 Mar 2009 @ 4:28 PM 

Here we go! I am sure I am going to make some enemies for myself in this sunny Saturday. Unfortunately I have no filters and I always say what I think. Flash presentations are the worst enemy for a website. Now I explain why.

Flash is a neat and cutting edge technology, developed by Macromedia and actually distributed by Adobe. It’s perfect for animations, even little movies (sort of digital cartoons) and it’s programmable using its own scripting language which is called Action Script. I like to compare Flash to Alcohol. A little glass of alcohol now and then is an acceptable practice (I just made more enemies among some religious groups); too much alcohol is devastating and can destroy lives. Flash has basically the same potential (without the physical harm). If you need to create a cute animated banner, flash is perfectly acceptable. I can say the same for an instructional or promotional video. The problem begins when some “marketing gurus” believe that they should use Flash everywhere and then finally they produce Flash Only websites.

The devastating effects of this practice are known only to Techies not to Marketers. Don’t ask me why, because I have not an answer. Maybe because Marketers found a way to charge twice a customer. The first time, making an expensive and useless flash only website; the second time, trying to fix that disaster doing, without being skilled, Search Engine Optimization.

Why flash only websites should be avoided like the plague? For two main reasons:

  • Technical: search engines are able to index properly only text. Even if a flash movie, or a flash menu, contains what appears to be text, technically is just an image. For this reason flash only (or full of flash) websites do not rank well with search engines. I always thought that the goal of marketing was increasing sales, but if you do not rank well with search engines, you are not in business.
  • Behavioral: let be honest here. How many times in your life have you visited a flash only website? Let say 100 times. How many times did you immediately abandon those websites? I bet that the number is close to 100. Why? Because flash only websites need a long time to load (even with high speed Internet, let alone dial-up) and during the download of that enormous file, you cannot do anything other than clicking on “skip intro” (and the “skip intro” option is not always available) or the back button of your browser, or waiting his majesty Flash to finally show-up (assuming that you have installed on your computer the Flash Player). Sometimes there is also an annoying music in the background, so the disaster is fully accomplished. Now, do our friends the “printed paper marketers” know that their customer just lost possible sales? Probably, so they don’t really care.

Internet marketing should be done by Internet Marketers. Traditional marketing is very different from Web marketing, because the media is different; people surfing the Web are more likely to think with their own brains, not being easy targets of traditional marketers. The most important lesson of marketing I learned after 14 years of working in the Web, is: give people what they want, do not make them want, what you want.

Posted By: admin
Last Edit: 17 Mar 2009 @ 02:29 PM

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  1. TheCosmonaut says:

    Wow, man – sounds like you’re still lost in ’96…

    Regarding your first point and Flash’s visibility to search engines: Google now indexes Flash files, so they are not completely invisible (I’ll grant you that the indexing is FAR from comparable than indexing for HTML). Moreover, with the introduction of scripts like SWFObject and SWFAddress, it is entirely possible to create extremely SEO-friendly Flash websites (if you’re wondering how, check out this post:http://tinyurl.com/8z58m5). Finally, and most importantly, while indexing is important, good ranking in the search engine comes from quality links OUTSIDE your own site. So if you’ve created an engaging Flash site that is relevant and exciting for others, chances are you’ll get better ranking than a boring, well-indexed HTML site.

    Regarding your second point: Everybody always freaks out on Flash and then rants on about things that are clearly DESIGN issues. I’ve been to HTML-only sites with splash pages, massive graphics (and associated long download times), and/or annoying music in the background. The items you list reflect bad design and bad design is not the exclusive domain of Flash (how many god-awful HTML sites have you seen? I’d bet as many as you have Flash sites).

    Additionally, without Flash we would not have YouTube, Vimeo, Google Analytics, the Adobe Store, and 90% of the most engaging rich internet applications on the web right now. To lump all these accomplishments into an “all Flash sites have long downloads, Flash intros, and background music” generalization is simplistic and silly.

    Flash is not the right solution for everyone. It’s merely one tool in internet marketers’ toolboxes. For some markets, Flash sites are completely inappropriate. For others, it’s crucial. Try marketing a video game without any Flash and the target market will laugh you out of business.

    I thought this argument was over years ago, but I guess it still rages on :)

    Best,

    –eric

  2. admin says:

    Eric:

    That’s exactly my point. I am not lost in ’96, I am just a realistic business person, trying to help people (or better their websites) to get a decent exposure over the Internet. While it’s true that Google indexes flash websites and files, it’s also true that you cannot do any SEO whatsoever, unless you create doorway entry pages, or some form of cloacking; you get caught by Google doing this and you can kiss goodbye your efforts. 90% of Flash websites, use Flash for no reason whatsoever. Quoting you “Try marketing a video game without any Flash and the target market will laugh you out of business.” This is absolutely true, but how many companies are in this market compared to the rest of the world? A little example? http://www.easports.com/ This is a well known company, they might even have a Flash only website, just because they are well known and their website has a PR 7 (although PR is not everything). Since they are Internet savvy, they have only a relatively small Flash presentation. A page basically made only with Flash has no text inside it; what about the indexable content? With Flash only websites we wouldn’t have Google (the search engine). YouTube and company have benefited mostly from incoming links, viral marketing (let’s call it with its real name “word of mouth”) and a few billion dollars provided by Google. The so called Web 2.0 is very hard to optimize for search engines (which is the point of my blog). Do you remember what happened with President Bush and “miserable failure”? Although a funny story, this is not what usually SEO Engineers do for websites. Good content is what provides incoming (and one way) links, not creating a network of peers artificially creating links pointing to a single web page. You don’t destroy Microsoft reputation pinging furiously their web servers for Bill Gates’ birthday; in this case you just wait for people to wake up and shift towards other operating systems (maybe with a little help from recession).

    While studying marketing at a prestigious College, I conducted a couple of interesting surveys. One was about PPC (pay per click) and basically I had the proof that PPC is too expensive to be worthy, but I suggest this strategy for Customers in need of quickly make money with their websites, because SEO requires months before showing a decent ROI; after SEO starts working, PPC should be only used as supporting strategy. The other survey was exactly about Flash. A big chunk of ordinary people (although the minority) had not even installed the Flash player, while the absolute majority was extremely annoyed by Flash presentations and the “skip intro” button was clicked more than 90% of the time. With YouTube, the user decides what he/she wants to watch, with Flash only websites, their only choice is going elsewhere. And by the way, while a movie has streaming capabilities, I have never seen this with Flash presentations.

    I tried to simplify the matter, because too much technicality drives people away as Flash does. Just to be technical, a website with a splash page made only with Flash can be optimized by supporting pages, but there are a few problems doing this. A website usually receives links pointing to its home page. Since the home page, made in Flash, has little to no content (from a search engine point of view) those links are considered almost spammy. The internal navigation structure is weakened by doing so. Ideally, a website shouldn’t even have a Sitemap. However it’s always good practice having 3 sitemaps (HTML, XTML, urllist.txt), but a well structured website can feed all its pages to search engines without them

    Finally, I totally agree about the bad use of instruments we have. I have a post on this blog talking of bad HTML design. Last summer, feeling lazy but “investigative”, I tried to check with the W3C validator as many websites I could. Interesting results; about 95% of websites I tested were not W3C HTML compliant and about 20% were not compliant with their CSS’s. A lot of websites had internal JavaScripts (possibly at the beginning of the HTML code) and many of them had some CSS inside the HTML code. This is what I mean for “being sloppy”! In fact I am still unhappy with a couple of things with both my website and my blog. The Akismet plug-in for WordPress has a couple of syntax errors, but I cannot fix it, because every time the plug-in is updated I should re-load the fix. For my website, I use a very useful statistic system, but unfortunately I did not find (yet) a way to externalize it; luckily its code is at the end of each page, so it is not the end of the world.

    I can be considered a dinosaur of the IT, but good programming and design style come exactly from these experiences. How many people actually back-up their systems? A dinosaur like me does it every day, because I could have been fired for not doing this, much earlier than 1996.

    Thank you for your comment Eric.

  3. TheCosmonaut says:

    Heya!

    I really appreciate your thought-out responses. I’m sure our little discussion here reflects the larger “Flash vs. SEO” argument which continues to rage in the larger world. :)

    I still have to say that a lot of your arguments seem outdated. You say that you can’t do any SEO whatsoever for Flash pages without doing “doorway entry pages”. This is patently untrue. SWFObject allows you to simultaneously present XHTML content and Flash content. The XHTML content is presented to those who can not support Flash and the Flash content is presented to those who can. Done scrupulously, this is not a doorway page, but is rather akin to using an accurate description in an ALT tag. You can build a standard XHTML page, completely optimized for search engines, and reap all the benefits of your hard SEO work. And then when somebody who HAS Flash visits the site, then they get to experience a more high-powered, dynamic experience (providing the designer has done their job well). Everybody wins: Users get what they want and the site gets good visibility on search engines. This is not a form of cloaking or doorway pages: Google completely supports SWFObject and has recently incorporated it into their updated repository of code.

    Your quote of 90% of Flash sites use Flash for no reason whatsoever seems silly to me. However, if people use Flash just for the sake of using Flash, then I agree with you — that’s a waste of everyone’s time. As I said before: Flash is a tool in an internet marketer’s toolbox. Used judiciously, it can be a tremendously effective tool. Used improperly, it’s a waste of time.

    On to your other points: You say that a Flash-only site has no text in it. That depends on the site; if you build a site in Flash but have a lot of text in it, surprisingly that’s the one thing that Google actually DOES index well for Flash. Let’s put that aside, though, because this seems like a weird argument. The whole reason to use Flash in the first place is to create a strong visual impact and/or engaging experience through the use of images and video (a text-only site in Flash would be a waste of time). Once again – use the proper tool for the job, and you’ll do well. Use the wrong tool, and you will fail. By your argument, we should criticize a photographer who uses predominantly photos on his portfolio website. While big images aren’t going to get him great SEO ranking, they are CRITICAL to selling him as a photographer!

    You say that YouTube has benefitted mainly from mostly from “incoming links,” “word of mouth,” and “a few billion dollars provided by Google.” Let’s address these one-by-one:
    * “Incoming links” — EXACTLY my point. YouTube’s use of Flash was judicious and well-executed. People LOVE it. Because they love it, they link to it, and YouTube then gets awesome search engine ranking. My point is that if you use Flash well, it will drive incoming links because you’re giving the people what they want.
    * “Word of mouth” — EXACTLY my point once again. Flash used well gives people what they want, so they like to spread the word.
    * “A few billion dollars provided by Google” — YouTube was HUGE waaaaay before Google bought them, so don’t try to cop out saying that they got where they were just because Google got behind them. You and I both know Google bought them BECAUSE they were one of the most massive online successes ever.

    You mention doing some studies at a prestigious university. I don’t doubt the veracity of those results. However, if anyone in this day and age builds a Flash intro with a “skip” button, they’re asking to be laughed out of their jobs. That went out YEARS ago, precisely because of what your study showed: people don’t want to have to wait in order to get to the content they’re looking for. That’s why most well-executed Flash sites these days will load the site structure before presenting the user with movies or trailers or anything else. This is why your complaints seem outdated to me: criticizing people for building Flash intros is like criticizing people for building table-structured web sites — of COURSE it’s wrong, and only fools or the ignorant are doing it.

    You also mention “splash pages”. Splash pages are now considered bad practice in all circles as well, including Flash developers. When developing for Flash, you should create a Flash movie and provide alternate XHTML content that accurately reflects the content within the Flash. This is considered best practice for developing Flash and results in excellent search engine indexing. This alternate XHTML should be structured exactly the way a standard website should; if you do that, then the internal linking structure doesn’t suffer at all. Again, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, take a look at my post on how this works: http://tinyurl.com/8z58m5

    You seem to poo-poo my point about marketing video games demanding the use of Flash. I wouldn’t discount the entertainment industry: the video game industry alone is projected to do $57 billion in revenue this year and the motion picture industry does some $33 billion. But all these things are beside the point: the real point is that marketing for some industries demands the kind of high-visual-impact design, animation, and interactivity that only Flash provides. Your assertion that “Flash is awful and should be avoided at all costs” is just as absurd as the assertion that “Flash is awesome and should be used for all sites.” Both are very, VERY far from the truth.

    The point is that internet marketing requires that you assess the client and the client’s product, the goals of the marketing campaign, the target market, what the target market wants/needs, and then how best to deliver on all those points. The reality is that sometimes Flash is crucial to achieving the goals (and sometimes it isn’t!).

    Finally, it sounds like you and I are both in agreement about the pervasive sloppiness of development on the web. I too have found that most websites are not W3C compliant (my own blog is guilty!). I too find that there are Flash developers who build Flash sites without providing alternate content that is SEF. I couldn’t agree more that good programming and design style come from experience.

    I just think that you will be selling some of your customers extremely short if you refuse to provide Flash solutions for the scenarios where it’s appropriate.

    Again, thanks for the spirited discussion!

    Best,

    –eric

    PS – I just want to clarify one point: I agree with you that Flash needs to be used judiciously and that its overuse can lead to ruin. I just disagree with you that all Flash-only websites should be dismissed out of hand as poor marketing decisions.

  4. admin says:

    You know what Eric?

    We seem to be in agreement on everything but trying to deny it. This why I like you and I am not being ironic here; I delete 99% of posts on my blog because they are made by idiots; I approved your comments almost without reading them! I was probably too harsh against Flash, but this is what I learned also from our discussion: the problem is not really Flash, but the bad use of this instrument. I should have said the same for HTML. A great, misused instrument. YouTube is a great thing and they developed probably the best mix of content and Flash videos. Unfortunately 99% of my potential customers have either (or both): 1) 100% Flash websites with no real need of Flash (most of the time Flash is not justifiable at all); 2) A so sloppy design that SEO is not even the point, I should spend hours to re-design a website that at the end will look the same (to people, not to S.E.). Fixing costs more than doing, but this is not considered by customers. They are ready to pay $6,000 for an ugly, annoying and stupid all Flash website (I can give you the URL of a website I am hosting), but they don’t even consider doing some basic SEO for less than $2,000. Guess what? They are losing a bunch of money, bat hey, their website is cute (only their opinion, that’s one of the ugliest websites I have ever seen).

    I was not dismissing the game industry, this is one of many, not one represented by the typical SEO customer “I want it made for $50″ kind of request.Or, “how much it cost doing SEO?” Well I received this request from an attorney and I asked him: How much it cost winning a lawsuit? Of course I “forgot” to mention: 1) a lawsuit against whom? 2) what’s the matter? 3) in which court. He did not get it and I feel sorry for him 4) Winning? It is exactly like pretending to do SEO only under warranty of being the # 1 on Google for a given keyphrase,

    My P.S. “rebuttal”. I probably gave the impression that I am dismissing 100% of “Flash only” website and I plead guilty. Let say that 92.6% (this does not come from a survey, it’s just a number I made up) of Flash marketers should change job! Better than being a recruiter; 110% of them should change job (I am writing a book on this subject).

  5. admin says:

    My real P.S.: I hate people not signing their comments/email etc. and of course I did the same. My name is Angelo.

  6. admin says:

    2nd P.S. Ok your blog is guilty of not being 100% compliant; I take your word at face value, because I did not check it. As long as you are aware that you are not perfect, this is fine. As I said in my first answer my blog is not perfect either, although not for my fault. One little secret. I designed in 1998 a website, with several syntax errors and I am pleased to see it extremely well positioned for a few very important keywords. it’s funny that I never started that business. I consider it my lucky shot as beginner. Even as SEO specialist I should abhor that website, but I am beating big guys such as Bulgari. I want to be clear. This is just good luck, but that’s a website that should’ve some Flash!

  7. TheCosmonaut says:

    Hi Angelo!

    I agree with you – it sounds like we share a fundamental belief: that Flash, HTML, online video, and whatever else are simply tools that are part of an internet marketer’s arsenal. Any of these tools used improperly is a bad thing, and any of these tools used in the right situation can be effective for clients.

    It sounds to me like where we differ is on the spectrum of where it’s appropriate to use Flash. Most of my business is in the entertainment industry or in industries where images, video, and dynamic interaction are crucial to the user experience, so naturally I feel like your “92.6%” is extreme. It sounds like most of your business is outside of this area and in industries where Flash experiences are totally unnecessary, so naturally you feel like my advocacy of Flash is extreme. I don’t think either of us is wrong – I think it simply reflects where our personal priorities are.

    The main point I’m trying to make is that people tend to dismiss Flash out of hand as totally search engine unfriendly and assert that there’s no way to make it adequately indexable, and that’s just not true anymore.

    That certainly doesn’t mean Flash is appropriate for every situation, though! One of my recent clients is in the corporate training industry and her original site was all Flash. There was simply no reason for that whatsoever. To make matters worse, the original Flash site had no search engine optimization so it was completely invisible to search engines. I helped her migrate to a WordPress-driven site and she’s happily search engine friendly now :)

    If it’s any consolation to you, I would say that almost ALL of my clients these days are requesting some sort of search engine optimization. The days of “Make it pretty, make it Flash, forget about search engines, and here’s a boatload of money” are coming to a close. So you’re in the right business, my friend.

    Thanks again for a fun discussion.

    Best,

    –eric

    PS – You got me all inspired to get my blog 100% W3C-compliant; I’m proud to say it is now :) If you’re having trouble with Akimset validating, have you updated to the latest version of WordPress and/or the latest version of the Akimset plug-in? I’m using it and it seems to be validating fine…

  8. admin says:

    Damn my blog still does not validate, and it’s Akismet for sure! I use the release 2.2.3 (recently updated) with WordPress 2.7.1; any idea is welcome!

    I understand that you are in a completely different business, so Flash is much more instrumental for you than the business I am in. Unfortunately SEO is probably the most misunderstood thing of the web. People want a sort of warranty about the first page (or better the first position) on Google and there is nobody (including probably Matt Cutts) who can guarantee anything in SEO. Just to make the matter worse, there is somebody promising SEO for 39.95 a month, so customers don’t feel good about paying thousands for SEO.

    Now I tell you what happened to me. Since I am not stupid, I check my competition periodically, and one company offered me a SEO work for one of my websites (now basically dead) for $8,000 a month with a minimum commitment of 12 months; that’s 96 grand! The thing that worries me, is that this company spent no more than 54 seconds on my website. Now that business at the top of making money was not even close to $5,000 a month. They did not even enter in details about what they were planning to do.

    By the way I am glad I had this discussion with you. I still hate Flash, but I should say that I hate websites made in Flash when there is no reason to do that. I am sure that the customer you switched from Flash to WordPress is extremely happy. WordPress is now search engine friendly (assuming that the user knows what she’s doing) and efficient. And apparently Google loves WordPress; I can get pages indexed in a couple of minutes. I just released an eCommerce made with WordPress; I will probably make a business out of this.

    Another thing I like is Drupal. I am still “playing” with it, but I finally decided to start a project for a not for profit organization and my wife will be the “guinea pig”; no profit for me either, but I consider this an investment. Drupal is also a good platform and search engine friendly, just more complicated than WordPress, but with a ton of features.

    If you know of a good theme developer for either WordPress or Drupal, please let me know.

    I wish you all the best for your business.

    Angelo.

  9. TheCosmonaut says:

    Hello Angelo!

    You raise a really interesting point: SEO as a commodity. In my experience, SEO companies have divided mostly into two camps. First, you’ve got the $39.99 a month shysters who don’t do anything but purchase the cheapest AdSense position they can. Second, you’ve got the super-pricey, full-service SEO shops who actually do some serious work but charge you an arm and a leg for it. I’m just blown away that that shop tried to sell you without doing their due diligence beforehand.

    I’m loving WordPress and how search engine friendly it is. It’s definitely become the go-to solution for me and most of the non-entertainment clients I work with. Drupal sounds great for the next-level clients who need an even more custom solution. I’ve got a friend who swears by it and thinks it’s truly the way to go.

    As for theme developers, if you’ve got a designer you like, I strongly suggest using PSD2HTML.com. These guys will take any design you give them and will handle all the integration, right down to installing it on your servers. Even if you can do it yourself, their rates are so low that a lot of times it’s worth using them anyway.

    I have to admit – I’m steering a lot of my clients toward modifying existing free WordPress templates. SmashingMagazine.com has a bunch of links to free WordPress themes and a lot of them are very good. With appropriate color modifications and logo integration, many of these can be excellent solutions for small businesses on a budget. For me they’re SUPER easy to deploy and for the clients, they don’t need to pay for an expensive custom design. Everybody wins :)

    In any case, I wish you the best for your business as well. And if you ever DO have a client who could use some Flash, you know where to call ;)

    All my best,

    –eric

  10. admin says:

    Hello again Eric and sorry for the late answer. In my SEO proposal I just do a honest job without charging too much; it’s also true that since I have no big overheads I can be quite affordable; of course this is a relative term. For $39.95 I don’t even take a look at a website. I agree that probably WordPress is the only way to go for on budget customers, unless they are on a no budget situation (I cannot count the # of requests for free stuff). I am going to take a look at the websites you mentioned ASAP and of course in case Flash is the way to go (or I think it can be) I will tell you. I am not an artist, so Flash won’t be ever in my “weaponry”. I am more a problem solver; you got a problem? I am in business. I learned PHP when I decided that updating my (at the time) main website, was a pain in the rear end. I had to re-learn SEO when I discovered that almost all my pages were disappeared from Google. I will send you a private email about the ugly Flash website I am hosting; it’s unbelievable the list of problems with that expensive website. Just consider this; they accept payments with credit cards, but they use a plain http connection. I could not convince them that they cannot do that. And with my web hosting plans, I give a free secure certificate, although this is not a dedicated one. By the way, I believe they never sold anything with that thing, so no harm.

    Take care of yourself!

    Angelo

    P.s. It’s funny that I started my post knowing that I would have pissed somebody off and I did, with you! Now we are exchanging suggestions etc. Isn’t life strange?

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