Back in 1999, I started off my design/multimedia career as a Flash designer before I ever learned to build websites. Back in those days, Flash was all the rage, and a lot of people couldn’t wait to push the boundaries and see what I could really do. But like everything else on the Internet, it grew and evolved. Despite it gaining market dominance as the best web animation software, in the last few years, it’s really ran into a few huge roadblocks. In fact, I would dare say that Flash is dead as a market dominating technology and is slowly going the way of betamax taps and the covered wagon. This is due to 3 big factors. First, Flash doesn’t work on iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices. Second, it kills your websites search engine ranking. Third, new technologies like jQuery can do a lot of the same things as Flash and can actually help improve your search engine ranking.
It’s currently estimated that 40% of US adults us a mobile device to surf the web and check emails*. The ever-popular iPhone and iPad have completely revolutionized the cell phone and mobile device market. These amazing little devices seem to be able to do just about anything, except for show Flash content on a website. Apple has blocked the release of the Flash plug-in on these devices, claiming that it sucks too much power and has too many bugs. This is a big problem for Flash. It means that visitors to your site will see is a blank box where your beautiful Flash animation is supposed to be. Yikes! And even worse, imagine if you dared to create your whole website in Flash!
The next nail in Flash’s coffin is that it’s very difficult for search engines to properly read and analyze Flash content. And it’s next to impossible to optimize an all flash website to rank well in the search engines. Trust me, having built many all-Flash websites, I’ve tried every trick you can imagine (and probably a few no one has ever imagined). But I’ve found that despite all that work, you’re really just fighting an up-hill battle. Here’s a great example. Let’s say there are two websites. Site A is all HTML, and site B is an all-Flash website. Each site has 100 pages of content. Google looks at site A and sees 100 pages of content, but it looks at site B and only sees one page of content. That’s because site B has only one physical URL, and Google doesn’t understand that inside of the flash animation there are actually 100 individual pages of content. Which site do you think will rank better. The 100 page site or the one page site?
So, if Flash not showing up on mobile devices and hurting your ranking in the search engines isn’t enough to make you change your ways, then perhaps this will. You can do almost everything you do in Flash using new technologies such as jQuery, Mootools, Scriptaculous and other AJAX bases solutions. Best of all these modern technologies – if used properly – can actually help your search engine ranking. They also work great on mobile devices such as Droid, iPhone, iPad and such. These AJAX solutions will let you do most things that Flash can do, they are easy to use and are very browser compatible. Sure there is probably some really obscure, high-end functionality in Flash that you might not be able to completely reproduce with AJAX, but odds are you’ll never need to use it.
At this point, the dye has been cast, and it’s time to face facts. The Internet is always rapidly changing, and Flash’s day has come and gone. As the owner of web design and development company, I meet with business owners all day long to hear about how they want to use the Internet to grow their business. Often they’ve seen some cool all-Flash website that they are really impressed with. I always advise them to use a little Flash as possible if they want to rank well in the search engines and need to attract as many customers as possible. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a few simple Flash animations on your site, but the days of all-Flash websites are clearly at an end. And if you are going to use Flash for any central or critical pieces – such as the banner on your home page – then you should have a non-Flash version as well. Just have the page detect if they are on a mobile device, (or don’t have Flash installed) and switch out that Flash element for a static jpg image. Or better yet, just use jQuery to create the same, if not a far superior user experience. That will certainly look a lot nicer on a mobile browser then a big blank spot.