To Flash or Not To Flash

Chances are, if you’ve been on the internet for more than a few days, you’ve come across sites that use Flash. Flash technology is used to deliver rich media and interactive experiences, and can be very visually compelling. Is understandable, then, that Flash is a very popular choice for florist websites. After all, if you’re presenting a visual product, having the ability to create an impactful visual experience can be helpful! Many of the sites listed in the FlowerChat “Cool Flower Shop Websites” discussion (an epic thread spanning 4 years, 263 posts and nearly 15,000 views!) are Flash-based sites.

Flash requires a plugin or add-on for most browsers, which is available as a free download from Google’s new browser, Chrome, is the only browser I can think of that comes with the Flash player pre-installed.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to the site owner in using Flash. Today we’ll examine a few of the benefits and drawbacks to using Flash, in the hope that you’ll be better equipped to decide if you want to employ Flash on your site.

Problems With Flash

It’s no surprise that when dealing with people with a visual mindset, a Flash site can be an easy sell even though they are typically much more expensive than a traditional HTML site. I wonder, though, how many Flash designers take the time to educate their customers on the problems and risks associated with all-Flash sites.

No Play(er)

While the Flash Player is installed on the vast majority of computers across the world – especially in North America, the fact remains that not every user has the ability to view a Flash site. It is still common in corporate environments for browser add-ons to be tightly controlled, and for Flash to not be installed. This means that everyone who does not have the Flash Player cannot view your pretty new all-Flash site that you just spent a few thousand dollars developing.

Furthermore, many people surf with special software designed to make the web accessible to people with various disabilities. Screen readers can’t read the contents of a flash file, so this market segment is denied access to your site.

The only solution to address the users with no Flash Player capabilities is to create a parallel site in HTML. If that sounds like a lot of work – it is.

No Search – No Find

Search Engines read text from a webpage. They can’t view images, although they do look at other signals to guess at the content of the image. Until mid-summer of 2008, they could not read Flash at all. This means that having an all-Flash site means you are sacrificing the benefit of any organic search, which just happens to be the best and most effective type of marketing for ROI. In essence, you are relying solely on external marketing efforts to drive traffic to your site – a risky and expensive venture, since it requires contstant work and strong brand recall to achieve traffic to your site.

To outline some of the search marketing problems with all-Flash sites, I’m going to pick on a new member of FlowerChat whose very lovely Flash site has attracted many compliments. 🙂 Opalia Flowers, like many shops in NYC, have a site based entirely on Flash. The design is elegant, and their product images are beautiful and represent the quality of their work. Their home page shows a PageRank of 3, on par with the average flower shop. It would seem, then, that they are doing well in their venture into online marketing.

The downside for Opalia is that they are losing out on the thousands of customers who are searching for florists in the New York and Brooklyn areas through search engines. Searching Google for “Brooklyn Florist” does not show Opalia in the first 100 results (most users don’t pass the first 10). Additionally telling is that none of the top 20 results are Flash sites.

So, why does Google not consider Opalia – a florist in Brooklyn, making nice arrangements – worthy of appearing in even the first 100 results for a search of their area? To answer that question, we have to consider what Google sees when they look at the Opalia site.

First, a human visitor with the Flash Player installed will see this:

As seen by a human with Flash
As seen by a human with Flash

However, Google tells us the really story as we search their index for pages from the Opalia site:

What Google reports of the site
What Google reports of the site

And we can query Google’s cached copy of the page:

Google gets no content of value
Google gets no content of value

So, Google sees only one page, and that page no text except for a message alerting the user that they don’t have the Flash Player installed. Nothing here tells Google the site is related to a flower shop in Brooklyn; they certainly can’t compete with a site that has many pages of content.

Side Note: See the cache date of August 22nd? That image was captured on Sept 4th, 13 days later. Google is so unimpressed they have slowed their crawl rate to at least two weeks between visits. Active sites are crawled daily.

Choosing an all-Flash website means you sacrifice nearly all chance at capturing traffic from the search engines. That’s a large stream of potential customers with purchase intent who will be forced to shop elsewhere. Google has announced they are starting to crawl Flash sites, but the nature and structure of Flash is not conducive to the algorithms Google uses to evaluate the themes and content of a website. Don’t expect to see a bunch of Flash sites jump to the top of the search results.

No Direct Linking

Most all-Flash websites don’t offer the user the ability to link directly to a page or product. If a buyer is considering a purchase, they have no ability to email a friend or spouse a direct link to the product. Consider the following scenarios:

“Honey, I’ve been shopping around online for flowers to send to Cousin Vinnie’s funeral. There’s this shop in NYC with some beautiful stuff, and they have this one design I just know Vinnie’s wife will love. It has her favourite flowers, and the style is so her. Check it out!

Just go to,
click on the Funeral section,
click next,
click next again,
then it’s the third one down on the right side.
Click on the image to see the details.

What do you think?”

Or this:

“Honey, I’ve been shopping around online for flowers to send to Cousin Vinnie’s funeral. There’s this shop in NYC with some beautiful stuff, and they have this one design I just know Vinnie’s wife will love. It has her favourite flowers, and the style is so her. Check it out! -I’ve also attached the image to this email.

What do you think?”

Clearly, the non-Flash site gives the better user experience in this case.

Another direct linking consideration relates to Pay Per Click marketing. It is exponentially more effective to link directly to a relevant page associated with the user’s search term, rather than linking your ad to the home page of your site. Sadly, all-Flash sites don’t have this option.

No Ka-Ching

It’s not impossible to have ecommerce on a Flash site, but it is rare. Not having ecommerce is a big hinderance to success in the online environment. Customers who shop online often have a higher purchase intent, and a web-performing florist website will have at least 3 online orders to every 1 phone order generated by the site. Not having ecommerce is telling your customers you don’t want their business.


So – what is Flash good for? Should we do away with it entirely?

May it never be!

Flash serves several good purposes, not the least of which is tastefully accenting the content on a page. Just don’t put any vital content in the Flash. It can be used for displaying products and on-site advertising,adding some benefits or features. Just remember, the search engines can’t see it or follow it, and neither can some of your users. Always have a backup method where Flash will be replaced by suitable alternate content that serves the same purpose.

The big mistake is building the entire site out of Flash. It’s costly up front and will cost you in performance for as long as the site is online. Like any accent, don’t get carried away – use it sparingly, where it’s useful and you’ll benefit your customers – and yourself.

3 thoughts on “To Flash or Not To Flash”

  1. I did not know that building a website in Flash made it impossible to deep link to particular pages. From a search engine optimization perspective this may look like a problem.

    However, as far as SEO is concerned I don’t know if recent websites done in flash fare better.

    Flash websites may be an advantageous option when a business wants to add a fancier version of his/her website. As you explained, if businesses want to attract everyone, Flash may not be the best language to build their main websites on.

  2. Building the entire website out of Flash is a grave mistake and should be avoided. Personally I hate Flash and wouldn’t be caught dead making a site with it. I’ve never seen a site made with this that could be navigated with ease. A good idea would be to have a normal version of a website and to also offer the option to see the website in a Flash version. That could work nicely if someone really wanted to make an impression.

    Are florists still using Flash as much today as they used to?

  3. Well the bad thing about having Flash on your site is that in reality, not everyone has flash. This therefore limits your ability to cater to everyone online. Flash can come in handy, however, show videos and graphics that wouldn’t show without having Flash installed. But again, you should be able to post content that everyone could see.

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