Flash Animation: The Biggest Website Mistake

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Flash is Adobe’s platform for adding animation to websites and was the software of the time—in the late 1990s. Flash animation is now considered to be a gigantic technology mistake for your website. Even glancing at the Wikipedia definition (above) includes the following:

[users] find the extensive use of flash animation… intrusive and annoying, giving rise to a cottage industry that specializes in blocking flash content. Flash has also been criticized for adversely affecting the usability of web pages.

I will also hearken a quote from the granddaddy of the interweb, Jakob Nilsen (who is the guru of internet standards and usability) who explains that:

current Flash technology tends to discourage usability for three reasons: it makes bad design more likely, it breaks with the Web’s fundamental interaction style, and it consumes resources that would be better spent enhancing a site’s core value.

Flash Intros Are Not Great User Experience

Besides being completely unusable on most mobile devices, many find the sites annoying even on PCs. Most users want to go to a site, find what they are looking for and move on. This becomes difficult when they have to watch the site animate into a pretty picture. Websites exist for their visitors, not the other way around. I see almost no use ever for a Flash animation intro (or really, any website intro), unless your website strategy includes annoying visitors and wasting other people’s time.

For many years Flash animation was the only way to deliver rich interaction and while users expect rich experiences, what once could be done almost exclusively in Flash is now easily accomplished with JavaScript and a bit of ingenuity and a higher level of web standards. At first glance, even the savviest developer would have a hard time discerning which technology was used for a website without peeking at the source. The list of websites that are ditching Flash in favor of web standards is growing every day.

Flash is a Black Hole for SEO

You’re just not going to achieve the kind of SEO success for a Flash site that you can for an HTML equivalent. If your website strategy has any SEO expectations, stay away from it. This SEO expert goes as far as to call Flash wrong, and that ” not every search engine is able to crawl and index the content of Flash movies. Even those that can often do it with errors.”

Website Management is a Nightmare

If you will be constantly editing your website, Flash can easily become more of a hurdle in keeping it updated. This is mainly because you always end up wanting to edit more than what is possible. The trend is to ditch Flash for WordPress-powered websites that use JavaScript to enhance the experience, allowing for quick and easy updates to content.

Your iPad doesn’t run Flash

If your website uses Flash animation, it won’t play well on your iPad or iPhone. Turns out, a lot of people want their sites to look pretty on the iPad. So the internet’s already starting to look different. One of the more interesting effects of the iPhone was that it drove a ton of websites to format their content for the phone. Consider the scenario if you are a restaurant owner with a Flash website and your potential clients are down the street, searching for nearby restaurants. When they land on your site, they see nothing. Not your address, your menu, or any of your website that is in Flash.

The Apple and Adobe battle

With Apple’s anti-Flash stance, it has become too hard to argue for a completely Flash-based website when it would leave out a potentially large audience. Steve Jobs explained Apple’s position on Flash:

Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices… Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash [exclusively] to create apps that run on our mobile devices

Of course, there are some websites where Flash animation can be a good choice or at least a “possible” choice. Some examples include highly visual and artistic sites such as portfolios, or sites with videos or games. Just don’t ever forget that every website has a primary purpose, and if Flash animation doesn’t contribute to that, it’s probably a detriment and a liability. As more and more designers and developers realize the benefits of Web standards and start using some of the features of HTML5 and CSS3, we’ll see fewer Flash-driven websites.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/e3000/211592000/)

Legal Marketing, Legal Technology

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  • http://bunkerlawgroup.com/ Ben Bunker

    As always, excellent advice.

    I’ve had to do my website on a DIY basis to control costs, but if I made sure of anything, it was to do as Karen recommended, ban Flash. I’ve seen many law firm websites that use flash and have found it looks a bit gimmicky and annoying. I try to follow the KISS principle when working on my website.

    And like Karen noted, I’ve followed the WordPress trend (using Thesis) in developing my website and have found it to be great product. The pugins for WP make it easy for my firm’s site to be viewed by mobile devices (WPtouch – I found it through Lawyerist, thanks!).

  • Pat Stoneking

    There are some things on a website that you simply cannot accomplish without flash. Whether or not those things are necessary on a legal website and whether or not a reasonable facsimile might be achieved using javascript are the main questions.

    I would have to agree with you that in about 90% of legal websites that use it, flash takes away without adding anything and these are all very important concerns.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      The general proposition stands: Flash is unnecessarily and badly implemented on most law firm websites. I have a hard time thinking of anything that needs to be on a law firm website that cannot be accomplished without Flash, and only video that is impractical without Flash.

      As you say, on nearly all law firm websites, Flash is a negative, not a positive.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Pat, I just noticed this on your website:

      We will come to meet with you to discuss your case, either by car or in our airplane; no charge, no obligation. When you are represented by Stoneking Law, you can discuss the case with your Minneapolis personal injury attorneys face-to-face within hours, no matter how far away you live from the cities.

      This is awesome.

      • Pat Stoneking

        Hey, thanks. Glad to know I didn’t need to put that in some sort of flash animation for someone to read it.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/karinconroy/ Karin Conroy

    Pat,

    Agreed, Flash does some things that nothing else does. The main use I have seen in legal websites is for animation, whether it is a slideshow or making fancy buttons. This can easily be accomplished with a number of other methods that also make the site mobile-friendly.

    Karin1

  • Susan Gainen

    My flash animation experience is either: (1) time ceases to exist for a few seconds, allowing me to breathe deeply; or (2) tick-tock-tick-tock. Take me to useful information now.

    Great post!