Bjørn Enki’s web design blog

Why Flash based websites are commonly discouraged

While there may be a few techniques that require Flash, most aspects associated with "Flash" do not require the use of proprietary software at all. I always discourage the use of only Flash for a website—this post explains why and goes over common drawbacks associated with Flash as a professional website design solution.

Why Flash based websites are commonly discouraged

Once in a while potential clients come to me requesting a "Flash based website", "Flash website design" or something of that nature. While this may help me understand the type of site the client is looking for, I feel obligated to discourage the use of only Flash as the foundation for any website, as well as explain the importance of being aware of the drawbacks of Flash.

Flash does have its purposes in certain situations but should be used selectively and carefully. Flash should never be used as a replacement to HTML! At most, it should replace alternative, more accessible versions of similar content. Even Google recommends only using Flash only where its needed.

To clients interested in "Flash website design"

Whether or not you'll be working with me to design or develop your web site, I strongly encourage that you make sure your web developer takes accessibility, search engine compatibility and the user experience into consideration. By user experience, I mean what the site is like to navigate, or to users without Flash—not how “pretty” it is. While this holds true for any website design or development project, it is especially important when it comes to websites that use Flash more excessively, or even as the basis for their entire website.

Basically, a large number of important aspects of a websites accessibility, search engine performance and the user-experience are often completely disregarded by Flash developers, as they are more difficult or impractical to implement. Some aspects are even impossible to emulate using Flash. For more information, here's a list of Flash drawbacks.

Once you've found a website developer that you trust can create a website that meets all your needs, you'll have to specifically identify each aspect of your website that will require Flash, for example; the header, any navigational elements, a call to action, a promotional video, etc. Luckily, using Flash solely for specific elements will suffice for practically every website. Additionally, the only noticeable difference to users will be a professional website that functions and appears as expected on any computer or device.

The difference between based on Flash and enhanced by Flash

Technically, no website uses only Flash. Even websites created entirely in Flash are served to users using standard HTML. However, if every aspect of a web site or web page's content is contained within the Flash file(s) embedded on a web page, the website is considered to be based on Flash.

On the other hand, websites with content marked up and presented with HTML, whether or not they have elements of Flash included, are not considered Flash based. One might refer to such websites as being enhanced by Flash.

Drawbacks of basing a website on Flash

  1. Flash is simply not accessible whatsoever to certain devices - a great example is the popular iPhone.
  2. Although certain types of Flash content is accessible to search engines, the limitations are plenty.
  3. Bandwidth requirements and load times are practically guaranteed to be a lot more taxing on the web-server and the patience of visitors.
  4. Users can’t save images from the web page. Some might think this adds protection, however there literally is no way of preventing something that can be seen in a browser from being saved. All it effectively accomplishes is preventing honest returning visitors from saving or sharing their favorite content and spreading the word about your site.
  5. The scroll wheel in Flash almost never scrolls with the same behavior as a non-Flash scrollbar.
  6. Scroll bars function differently in Flash.
  7. Keystrokes almost never work as they should and some users rely on. For example, page up and page down should scroll whatever iframe, text area, or region has focus. Tab is supposed to cycle through links and Enter should activate links.
  8. Searching text content within the page doesn’t work in several major web browsers.
  9. Most often, checkboxes, radio buttons, form elements etc. don't function the way users are accustomed to.
  10. On Flash based websites, users cannot scale the size of text or the entire page itself as they can on non-Flash based websites. On non-Flash based websites, any Flash elements are not scalable and neither is their text.
  11. Flash requires a lot more resources to run than HTML. Especially on Linux, I have found websites that become effectively unusable due to Flash.

Furthermore, unless specific precautions are taken;

  1. Users can’t right-click on a link and open it in a new tab or window
  2. Back and forward browser buttons don't work
  3. Bookmarking or sharing links to a specific page is not supported

Extremely few websites benefit from being based entirely on Flash. Drawbacks with Flash to  accessibility, search engine performance and over user experience make it impossible for me to recommend using Flash for an entire site. In fact, even Google recommends only using Flash in select situations.

Bottom line; Use Flash only where it is needed and always provide alternate content

 

Posted Jul. 14, 2009 at 10:13 pm under: website development, flash

Comments

Bjorn Enki, Nov. 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm
Great to hear that djsiva, thank you!
djsiva, Nov. 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm
this was very helpful , was planning to work on a project which will focused more into flash , but now i changed my mind. will make sure it is enhanced by flash not dominated by it :) thank u man
Bjorn Enki, Sep. 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm
@Neo: A site can have a high page rank and still be completely or largely misunderstood or even unavailable to search engines. Page rank does not equal search visibility by any means. @Anonymous: I think you missed the purpose of this post. One can use Flash without basing a website's structure on it. The visual difference is usually not noticable--the technical difference is a site that's much more accessible and compatible.
Anonymous, Sep. 16, 2009 at 5:22 am
I am aware of the fact that flash based websites are also associated with hazards but at the same time one must not forget that a certain look cannot be achieved without flash.But i guess i am saying so because i love working on flash.
Neo, Sep. 15, 2009 at 3:37 am
Yes flash based sites are discouraged but many people don't want to understand it....They want a glossy bright website...If SEO is concerned Google is able to index flash based websites to some extent. Infact I have seen some flash websites also with nice page rank of 5 and 6. Thanks
Mark, Jul. 15, 2009 at 12:12 pm
I absolutely agree. Great post! So many people don't even know the drawbacks of Flash.
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