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
- Flash is simply not accessible whatsoever to certain devices - a great example is the popular iPhone.
- Although certain types of Flash content is accessible to search engines, the limitations are plenty.
- Bandwidth requirements and load times are practically guaranteed to be a lot more taxing on the web-server and the patience of visitors.
- 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.
- The scroll wheel in Flash almost never scrolls with the same behavior as a non-Flash scrollbar.
- Scroll bars function differently in Flash.
- 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.
- Searching text content within the page doesn’t work in several major web browsers.
- Most often, checkboxes, radio buttons, form elements etc. don't function the way users are accustomed to.
- 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.
- 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;
- Users can’t right-click on a link and open it in a new tab or window
- Back and forward browser buttons don't work
- 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