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Mango Tree Media is a web design firm focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses reach their true web potential using the Joomla!® CMS

How to Use Flash on your Website

What is Flash you say? Flash is a very popular web technology that is used on websites to create rich, interactive multi-media interfaces on websites. Yet it comes with its disadvantages as well. I've seen it abused pretty frequently on different websites, so in this post I'm going to talk about how to use Flash in a responsible way while avoiding some of the pitfalls that come it.

The 5 Disadvantages

There's no question that websites built on Flash technology can offer a much more aesthetically pleasing web experience and extremely cool interactive effects. Yet for most websites, especially business websites, creating a site principally driven by Flash comes at too high a cost. What are those costs?

  1. Poor search engine results. Search engines rank sites according to the text they find on the site. They cannot read Flash files, so the content does not register in their system, and your site will not receive high rankings.
  2. Long loading times. Flash files normally use a lot of images and are large files by web standards. Even worse, they won't display until they are completely loaded, leading to a lot of 'dead' time. Many people will leave a site if they have to wait longer than 8 seconds to see results.
  3. Poor Accessibility. Not all visitors to your site will have the proper Flash plugin installed. If your site needs Flash to run properly, these people will likely move on before taking the time to install the plugin. Also, site-impaired visitors will also not be able to use their text readers to navigate the site.
  4. Higher development costs. Flash development takes a lot more skill than normal HTML web development and as such you should expect to pay quite a lot more for a Flash site.
  5. Higher maintenance costs. Because photos and text are often embedded in the Flash file itself it is much more difficult to make changes than a regular website. This can be improved by programming the module to use text from outside sources like databases and text files, but any graphic, animation, and embedded text changes will require someone with knowledge of Flash and the correct software to make the change.

Doing it Right

Despite the downfalls listed above, Flash technology can really enhance a site. Here are some guidelines:
  1. Keep it Small Flash modules can do some very cool animation with fantastic effects and still have a relatively small download size. Stay away from large files that cause a "Loading..." message to display for a long time. If you keep it small, visitors won't notice the wait and can still benefit from the added functionality.
  2. Make it Optional If your site DEPENDS on Flash then it can really cause problems for visitors who don't have it installed. For example, Flash navigation renders the site unusable for if Flash is not present on the user's browser. Rather, use if for ads, or added functionality that adds value to the site, but isn't strictly necessary. And always include alternative text or images to show in case Flash is not installed.
  3. Don't Let it Distract From the Message With all the animation possible in Flash, it can easily create effects that overwhelm the message of the site. This is especially true if the animations run automatically and not as a result of user actions. So make sure that your Flash module isn't so "Flashy" that your visitors are distracted from reading your great content.
  4. Let it Save Screen Real-estate One thing Flash is very good at is making it easy to see multiple images within the same area of the page. So if you want a way to present a lot of images and accompanied text in a compact way, Flash may be a good solution.

Weighing the Options

Some companies, despite the drawbacks of creating a fully Flash site, have decided that advantages are more important. These companies need the extra media richness provided by Flash to build their image and reach their intended audience. For an incredible example of this check out smartwool.com. These companies will pay much higher development costs, and may have trouble getting ranked in the search engines, but they'll have very cool sites. It just goes to show, there are always exceptions to the rule.
James Friesen

James Friesen

James is the founder and CEO of Mango Tree Media and since 2004 has been squeezing the most out of the Joomla CMS to help businesses and non-profits communicate with their client base and extend their reach.

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