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Bad Ideas for Small Business: Flash

Why Small Business Should Use Flash Sparingly

It’s about two weeks past the big announcement by Google Webmaster Central Blog about indexing flash on websites. I know, personally, I’ve fought off a rush of designers who wanted to create heavy-laden flash websites because they think it’s “ok now”.
I had to shut down the flood gates quick before everything became just a huge conglomerate of Flash animation. I told them to actually read the blog, not just the headline. Because, if they’d actually read it, they’d know it’s about as vague as vague can be. Moreover, while aesthetics are important, we’re in the business to be found and make our clients found. Flash, like AJAX, is still, as far as I’m concerned, a “website” cloaking device.

Let’s read what Google says their Flash limitations are:

Q: What are the current technical limitations of Google’s ability to index Flash?
There are three main limitations at present, and we are already working on resolving them:

1. Googlebot does not execute some types of JavaScript. So if your
web page loads a Flash file via JavaScript, Google may not be aware of that Flash file, in which case it will not be indexed.

2. We currently do not
attach content from external resources that are loaded by your Flash files. If your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, another SWF file, etc., Google will separately index that resource, but it will not yet be considered to be part of the content in your Flash file.

3. While we are able to index Flash in almost all of the languages found on the web, currently there are difficulties with Flash content written in bidirectional languages. Until this is fixed, we will
be unable to index Hebrew language or Arabic language content from Flash files.

The third point doesn’t concern me as much because I am just starting to get into the international scene, but the first two are a deal-breaker. And the update Google provided doesn’t do much to reassure me that their Flash techniques in the algorithm are SEO-ready. To get a nice, in-depth blog about why all-flash or heavy flash is not a great idea, check SEOmoz’s blog post by Rand.

I work with smaller business. Most small business have this strange attraction to flash, and up until now, I could never figure out why. But I finally came to a conclusion: larger corps (i.e. Starbucks) use flash like it’s going out of style; it looks great and represents the brand they way these smaller businesses want to represent their brand. The problem is, the smaller business doesn’t have nearly the brand recognition or brand staying power to be able to develop an all-flash or heavy-flash site.

Let’s take the Starbucks example further:

Here’s what the site looks like normally:

Here’s what a search engine sees:

Creating a flash-heavy site for a small business is like putting a Romulan cloaking field around the site, forever hidden from the eyes of the search engine. The object is to be found not to hide. And, even though Google can supposedly index flash, we don’t have much of an idea how they’re temporally conveying the contextual text. The example the blog gives is probably the utopic example, so don’t expect treatment like that.

Still think Flash is good for Small Business?

Flash can be done well, but it rarely is. The conclusion is to use common sense when designing the site. If CSS and HTML can present the nearly the same look and feel as Flash, then go with the CSS. If you absolutely have to use flash or AJAX, then use it as sparingly as possible and stick to the basics.

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