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FutureNow Article
Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2008

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using Flash

By Jeff Sexton
April 22nd, 2008

adobe flash web designAdobe Flash has been habitually misused by design-centric website developers — so much so that a few of us at FutureNow tend to wince when it’s even mentioned in passing.

It’s not that we don’t like Flash. When used purposefully, Flash has the potential to dramatize a product or service’s benefits in ways that static pictures and text can’t quite match.

The micro-site for the Sigma DP-1 camera (choose language preference to start) is a good example of Flash done right.

Notice how the choreographed presentation of text and pictures dramatizes the benefit of having a DSLR image sensor in a compact camera body. And notice how the site’s designers capture your attention from the beginning of the presentation and lead you to a place where you can then interact with the camera’s features.

Sigma’s Flash presentation creates persuasive momentum, then leverages it by bringing viewers to an interactive website where they can drill down into specifics.

For an example of Flash used within a website — rather than as an introduction to a website — I recommend taking a look at this page from the Leo Diamond website. No, it’s not the prettiest site out there, but the Flash tools provide visitors with a better feel for diamond carat size and color than either text or static pictures could. And it works.

Flash can be an effective tool when used intelligently and sparingly. But before you decide on using it, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What will this allow me to convey that text and static images wouldn’t?

2. Am I actually conveying benefits or just adding sparkle and glitz?

3. Is there a way to make this more interactive and not just a push-presentation?

4. If I can’t make it interactive, what can I do to hook the viewer right from the start, so they don’t skip the presentation? (You ARE going to provide a “skip” option, right?)

5. What pathways am I providing to the flash viewer when they are done with the interactive tool or presentation?

6. Are there clear links and pathways forward that will lead to conversion?

7. Will the static content allow visitors to drill down into the topics most important to them?

8. Does it address the visitor’s true concerns?

9. Will you capitalize on the persuasive momentum from the Flash presentation?

10. Do your calls to action continue to build on that momentum?

If you can answer those questions, it might be smart to use Flash sparingly.

. .

About the Author: Jeff Sexton is a Persuasion Architect, and on June 2nd, he’ll be taking the day off from helping clients fuse style and substance to teach FutureNow’s Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar in Manhattan.

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Comments (31)

  1. Great article. People definitely “over flash” their sites these days to the point where it’s not only uncrawlable by the search engines but becomes an unpleasant experience for the visitors – especially those who include spiffy sounds to accompany the flash. We love the idea of using flash sparingly only to enhance needed features within your site but most think flash is better. Mind sending this out to the millions of clueless companies out there who allow their webmasters to go wild?

  2. Good insight into when and when not to use flash. Thanks Jeff for always writing great posts.

  3. good article – i also find out that a lot of webmaster uses flash without thinking of possible problems with search engines. Especially fashion companies hire “flash-webdesigner” for a good-looking site. I hope that one of them read your post.

  4. A huge fan of flash, but as you point out very well not always the right tool for the job. So much use of flash seems to be a bit self-indulgent and not really as focused on the needs of the site user. Your 10 questions should be asked by all marketers and designers before they scratch the flash itch.

  5. I built my first and only Flash intro screen about 7 years ago for a website I was designing at the time. The biggest thing I noticed back then was how big the Flash files were.

    I think the Flash websites, all mostly about the web designer saying look at how good I can make things look. I am a great web designer, aren’t I? Yes you can have little widgets and video to do certain things in Flash but designing an entire website in Flash is like having midi files load up and play music when you first go to a website. An old way of doing things, we have learned and move beyond that now.

    Yes Flash may look pretty and cool, but I do not think it allows you to sell more products, good navigation, quick downloadable pages, simplicity to a point and good copy, will win out in my opinion.

    I am in the process of redesigning my category pages right now because hopefully I am learning to do things better. My guess is we are all learning to do things better, and designing a website totally in flash, we have learned, there is a better way of doing it.

  6. Amen, Jeff.

    Flash gets abused, horribly, even now.

    One item I’d add: “Can I get the same effect using something that degrades gracefully?”

  7. The same can be said for video! Just replace the word Flash with video. The abuse aside. I’ve seen Flash sites I liked but, they have rarely been indexed well by search engines.

  8. We’re a case in point – we preach conversion but refuse to give our clients a site like ours!

    It’s okay for us – we’re a design agency and our site is designed to catch the eye, and has – but we want our client’s sites to load super-quickly and get straight to the point.

    Our work has become World renowned because of our designer’s use of Flash, but any site that’s serious about selling, should keep the Flash to a minimum – used very sparingly it can add to the process, but sparingly is the operative word here.

  9. Agree with your central premise of asking:

    What will this allow me to convey that text and
    static images wouldn’t?

    And the 10 questions are a valuable weapon when convincing people when they are asking for inappropriate Flash.

    The Leo Diamond example is a good choice.

    But then you say:

    “The micro-site for the Sigma DP-1 camera … is a good example of Flash done right.”

    WHAT??? That’s a golden example of bad Flash. Big page load, all Flash. Search engines will see nothing. For visitors, they get a Flash intro they have to sit through, with nothing to click at all, save the teeny bypass link at the bottom (which we web types know to look for but ordinary people don’t). Entry portals were deprecated by smart Internet marketers in 1998.

    I do take your point that for users with Flash, the messaging persuasively leads the visitor.

    And not to get petty but: “diamond carrot size”

    Carrot? What’s up, Doc?

  10. Moe,

    I understand and agree with your points about the Sidma DP-1 micro site; it’s certainly far from perfect. And yet it has one redeeming characteristic: it’s persuasive in a way that copy and static pictures couldn’t be. Yes, it forces visitors to see the material in a specific order without providing any interactive options, but the designers had enough sense of theatre to dramatically engage the viewer. Most people I’ve shown the site to have been drawn into the presentation with many responding quite simply with, “How much does it cost?” Again, it’s not perfect, but it does build persuasive momentum in a way that regular copy probably wouldn’t be able to replicate.

    In short, I wanted an example of both an interactive flash tool AND a flash presentation. Finding a perfect example of the latter wasn’t an option, so I went with the most persuasive example that I could find. If you’ve seen better examples out there, please feel free to post them here – I know I’d be thrilled to see them.


  11. Moe,

    I agree that there are much better examples of Flash, especially from an SEO point of view.

    Jeff and I discussed this a bit before we published this post, and his point to me — and this may have gotten lost in the edit — was that he thought the Sigma DP-1 site did a good job on a customer experience level. While I agree with that, I think it does a pretty mediocre job on a usability level, and it’s really not so great for SEO. But, still, I think his main points are valid.*

    In my opinion, Jaguar (USA) does a pretty good job of merging customer experience, usability, and SEO (at least there’s text that accompanies the flash portions).

    Also, the “carrot” thing is my fault. Not sure how I missed that, but I’m glad you pointed it out like Bugs Bunny. (Guess I shoulda taken dat left toin at Albuquerque.)

    -Editor, GrokDotCom

    *Correct me if I’m wrong, Jeff, but I believe you were looking at this site purely in terms of it providing a persuasive customer experience.**

    **Okay, looks like like Jeff’s comment posted just before mine and it confirmed what I said. See, folks, we do actually talk about what we post! ;)

  12. I spent the first half of last year learning Flash. Once I understood the unwieldy monstrosity that is Flash, I decided that I hated it. I have not used Flash one time this year, and I build about a complete website a week. Little SEO, Little Accessibility, Little Ability to send direct links.

  13. I don’t necessarily agree. I think that if properly done, Flash can bring value to the site, and can still be linked to, as well as accessed by the search engines and by users with disabilities. I don’t know the exact method to this, but it involves XML and JavaScript.

  14. Internet Marketing,

    Assuming that Flash can be made SEO friendly, I still think the basic question remains relevant: what persuasive elements will flash bring to the table that static pictures and text won’t? If you can answer that question,go for it. If not, I’d recommend against it, regardless of how searchable it may or may not be.

    - Jeff

  15. I agree Jeff. I think Flash is trying to hard to create it’s own market. It is “cool”, but it’s very un-uniform – as well as being not accessible. It’s like trying to use a rocket ship to drive on the road. Sure, it’s really cool, but you’re gonna cause all kinds of problems, and there probably will never be one right way to do it.

  16. If you think about it from a blind persons perspective, it makes no sense whatsoever to include flash – of course – but if you look at it from a users perspective, it really just adds one more technology to wrap your brain around before they can understand it. Plus development time is so much longer for Flash. I just don’t understand who would want to use flash.

  17. One more thing – If you want to SEO well and you try to use flash, Google won’t see anything.

  18. People with hearing problems have no trouble with the web. They may have problems hearing sounds, but they can read and see what they’re typing – no problem, and click through things, but having problems with hearing and being BLIND are two different things.

    Blind people cannot experience the web period, unless their screen reader tells them what’s there. Flash is a terrible thing for people without sight.

  19. People with hearing problems have no trouble with the web. They may have problems hearing sounds, but they can read and see what they’re typing – no problem, and click through things, but having problems with hearing and being BLIND are two different things.

    Blind people cannot experience the web period, unless their screen reader tells them what’s there. Flash is a terrible thing for people without sight.

  20. @asd

    That may be true to some extent, and admittedly I’d much rather be deaf than blind, but deaf people still miss out on a lot of the web (ie, low-res video lectures, etc).

  21. Actually, Brain Development, Google CAN crawl and index Flash sites. While I agree that Flash and especially all-Flash sites are not for every project, in the hands of a deft design team it can be a wonderful tool. Lets face it, there are plenty of jQuery offenders out there too. As for Flash trying to create it’s own market…not likely after nearly a decade. The market is there. It all comes down to design and whether or not it’s the best tool for your particular job. Making a blanket “Flash is bad” statement seems just a bit short sighted.

  22. jeffery,

    I’m sure you were only commenting on the comments, but I just wanted to be clear that I wasn’t saying that flash was bad, just that it’s often overused or used in sub-optimal ways. Certainly, interactive flash interfaces and flash presentations can be extremely effective, but I’d still recommend developers run down this checklist before embarking on a flash project for a commercial Website.

  23. Yes, just the comments, Jeff. Your check list is spot on IMO and in fact can (and should) be applied to many areas of the design/dev process, not just Flash. As a designer, I know I’ve been guilty of “but this would be cool” rather than “this serves or enhances the message”. Really great post.

  24. [...] Flash can also be a great way to guide users through your site. If your site is divided into different sections, a flash piece on the homepage can help users decide where they need to go. For example, check out this. (For more helpful guidelines, click here.) [...]

  25. In my opinion, Flash is often used as a substitute for properly understanding a typical visitor’s motivations and expectations. Web designers who go overboard on flash ought to take a cue from the “big player” sites on the web – they use Flash sparingly.

  26. I saw many people use flash and then having problem because google doesnt index their pages.
    I think that flash is nice but only if used properly

  27. I only use Flash when necessary or to add a needed effect. It can be used to spruce up a website, but it certainly shouldn’t be the center of the website. The center of a website has always been and should always be the content.

  28. motivations and expectations. Web designers especially those who include spiffy sounds visitor’s who. but it certainly shouldn’t be the center of go overboard to accompany the flash the website. The center

  29. Arg I can not stand websites that are 100% in Flash. They are often impossible to navigate, slow and make my CPU go to 50%. Oddly enough I’m relieved that Flash is NOT multithreaded!

  30. [...] vochtgevoeliger wordt. Rotterdam krijgt Rotterdam vele puin. Het gaat hier een korte beschrijving van de schilderen van scansoorten met een goede planning, maar donkere kleur. Goede voor te zijn, die daardoor sneller [...]

  31. [...] voor kleur. Een klein beetje creatieve inbrengst kan moedig wezen en hulpmiddelen heb geschilderd wat juist vochtgevoelig en dronk als een klap de ruimte [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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