One of the most popular questions I get from new clients is "can we put one of those cool animated movies of my product/service/slogan/etc. as the first thing a users sees when they come to the site…and they we’ll go to the home page?" Wanting your site to move, play music, or speak to customers rather than just display text and images is a very common desire among business owners. Many people see these features as a way to set their sites apart from the competition. Do I agree with these views? The answer, as always, is "it depends."
Many web marketing experts loathe the use of animation (specifically the use of Flash-based animation) in website design and development for several reasons. A few of those reasons are:
Flash intros, even the ones with "skip intro" buttons, are only cool the first time your customer seems it. Do you want repeat traffic to your site? Are you prepared to put people through that animation EVERY time they come? Does that intro animation really help you get more leads/sales/etc? Or is it just something that you are the business owner think is "cool" but really acts as another barrier between you and your sale?
Sites that are built entirely in Flash usually (but not always) are impossible for search engine spiders to crawl and index. The result? Sites built entirely in Flash rank terribly in search engines. Usually if you search the brand name in Google the home page will come up, but that’s it. No other rankings for all the other important keywords that potential customers are using if they don’t know the name of the company.
Usually (but no always) Flash sites put more emphasis on looking and behaving cool and cutting edge than they do on usability. Always remember your sites goals (make a sale, gather a lead, get a newsletter subscription, etc). If your sites "cutting edge" interface is so cutting edge that people can’t find the "buy now" or "click here to sign up" button, it is ultimately a very expensive waste of time.
I happen to agree with all three of the points mentioned above, but I’m not an anti-Flash zealot either. It is possible to use Flash in ways that both mitigate the problems listed above, while capitalizing on the "cool" factor that Flash offers. Creating a search engine friendly all-Flash website is possible, but it takes quite a bit of extra work. A highly practiced Flash designer can create an all-Flash site that has very good usability and makes it easy for users to achieve goals on the site. As for Flash intros…I have no excuse for them. I can’t ever think of a reason to put a roadblock between your site and your users.
All that said, it is important to consider the additional cost of "cool." Building an all-Flash website can cost considerably more than a regular HTML site. Building an all-Flash website that works well with search engines can cost even more. The question for the web marketer on a budget then becomes – just how important is cool? Can you achieve you site goals with conventional HTML pages? Do you really need Flash animation to get your customers to engage with your site/product/service? Far more often than not I would say the honest answer is no – you don’t need a Flash site. Sacrificing some of the immediate "cool" factor of an all-Flash site for HTML can often get the job done in less time, with less expense and better long-term results.
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