Flash has indeed caught on the web. It provides an easy way to put animated and interactive movies on web sites which would otherwise not have been possible. When Flash first made its impact on the web, it was put to two main uses - Animated banner advertisements and Flash intros. Web designers thought that Flash lent a professional look to their web sites - If a web site had Flash, it was like a feather in the web designers hat as it meant that the latest technologies were employed on the site.
Flash actually got the power of animation in the common man's hands, because it was so easy to create animation and develop interactivity. So we saw a profuse use of it in the form of Flash web site intros. I am sure that all web designers assuming they know a little Flash have developed a web site intro one time or the other in their careers.
Though Flash movies are still used a lot as ad banners because they have much higher click-thru rates than static gifs, their usage as web site intros has decreased and I am sure you would have noticed it too. Why has that happened? Well, there are several reasons and in this article I will discuss the merits of Flash web site intros - The advantages and disadvantages of using animated Flash movies as web site intros - which hopefully should point out the reasons.
A direct question - Should Flash be used as web site intros?
That is a tough question because I would be offending too many web designers with my answer. But what the heck... here goes.
Over the past few years since the time Flash intros became ever so popular, I have come across only 4 intros (out of the hundreds!) that I think served some kind of purpose. The rest were simply routine... there are these images that faded-in and out with text messages going from left to right or top to bottom (you know what I mean!). The question that I always asked myself - what is the purpose of all this animation and interactivity?
By the by, I too have created Flash intros because the client really wanted one - and they gave me the same old arguments - I want my web site to stay at the cutting edge. I want it to have animation. I want the animation to attract the visitor's attention.... and so on
So am I anti Flash intros?... Yes! But my job is to give you both the advantages and disadvantages. I should, as an experienced web developer (ahem!), give my personal opinion, but I should not force you to accept it - I have to show you both sides of the coin.
The disadvantages of using Flash web site intros
- Increase in file size of the homepage
This is one of the important disadvantages of using Flash intros on your web site - it increases the time the homepage takes to load. I don't think you will create a Flash intro that has only vector objects. There would definitely be images (raster graphics). This increases the file size of the .swf file which in turn increases the total time taken for the homepage to load fully. A greater offence, is embedded graphics and images that are not optimized or publishing the Flash movie with the lowest compression for images.
Expecting the visitor to first wait while the Flash intro loads and then expecting them to read your animated sales pitches - well, that's too much of expectation from your time conscious visitors. The question you need to ask is, would you wait for a Flash intro to load on a web site and would you indeed go through text and be enthralled by the images in the intro? I don't think so!
- Music and sound files in the Flash intro
Music and sound on web sites has been one of my pet-peeves. I am an avid music fan - in fact, I believe that that I listen, therefore I am. But I want to listen what I like and not what is forced onto me. Also, music and sound files embedded in Flash movies increase their file sizes which in turn increases the download time.
- Flash intros and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
I consider this the most important disadvantage of using a Flash intro. As you know, search engines cannot index images and graphics, but with Flash, they cannot even properly index the text embedded in the movie - The text that you so carefully and painstakingly animated is of no use to the search engine. If you think this problem can be overcome by putting keywords in the META tags or inside HTML comment tags (a search engine spamming tactic)... you are wrong. Google.com which is now the preferred search engine on the web has difficulty in indexing text and cannot follow the links created in Flash movies. This is what they replied when I asked them if the Googlebot can follow links from Flash files:
The Google index does include pages that use Macromedia Flash. However, this is a new feature, so our crawlers may still experience problems indexing Flash pages. If you are concerned that Flash content on your pages may be inhibiting Google's ability to crawl your site, you may want to consider using a text web browser such as Lynx to examine your site. If features such as Flash keep you from seeing all of your site in a text browser, then search engine spiders may have trouble crawling your site.Even if GoogleBot improves, I would still prefer to use plain old text instead of putting it in a Flash file.
You may want to consider creating HTML copies of these Flash pages for our crawler. If you do this, please be sure to include a robots.txt file that disallows the Flash pages in order to ensure that these pages are not seen as duplicate content.
- The purpose?
There are so many Flash intros I have seen serving no purpose that I have put this point as a disadvantage. Just because it can be done, does not mean you should do it! If a thing serves no purpose on a web site, except in boosting your (or your clients) ego, don't use it. Visitors come to your web site looking for information and not for entertainment which they can derive animated and interactive in Flash intros.
Finally, it is your job as a web designer to educate and advise the client on the merits of using Flash intros. Explain to them the disadvantages and ask them if the intro has a purpose. If not, they should consider dropping the intro idea.
The advantages of using web site Flash intros
- Flash in catchy
Yes, Flash is catchy esp. if the animation and interactivity is used well. At the most, Flash intros can indeed provide cheap thrills to your visitors. So if visitors have lots of time on their hands (highly likely), they might be appreciative of your Flash intro.
IMPORTANT, if your web site caters to people who are either ready to wait for the intro to load or are on high bandwidth connections, you should use a Flash intro especially if it can portray your company objectives better than a static page. For example, if you are in the gaming industry, visitor will definitely expect to see some Flash on your homepage. In such cases, Flash intros can really serve as elegant introductions to your company products and services.
- Interactive menus
You can build nice interactive menus in the Flash intro. If created well, these menu systems can serve as good navigation guides for human visitors. Do remember to also include static HTML links from the homepage for the search engines bots.