I make my living as an Interactive Designer/Flash Developer so most of the projects I do involve Flash in some way. So of course I think Flash is a great technology. But I’m definitely no Flash fanboy. I agree that there are lots of terrible uses of Flash out there and I don’t mind when people are critical of Flash. But I do mind when people say things about Flash that are simply untrue. Here are 11 common myths I hear all the time.
1. You can’t select and copy text on Flash sites
I still see this one all the time in online discussions involving Flash. Text in Flash is selectable (and copyable) if the Flash Developer chooses to make it so. This feature has been around for quite awhile. It’s not complicated or time consuming to implement either. It’s as simple as checking a box inside the Flash IDE or setting a property to true in ActionScript. So Flash technology is fully capable of this, it’s simply up to the developers to make it happen. There is no excuse not to implement this in Flash sites with a lot of text.
2. Your Flash site won’t show up on Google
This is a huge myth due to most people’s misunderstanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what factors cause a site to be listed at the top of Google. A lot of people seem to be obsessed with SEO without having a clue to how it works.
According to SEOmoz’s Top 5 Ranking Factors, the following is what matters most for SEO and getting your site to the top of the search engines:
- Keyword Focused Anchor Text from External Links
- External Link Popularity
- Diversity of Link Sources
- Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag
- Trustworthiness of the Domain Based on Link Distance from Trusted Domains
So how many of those five would negatively effect a site made entirely in Flash? Zero. That’s right. Not one of those has to do with HTML keywords on the page or H1 tags. Of course those things are important too but they don’t matter nearly as much as most people seem to think.
To get your site to the top of Google you need trustworthy sites to link to your site coupled with good title tags. Simple as that. You can have the most keyword optimized HTML site in the world but if no sites are linking to it you are screwed.
Case in point: Look at The Oatmeal, a hugely popular site that is featured all the time on Digg. The Oatmeal is created by just one person, a guy named Matthew Inman who has been called a SEO genius. He launched a dating site by himself in 2007 and was able to get a #1 ranking on Google for the search term “online dating” (without the quotes) beating out sites with huge marketing budgets like eHarmony and Match.com. He did this by utilizing a clever way of getting sites to link back to his. So obviously he knows what he is doing and understands SEO. Most of the posts on his site The Oatmeal are just a series of images inside an HTML page. No HTML text at all, meaning no keyword optimization, H1 tags, etc. Sounds kind of like a Flash site, doesn’t it? He has no trouble getting his site to the top of Google and neither would a Flash site that has good sites linking to it.
Of course there are some in the Flash community who point out how Google now indexes the text inside of SWFs and this is true. The problem is that they only index static content, not content loaded dynamically through XML. Most professional level Flash sites will load in content dynamically so Google really isn’t indexing the content. Maybe they will in the future but I don’t think the technology is quite there yet. Either way it won’t stop your site from getting a good search ranking since the actual content on the page isn’t nearly as important as the factors discussed above.
On an additional note I’m going to go out on a limb and say SEO is simply overrated in a lot of situations. If you are a design agency or a freelance designer I doubt you are getting much business through Google searches. Maybe if someone is looking for a local company in a small geographic area. But that matters less and less with a global economy with more businesses not caring where you are located. For example, I’ve never gotten any freelance work through people doing Google searches. I get work through word-of-mouth and networking. Clients simply aren’t finding me by typing in “flash designer” on Google and having my page pop up. The same is probably true for lots of businesses who needlessly fret that they aren’t in the top search results.
Also none of this takes into account how easy it is to have alternate HTML for your Flash site if you do really want to keyword optimize your content. Using the industry standard SWFObject for embedding Flash, you can serve up alternate content to users who don’t have the Flash plugin installed and Google will crawl and index that content. My personal portfolio site does this along with lots of other Flash sites.
So really people should understand what factors actually matter before saying a site created entirely in Flash won’t show up on Google. Flash + SEO = not as bad as you think.
3. Flash intros suck!
“OMG Flash sucks! I hate Flash intros! I always just click skip intro.” Not that I don’t agree but when I hear people say stuff like that I have to wonder what year they think it is. 1997? Seriously, when was the last time Flash intros were popular and widespread? For some reason people still seem to associate Flash technology with Flash intros. I’ve heard people say they don’t want Flash on the iPhone because they hate Flash intros.
I have been working with Flash professionally since 2001 and not one time have I ever created a Flash intro. Ever. That’s 9 years. Zero intros. It’s pretty well established that Flash intros do suck and that people severely dislike them. And it’s been pretty well established for about 10 years now. So quit complaining about all these supposed Flash intros everywhere. I don’t see them on any professional, contemporary sites and I don’t know any professional Flash Developers who still create them.
4. Flash isn’t supported on mobile devices
According to Adobe, there are currently 800 million Flash enabled mobile devices out there. Of course the elephant in the room is the iPhone – but how much longer can Apple hold out? Flash Player 10 is supposed to be coming to most smartphones in 2010 – including those running Windows Mobile, Google’s Android, Nokia S60/Symbian and the new Palm operating systems. Users want to access the whole internet and once other mobile devices start offering Flash support I believe Apple will be forced to quickly follow suit and allow Flash on the iPhone.
5. Can’t use the back button and no permalinks/deeplinking
This is entirely possible. See my portfolio site or my Aspen template. More and more Flash sites I see coming out these days support this feature. It’s easy to integrate back button support and deeplinking using SWFAddress.
6. Can’t scroll with the mouse wheel
7. Flash sites load slowly
People seem to think that creating a site in Flash somehow makes the file size 10 times larger than if you created it with HTML. Loading similar content – like lots of images for instance – will take the same amount of time whether you load it with Flash or HTML.
8. Flash sites don’t validate/aren’t accessible
My portfolio site is standards-compliant and validates according to the W3C. And it is completely accessible with alternate content, even on the iPhone. Same with tons of other all-Flash sites.
So you might be saying well Flash makes it harder to create a valid and accessible site. Well that might be true but according to browser maker Opera, less than 5% of all websites actually validate. So it’s not like creating a site with HTML makes it automatically standards-compliant. It’s up to developers to care and take the time to make a site standards-compliant and accessible.
9. Lots of users don’t have Flash installed
10. Flash sites automatically start blaring music and Flash banner ads takeover the screen
Yes, some Flash sites might do this and there are tons of annoying Flash banners out there. But there are plenty of ways to be annoying in HTML too. You can’t blame a bad use of the technology on the technology itself.
11. Flash Designers hate HTML and think the whole internet should be Flash
“If you think Flash is so great then why isn’t your blog made in Flash?” I’ve actually seen that posted before in discussions about Flash. My response to that would be “Because that would be retarded.”
I don’t think any Flash guys are saying it makes sense to use Flash in all situations. Most websites shouldn’t be entirely Flash. Does that mean no websites should be entirely Flash? Not at all. You can deliver an experience in Flash that simply cannot be compared to anything you can do in HTML/CSS/Ajax.
Not every site on the web is about delivering straight up information. If so then all we would need is Wikipedia. HTML is perfect for information rich sites like a blog. Flash is great for delivering a memorable experience.
So next time you hear anyone perpetuating any of these myths about Flash tell them what’s up. Please post in the comments if you can think of any other myths.