Is Your Website Flash In the Pan?

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the August 2007 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Flash in the pan is a catchy saying that derived from a very literal meaning. It generally means “something or someone that disappoints or fails to deliver anything of value, even though its showy beginning promised otherwise.” Literally though, it referred to the firing of muskets, which had small “pans” that held the priming used to ignite the main firing charge, and the priming ignited but failed to ignite the main charge. So, you’d end up with a “flash” but no results… the musket didn’t fire.

So what does this have to do with your website? Well there is a very generic connection, but I have a very specific reference in mind. There is a technology called Flash®, which you have probably experienced online. It has many uses… delivering video or audio, site navigation, interactive banner ads, and even entire websites.

I think Flash is a wonderful tool and has a lot of great uses. And as is so often the case, it isn’t the tool that is bad, so much as the implementation. Flash on the web is often used for its showy properties, adding interesting interactivity and a more enriching experience, but often failing elsewhere.

Your website has two general audiences: first and foremost, actual visitors, and second, search engines because search results will often deliver those actual visitors. The problem, especially for websites done entirely in Flash, is that both kinds of visitors may have a hard time using your site. Navigation isn’t always obvious and regular web browser functions don’t always work, like when a user has navigated several “pages” into your site and clicks their back button to go back a page, but ends up at your home page or the website they were on before yours. There are many other potential issues, but there’s another very important issue I’d rather discuss.

Search engines build their results from text found on websites. The problem is that they have a hard time “looking” inside Flash. While there are ways to make Flash more accessible to users and search engines alike, the vast majority of Flash implementations don’t; perhaps the designer didn’t know how, didn’t know the difference, didn’t want to invest the time and energy, or the project couldn’t justify the additional expense.

“Search” may become one of your most valuable channels for reaching existing and new business, so having a website that can’t be crawled or indexed could be devastating. Have a Flash-based website already and wondering whether your website is flash in the pan? While not completely conclusive, you’ll get a pretty good idea when you head to your favorite search engine and search for “”” (replacing with your website, and leave off the quotation marks and no spaces before or after the colon). If you only see one or just a few listings and your site has considerably more “pages” than that, then your website may be failing to deliver.

5 For Flash

  • It’s best to use Flash to complement your website content, rather than as a base for your entire site.
  • Whenever possible, use Flash for non-critical content, and have good textual content related to the Flash bits.
  • Do not have a home page that consists of nothing but Flash unless you do not care about search engines, or have no concerns of turning away human visitors as well.
  • Remember that the cool “effects” created with Flash may not be appreciated as much by your visitors as you think. Pages that take too long to load, or fancy, dramatic effects that must be sat through on every page provide no real value to the visitor.
  • Flash-based menus and navigation can be especially dangerous with regards to usability and accessibility for both humans and search engines.