Alternate Content For Flash

Adobe’s Flash does provide some great animation, video playing capabilities, and your entire website could even be made entirely of Flash. A few years ago I spent a lot of time and money learning Flash, and while I wouldn’t consider myself a Flash guru, I produced some great work for both myself and my customers.

There are some important things to think about before using Flash in any capacity, and the purpose of this blog post will be the necessity to provide alternate content for Flash on your website, with an emphasis on abandoning Flash usage altogether.

The way in which Flash is usually implemented on a website involves a detection of a browser’s ability to play it. The detection is done with javascript, which most browsers have enabled, and to be honest, Flash is usually enabled on the browsers of the majority of site visitors. What if javascript isn’t enabled? What if Flash isn’t enabled? Most of the time you will see an error message, and you may even be invited to download and install Adobe’s Flash Player.

What Attention Span?

Quite often I will hear figures from supposed research that suggests the average site visitor may only be on your website for as little as one second before having decided if they are going to click the back button and move on. Even if we allow an extra second or two, this type of person may not have the attention span to be bothered by the large payload associated with a lot of Flash. If they don’t have the Flash player enabled on their browser, will they really want to take the time to download and install it?

Browser Support

Google’s Chrome browser comes with Flash pre-installed, which is nice, but I believe they are the only ones doing this. 64-bit Internet Explorer 9 and Apple’s iPhone don’t have any Flash playing capabilities. So we’ve got a range of browsers going from great support to no support. Think about what somebody will see if they go to your website and the Flash can’t be displayed. It won’t be pretty.

True Alternate Content

There are ways that you can provide a means to switch what would have been displayed in Flash with standard HTML. I did this for the Hemet Pools website. If you turn off javascript or disable your Flash player, the website looks and functions the same, but this added a lot of cost to the project. Everything you see in the Flash had to be created a second time in standard HTML.

Search Engine Optimization

Google claims that it does index text content in Flash, but that other search engines may not. Google also goes on to say, “We recommend that you use rich-media technologies like Flash primarily for decorative purposes, and instead use HTML for content and navigation”, and then they list a bunch of reasons why. In the end, there are some really technical things that can be done to make the Flash better for SEO, but this type of development could be costly, and it may not perform as well as you would like it to.

The Best Option

There’s actually two best options. First, if you must have Flash, make sure to hire a Flash expert that knows how to provide Google with what it needs. This could be costly, and this level of Flash developer is probably pretty rare*. Secondly, and what I recommend, is to go with more traditional content, abandoning Flash usage altogether.

*If you are a Flash guru and working in Temecula or the Southern California area, please introduce yourself sometime. I don’t do any work in Flash anymore, but there are times when I might need your services.