Google Improves Flash Indexing: Bad News?

Google has recently announced that it can index external files called from Flash sites. While I understand why Google wants to do this — it has been working on indexing Flash content for over a year — I hope the news doesn’t tempt web developers to increase their dependence on Flash.

Don’t get me wrong: Flash is fine when used for specific purposes, such as video playback and animation. But it can be overused. There was a fad for Flash-based web site introduction screens several years ago. We quickly found that just about everybody was clicking the “skip intro” link. (There was even a site dedicated to Flash usability called “Skip Intro.”) As a result, Flash introductions are much rarer these days. Still, Flash is ubiquitous, and that can cause problems.

  • There are too many Flash sites that are one big SWF file. This can mean that site visitors must wait for the whole file to load before links become clickable. And, of course, in such sites the browser’s back button is disabled, or will take visitors completely away from the site (unless the file was displayed in a popup window, and I’m sure everyone realizes the problems that that causes).
  • Despite the Google improvements, Flash sites are not as search-engine friendly as text-based sites. See SEO expert Josh Freedman’s Ten Tips for a Better Website.
  • As of a year ago, Flash had not yet achieved 40 percent penetration of the cell phone market.
  • Adobe claims that “Flash content reaches 99 percent of Internet viewers,” but this figure only applies to the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Japan. What about the rest of the world?
  • Because of the file sizes involved, Flash sites don’t work well for folks with limited-bandwidth connections.
  • Flash sites can be made accessible to those with disabilities, but require special techniques that are not widely used.

I’m sure that Flash enthusiasts will have lots of ways to get around these limitations. But really, why build a site that requires such workarounds, when you can make an appealing site with no, or limited, use of Flash?

When do you use Flash, and what alternatives have you found for creating visual appeal on your sites?

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