Flash vs. HTML Websites – Which Should Your Business Choose?

MIHMORANDUM NO. 7 | April 16th, 2007Reader Comments (11)

This should be the first question any small business owner asks himself/herself when he/she is considering a redesign for the company’s website. Making the wrong decision can be an expensive mistake, because any work that goes into the coding of one kind of website essentially has to be scrapped if you decide to change to the other at a later date.

What’s the difference?
“Flash” is a webpage coding application that gives sites a slick, dynamic look and, typically, a seamless user experience. They typically contain all information on one URL address (the company’s homepage) or in a pop-up window after the homepage has loaded. Some of the most impressive examples of Flash websites are Nike, Rolex, and Skidmore Owings & Merrill.

“HTML” is the original webpage programming language developed by Tim Berners-Lee (the REAL inventor of the Internet) in the 1980’s that is still the backbone of most content on the web today. Its defining characteristics are what’s called “aliased” text (the kind you’re reading right now–hard edged letters with no blending), fast download speed, and, compared to flash, a more serial user experience that involves clicking links to get from page to page. Some of the most impressive examples of HTML-based websites are Newsvine, A List Apart, and The PGA Championship.

Depending on your company’s business, either or both may be effective options. Below are a few simple criteria to help you evaluate your decision.

1) Is search engine traffic an important part of my business model?
If you answer “yes” to this question, a Flash-based website is out of the question. The reason? Search engines cannot parse any content inside a Flash “movie” (well, ALMOST none) and probably won’t be able to for the forseeable future. Not all HTML-based websites are necessarily search-engine friendly, but if you hope to get traffic from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask eventually, you’ll need to start with an HTML-based website.

2) Are more than 25% of my customers likely to use a DSL or dial-up connection to access my website?
If so, you’ll probably want to go with an HTML-based site. The increasing prevalence of broadband lines (and access to even higher speeds in a typical corporate environment, like T1 or T3) makes Flash a more appropriate option for a much wider variety of sites than it used to be. But it still takes, on average, 5-10 times as long for a Flash-based website to load as one based in HTML, simply because the file size is necessarily high to accommodate all the bells and whistles that go along with it. Users on a slower connection won’t appreciate the longer download time, and may click to another website before yours even loads.

3) Is the feel of the user experience absolutely critical to my product or service?
Fashion companies, high-end real estate developers or agents, art & design professionals, and young or high-end retail brands are just a few of the industries for whom user experience can make or break their website, so it would make sense to go with Flash. For these companies, word of mouth traffic is far more important than search engine traffic, where the only search terms these companies really need to show up for is their own name, or the name of their product. This limited amount of search engine optimization (SEO) can be done fairly easily without compromising the design.

4) How often will my site need to be updated?
If you think you’re going to be adding pages, changing copy around, or building out new sections of your website fairly consistently (say, more than 3-4x a year), you should stay away from Flash. Even for the most experienced Flash programmer, building out new pages & sections can be very time-consuming (and thus very expensive for you). Once an HTML layout is set up, any new content can be dropped in fairly easily. In summary, HTML is relatively scalable, while Flash is relatively UN-scalable.

5) How much content do I have?
If you’ve got a bunch of content (more than 20-30 pages), a Flash website may be not only file-size prohibitive, but cost-prohibitive. The three Flash websites I cited above either have a ridiculous ad budget (Rolex/Nike) to spend on huge sites, or a talented in-house team of designers (SOM). For small businesses, this often means HTML is the way to go.

One final comment: HTML and Flash are NOT mutually exclusive. Flash can be used in much smaller chunks, much like images, to create a sense of animation and dynamism while still yielding the benefits of an HTML-based site. Animations that are simple to code often turn out quite beautifully and can add an impressive element to an otherwise simple-looking site. Examples in my own work are the animation at the top of the homepage on Matt Heafey’s real estate website and in the header of McGrathProperties.com‘s homepage.

11 Responses to “Flash vs. HTML Websites – Which Should Your Business Choose?”

  1. etrain says at

    great insight to the real question of flash vs. html. it isn’t whether one is better or can do more than the other. it is what is the correct tool for the job. often this is completely overlooked.

    it is greta to see that someone is putting business and roi and not what looks the best first.

    cheers.

  2. admin says at

    Thanks, etrain. Being more in tune with the SEO space than the Flash space, there is typically, and understandably, an outcry when coming across a pure Flash website. But depending on the client’s business, Flash can certainly be a more effective method of presentation.

  3. kim says at

    i am a TAFE student and when I asked my teacher about this I was almost treated with for contempt for asking and was given no response beyond ‘I don’t know’.

    Maybe you could work for tafe so we get some informed training.

    Thanks your article has helped clarify what I thought and informed me adequetley.

    kim

  4. Natasha Robinson says at

    Here’s some additional information and reading on Optimizing Flash:

    sIFR -Http://www.mikeindustries.com/sifr 2.0: Rich Accessible Typography for the Masses

    SEFFS: Search Engine Friendly Flash Sites http://wahlers.com.br/claus/blog/?page_id=18

    Progressive Enhancement with AjaX http://domscripting.com/presentations/xtech2006/>

    SOFA – Search Optimized Flash Architecture: Creating a searchable Flash Rich Internet Application http://www.avenuea-razorfish.com/articles/SOFA.pdf

    Example: http://www.thecleanermovie.com/ No Script on an AJAX site – The Cleaner Movie

    Example: SWFObject http://www.marcabrahms.com/index.html

    Poodle Predictor Tool: See Your Site As A Search Engine Does http://www.gritechnologies.com/tools/spider.go

    And of course ;) Transference Metric… Campaign Innovation… Web Measurement Lacking… Flash SEO http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-5pHDFJo_erJZfePu.0dv7Hk-?cq=1&p=104

  5. Golf man says at

    If you are a big company and you don’t real traffic go for flash, if you want to convert HTML is king.

  6. JR Gilliam says at

    There is no doubt that HTML is the way to go. An HTML/Flash hybrid is a wise choice for someone who wants to be SE friendly and beautiful at the same time!

  7. Gab at Nitrogen Dreams says at

    Well, if you are really into SEO, you just need to go with HTML… there is no other option.

  8. Yo SEO says at

    Flash is OK if used in moderation and only where it does not impair your SEO work. I also think sometime it distracts visitors, so that if you are trying to sell something the visitor may not even get to know about it before clicking away!

  9. ian says at

    whats actualy a beter setup to use when designinig a wabsite?
    flash seems realy hard when trying to write it but is confusing to read and edit
    i need help. whats beter?

  10. Jaime says at

    Professional Flash websites can do everything a HTML website can do.. and all HTML can’t do.. including SEO, content management, since Flash works as a ‘layer’ of your content.
    If you are into Branding and Differentiation and just want to win over generic designs and stop doing what everybody else is doing, a professional Flash website is your solution.

  11. Engineer says at

    For a site to really excel at SEO, I would definitely agree that HTML is the best alternative. Actually, any site that seeks to do more than offer a small tid-bit of information should go with HTML/CSS.

    However, flash is THE choice for small segments of the site, including introductory animations, animated title bars, animated ticker and picture slides. It is a fairly straightforward way to add pizzaz to any site (which is essential nowadays).

    I do disagree with the idea that Flash is difficult for adding additional content and functionality to a webpage. This is simply untrue, if additional functionality or design is being added to a page, it will require time and effort, does not matter if you use HTML/CSS or Flash. I’m fairly new to actionscript, and it takes really about the same time to get the design done, complex pages are actually easier to accomplish in flash because of the native support for many functions. Simpler pages are faster w/ html.

    A final note, Flash can easily be coupled with XTML to improve searchability and let you update content in seconds.

    Ultimately, the best solution, I find, is in neither extreme, but in arriving at a good balance that meets your needs (like politics). My last completed site was an HTML/CSS/Flash/Xtml/Java site with a little bit of PHP code too, but when it comes down to it, any site is an HTML site…

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