Should I have a Flash website?

Should I have a Flash website?


I suppose I should expand upon that response otherwise this will be the shortest blog post ever. The question was, should I have a Flash website?

Seriously, NO!

Okay, I’ll elucidate a little. When I ask if a website should be Flash, I don’t mean snazzy and showy, I’m referring to it being built using Adobe Flash software; a product that allows for fast loading illustrations, smooth animations, sound effects, music, embedded video and other forms of highly fluid user interactivity that simply isn’t possible with a standard HTML website.

I’ve said this before, I loved using Flash (note past tense). I took to illustrating and animating in Flash like a duck to hoisin sauce, finely chopped spring onions, cucumber and a wad of gently warmed rice pancakes. Given the choice of illustrating in Adobe Illustrator or Flash I’d always pick Flash hands down, I just found it so intuitive. I’ve done a lot of work using Flash in the past; stand alone interactive presentations featuring videos and a soundtrack, futuristic animated websites with sound effects, and too many advertising banners to mention.

Retro TV illustrated by the author using Adobe Flash

The problem with Flash is that it only works if the end user has a plug-in installed. In the past most desktops came with the Flash plug-in included, and if it wasn’t present (and the website was set up correctly) it would prompt the user to download and install the plug-in.

So, why the short, angry response to the original question?

The problems with Flash websites
Well, there are other downsides to using Flash. When browsing the web, all users, regardless of ability should be able to navigate and access the content that is available within a website structure. All websites have different designs, but if built by a professional website designer (especially those who care about their audience, accessibility and usability) they can be navigated by everyone, including people who are colour blind, partially sighted, blind or disabled. There’s nothing complicated about this, it just takes a little thought, sensible and considerate design, helpful colour choice and effective use of code.

  1. A user should be able to tab through the navigational elements of a standard HTML website and use the back and forward buttons within the browser – this isn’t possible in Flash.
  2. A user should be able to view the website content in black and white by turning off the stylesheet – you can’t do this in Flash.
  3. A blind user should be able to use a screen reader to hear the text content within a website – yep, that’s not possible in Flash.
  4. An HTML website loads very quickly and allows the user to scroll through content more or less immediately, in Flash there is often a pause or holding screen whilst elements such as music, video and other large files are downloaded.
  5. A normal HTML website can be set up so that the user can press control and + or – to increase or decrease either the text alone, or the entire website to make it easier to navigate and read – again, you can’t do this in Flash.
  6. The Flash plug-in is regularly updated, which means that browsers need to be updated on a frequent basis (and updates require downloads and sometimes just don’t work).
  7. To top it off, the text content within a Flash website is unreadable to search engines, so if you have a Flash website it will never be found in organic search results (and you have to ask the question, what’s the point of a website if no-one can find it?).

So why you might ask, am I even bothering to write this article when it’s so obvious a Flash website is such a bad idea?

Watch out for Flash designers
Amazingly, there are still “website designers” out there who not only use Flash for their own website, they are continuing to promote “bespoke Flash website design”. It’s simply staggering that this is still happening.

To put things in perspective, when I started designing and building websites all of these problems with Flash were known back in 1996. Nearly two decades ago! This was back in the day before the dotcom bubble burst, back when venture capitalists were buying web design agencies and hiring a Chief Operating Officer to run the design team instead of a Creative Director. This was at a time when the craziest business concepts would be taken seriously and have hideously large amounts of money thrown at them.


COO to design team “We’ve got a new client that wants an ecommerce website that sells live baby bunnies delivered inside chocolate eggs specifically for Easter.”

Ideas for dotcoms

Design team to COO “Er, won’t the bunnies suffocate?”

COO to design team “They’ll put some holes in the chocolate eggs.”

Design team to COO “What if the bunny defecates, what happens if it starves?”

COO to design team “They’ll put a nappy on it and a nose bag full of carrots – it’ll look cute!”

Design team to COO “What’s the unique selling point?”

COO to design team “The USP? It’s a website that sells cute little baby bunnies inside tasty chocolate eggs that are delivered to children at Easter!”

Design team to COO “Isn’t the timeframe for prospective sales rather limited? It might fail.”

COO to design team “Of course it won’t fail, it’s a dotcom. Here’s £250,000 for the start-up phase.”

Design team pick themselves up off the floor having collapsed in hysterics, then start to sob wildly as they realise that web design of this type has absolutely no future.

End imagining…

So even at the dawn of the internet when the majority of website ideas and ecommerce plans were crazy, absurd and massively overvalued, every professional website designer worth their weight in salt knew that you never, EVER, built a website just using Flash, there was always an HTML back-up that was accessible, user friendly and search engine friendly (and even small uses of Flash within the page structure, say for an animated promotion, had a back-up graphic just in case). And what’s happened since then?

How can I put it? Flash is DEAD!
As I touched upon in an earlier post in 2011, things have become even worse for Flash in recent years. When Apple unveiled the iPhone, then later the iPad, they advised they wouldn’t support the Flash plug-in. Adobe tried to fight this for a while, but even Adobe gave up and they have now stopped supporting the Flash plug-in for smartphones. I’ve also noticed that many new desktops and laptops don’t now come with the plug-in installed.

Flashbacks to chocolate-encased rabbits aside, Flash websites are not only useless with regards online marketing, accessibility, usability and standards compliance, they are invisible to anyone browsing the web on mobile phones, tablets and iPads. It therefore really is quite disgraceful, if not professionally incompetent, that in 2014 web designers are still promoting Flash websites. So, if you find yourself being tempted to consider having a website built using Flash, JUST SAY NO!

*No rabbits were hurt during the development of

Website marketing for 2013: Is SEO still SEO?

Recently I’ve had quite a few clients asking new questions about search engine optimisation (SEO). I must admit that after 15 years of designing, building and promoting websites I do tend to spit the term out without comprehending that it may mean different things to different people. Just like the web, internet marketing is ever evolving. A quick glance online indicates that there are numerous new views about SEO and the best way to tackle recent changes to search engine algorithms, not to mention the growing potential of social media marketing.

Is SEO still SEO?There is absolutely no doubt that SEO is changing. I’ve seen articles recently that question if the term “SEO” is dead. Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, recently asked if SEO should be given a new name. Ultimately SEO as a phrase is not dead, I don’t believe it needs a new name and it’s never going to go away. However, with an eye on truly effective website marketing, and in the context of the ever changing world wide web, I believe that SEO should only ever be mentioned as part of a greater whole. This is a key change (particularly post Penguin and Panda).

“Search engine optimisation” has often been thrown around as a term that summarises website marketing. Effective marketing of websites has never related to doing just one thing however. So what should SEO be bundled with for 2013? Well I think that at the most basic level you can’t promote a website without all the following:

  1. Traditional search engine optimisation
  2. Natural link building (“natural” seems to be the new “organic”)
  3. Social media integration and marketing
  4. Content marketing

Obviously the above elements can all be considered organic, and there are paid solutions that can provide instant rewards, however, I’m only looking at non-paid long-term marketing solutions in this post.

SEO itself requires the ongoing analysis of website metrics, keyword analysis and search engine performance of site pages. Are people staying on a website long enough? Are a healthy number of users returning to the website? Are there individual pages that could perform better? Where do web pages feature in search engine results for a given number of search terms? Are those search terms accurate or could they be improved? The questions are endless, but these are all queries that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis and dealt with using a consistent strategy. However, if you carry out this type of SEO work and don’t bother with link building, social media marketing and improving your content, then your website will never perform well in search engines.

To get the best out of your site you must combine all four elements: ongoing SEO, continued natural link building, rolling social media integration and regular content development that has been planned in advance. These days content is at the heart of all this; get your content marketing strategy right and it makes everything else a lot easier. How? Great content gives you more to optimise and an increased spread of keywords for users to find when searching. Net result: improved chance of more site traffic. Inspiring content will interest people, make them stay on your website longer and give them a reason to come back. Net result: improved website metrics and more repeat visitors. Unique content increases the chances of people mentioning your website on social media platforms. Net result: free social marketing by word of mouth. Trustworthy and authoritative content means it’s easier to obtain links from other websites, plus webmasters and bloggers will be more likely to choose to link to your site without needing to be asked. Net result: more inbound links for less effort.

For me, SEO isn’t dead and doesn’t need a new name. SEO is what it is, search engine optimisation. However, if you’re planning website SEO for 2013, consider that the most effective use of search engine optimisation is when it is combined with natural link building, social media integration and content marketing. What’s more, get your content marketing strategy right, and link building, social media integration and SEO all become that much easier.

Google Panda spawns Penguin

Google Panda sporns PenguinIn an earlier blog post entitled “In layman’s terms: Search engine optimisation, marketing and Google Panda” I briefly outlined traditional search engine optimisation techniques and how the Google Panda update had modified the way in which websites are indexed and ranked by Google. Ultimately the Panda update was a much needed clean-up of the websites in Google’s index; a digital spring clean to rid Google of duplicate sites, websites with similar affiliate content, spam websites and sites built simply to make money through click through advertising revenue. This was done in several different ways, but mainly by analysing content and website metrics.

The Panda update cleaned out many spam sites, but it also had a huge impact on website traffic and rankings for a considerable number of genuinely popular websites (some being removed from the index altogether, others plunging down the results pages to positions that seldom see the light of the sun; a fate often referred to by webmasters as “Death by Panda”). Despite this upheaval of the Google index, many spam sites and websites featuring duplicate content seemed to get away without penalty (or even appeared to perform better). Cue “Death by Penguin”.

Google Penguin is essentially a follow up to Panda, engineered to root out any spam sites and dodgy websites that feature poor or duplicate content, particularly those that stuff their website pages and inbound link text with far too many keywords. Amongst other things, Penguin looks out for low quality inbound links that are laden with keywords, and as a result sites with suspicious link building activity have been hit and seen a reduction in traffic as a result of lower ranking (and this is not to be confused with manual link warnings that appear in Google Webmaster tools, as these warnings have more to do with buying links and link networks). With Panda and Penguin on the loose there is nowhere to hide, and comments and tweets from Google have indicated that there will be a lot more “jarring” updates to come which will continue to stir up website rankings and traffic in a bid to ensure only the crème de la crème of sites are ranked highly by the engine.

You may be thinking that if your website features genuine content, no spam, no duplicate copy, no affiliate links, a high text to advert ratio and your content and links aren’t stuffed with every keyword imaginable, then Google Panda and Penguin have nothing to do you with. Unfortunately this is not the case. Although the updates were designed to clean out the web and ensure that only good quality websites feature high up the rankings, the net result of the changes mean that the bar has been set much higher for ALL websites. You may have a nicely designed and well optimised website that features several pages of original content, but if you want your website to perform well in Google then the chances are you need to enhance it by integrating with social media, developing and evolving more unique content, improving functionality and interest, then making certain that all these things improve visitor metrics and keep people on your site, as well as returning to it time and time again.

The faceless world of Facebook

Social media is an essential element of marketing and website promotion for businesses large and small. The Panda update that Google rolled out last year means that website developers, marketers and business owners can’t rely on old fashioned SEO and link building techniques to help keep their sites near the top of the rankings in organic search. Facebook might be thought of as online Marmite by some (I know more people who would rather repeatedly hit themselves in the face with a bouquet of thistles than use Facebook), but a significant company presence on Facebook, combined with a decent number of “likes” and links does aid website marketing and boost site traffic.

Phony on FakebookHowever, I think we need to question the true value social media has with regards website marketing and SEO. Facebook recently announced that 83 million of its accounts are fake. A quick search online will allow you to find websites that offer to sell “likes” and “followers” by the tens of thousands for Facebook and Twitter – these fake users appear to make a company or product considerably more popular than it actually is (all for $10 or under, thanks to assistance from outsourcing services in India and China).

In an article last July a BBC reporter set up a fake account, purchased “like adverts” and discovered “Within minutes people were starting to “like” my meaningless site, and within 24 hours I had 1,600 likes – and had spent my $10. Where were they from?”. 1,600 likes for a completely fake account and $10 profit for Facebook; not a bad business model. With fake users, fake likes and fake followers what’s next? Well just today, the BBC reported that a fake Facebook advert for £75 worth of free Tesco vouchers has fooled many users, and is nothing but a scam.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Facebook, it is a very effective social media marketing tool, however I do still need to be convinced of Google’s consideration of social media when it comes to gauging site popularity and ranking of results in organic search. With companies profiting from creating fake Facebook accounts, and Facebook users and Facebook itself unable to accurately gauge which accounts, “likes” and followers are fake, should social media currently have a strong bearing on SEO and search engine results?

Marketing boobs and cock-ups

Marketing for execs with more money than sense by Ee JitWhen a big brand gets marketing wrong it’s difficult not to laugh at their expense, but when a global blue chip like Microsoft makes a mistake it can lead to excess coverage for all the wrong reasons.

A recent article on the BBC website highlighted that software allowing a Microsoft program to run on Linux contained the hexadecimal code “B16B00B5”. It may look innocuous, but this is a “humorous” developers way of getting “Big Boobs” into a software core. It’s akin to a bored teenager inputting something rude on a calculator, but in this instance the calculator was a piece of globally distributed software.

Although it’s a gaff Microsoft would have rather avoided, it pales into insignificance when compared to a recent PR event in Norway to promote updates to the Windows Azure cloud computing platform. As a hardcore dance track played, dancers jumped and bounced around the stage in front of a crowd of software developers. I think it’s fair to say the Microsoft PR people misjudged the tone of the event as well as the choice of the song and lyrics (the chorus which features a rapper on helium has to be heard to be believed).

It doesn’t stop there however. The lyrics to the song are absurd, and you have to question the PR guru that cleared the lines “CSS is my LSD” (Cascading Style Sheets; what we developers use to style websites), “XML is my ecstacy” (Extensible Markup Language; rules for encoding documents in a format that is both humanand machine-readable) and wait for for it… “The words Micro and Soft don’t apply to my penis”. But the biggest gaff of all is that Microsoft PR guys thought that the lyrics might be missed by some people in the audience, so they went the whole hog and displayed them, word for word, on the jumbo screen, and when the song reached the part where the rapper sang “The words Micro and Soft don’t apply to my penis” the screens actually stated “penis (or vagina)” to ensure it wasn’t sexist!

Anyway, here it is; an example of a calamitously poor PR event (but at least it’s not sexist):

It’s safe to say that both of these examples of marketing and PR definitely fall derrière over elbow into the category  “how not to successfully promote your brand and engage with your customer base”.

Online marketing myths busted

No explosivesInspired by the Mythbusters TV show which I regularly watch with my son, I thought I’d bust a few search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) myths myself (although it won’t be quite as entertaining as the real Mythbusters, nor will it feature any explosives).

Myth number 1: There are companies that can submit a website to 10,000 search engines (and it only costs a few pounds)
Lets start with some facts (dated May 2012). 66.5% of people use Google to search the web. 15.5% use Bing. 13.5% use Yahoo. A further 4.5% use Ask and AOL. Even if there are 10,000 search engines out there, what is the point in paying good money to be submitted to them when 100% of internet users search using just five search engines? Myth busted.

Myth number 2: It’s possible to make money by selling links placed within your website content
Technically yes, but (and it’s a dam big but) it violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website Page Rank being penalised and a decrease in the level of trust placed in your site. With 66.5% of web surfers using Google for organic search it’s way too much of a risk. Myth busted.

Myth number 3: Submitting a website to tens of thousands of directories is good value for money
Search engine guidelines are quite clear: links should occur naturally and spamming or attempts to manipulate Page Rank (or to attempt better placement in search results) violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website being penalised. If you have a webmaster account with Google watch out for manual link warnings and penalties (particularly so since the Penguin update). Dodgy tactics include buying links, bulk network links, bulk directory links, masses of links on completely unrelated websites and directories, as well as keyword heavy anchor text and regular anchor text manipulation. Myth busted.

Myth number 4: It’s possible to buy a link from a website with a Page Rank of 9
As mentioned in myth numbers 2 and 3, this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, but even if it was acceptable why would you do it? Think about the person selling the PR9 link; do you think that they will accept one link on the PR9 website then stop? Or is it more realistic to assume that the PR9 link placement will be offered to all and sundry resulting in the site in question having tens of thousands of outbound links which completely degrade any authority and trust the site may have had? Page Rank can be faked, buying links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, selling links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, and if those three things don’t persuade you to avoid this action, ask how many other outbound links appear on this magical PR9 website that can retain high PR whilst openly violating Google’s webmaster guidelines. Myth busted.

Myth number 5: It’s possible to offer something for free on my website in return for an inbound link
I do hope that this isn’t getting repetitive, but there are only so many ways you can say “this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines“. If you offer some sort of free service, advertising opportunity, a free download, directory placement or registration and request an inbound link in return, then your website will probably be penalised by Google and you will suffer a decrease in Page Rank and consequential loss of traffic.

Ultimately building up a presence, reputation and authority online can’t be bought or achieved instantly; so if you see a cheap service that looks too good to be true then it probably is. Although I’ve mentioned Google numerous times above, the guidelines of other search engines aren’t that different. Also, there are some websites out there that do make use of some of the dubious marketing tools detailed in this post, but if you go down this route you are gambling with your website and run the risk of being penalised (and losing Page Rank, traffic, leads and/or commission) or worse still, being removed from the Google index.

In layman’s terms: Search engine optimisation, marketing and Google Panda

When I meet with prospective new clients, or existing clients interested in making more of their website’s marketing potential, I’m often asked about SEO/SEM (search engine optimisation/search engine marketing) and inevitably I mention the Google Panda update. If you can put up with some technical jargon, this video is a very helpful and detailed explanation of just what the Panda update is, why it was put in place, and what it means for anyone who wants to promote their business effectively online.

As I’ve said before (and I’m sure to time and time again) business websites must be viewed as an investment, not just financially, but with regards the thought and time that goes into them. Anyone can bash together a cheap website and submit it to a few search engines – but in a month or years time what will that cheap website have achieved? Nothing. Nichts. Nada. Jordan’s IQ. The reason for this is simple. Leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) are only interested in showing their users good quality content. If every time you used Google you had to trawl through unrelated sites, websites that didn’t format correctly, or duplicate websites all with the same content you’d get pretty miffed. Search engines use mathematical computations, or algorithms, to work out how effective any given website is. In a nutshell they look at the following:

  • The quality of coding behind the site
  • Page load time and server response time
  • Originality and depth of content
  • Quality, range and number of inbound links
  • Numerous other things I won’t mention in case I do myself out of a job

By analyzing sites in such a way, search engines can begin to place all websites in an order for any given search term, so if you search for “blue paint” the best website selling “blue paint” will appear top. Why? Because it will feature good quality code (preferably validated and accessible), will be hosted on a quick reliable server (costs a little more but is worth it), the site will be filled with original and helpful content (which requires time and thought) and will inevitably have hundreds if not thousands of inbound links from other websites, directories and blogs (which can only be acquired with a bit of good old fashioned elbow grease after the site has launched). For this reason, you will never see a cheap website that’s been bashed together on the first page of Google. Fact.

What does it matter if a website isn’t on the first or second page of Google? Everything. Approximately 94% of Google users find what they want on the first page of results, with only 6% venturing onto page two, and around 80% of users only click on the first three results. Why just references to Google? Because the vast majority of people use Google for search, so if you don’t get it right with Google then you won’t have much luck with Bing and Yahoo.

Google Panda?What about the bamboo munching ball of fur?
What does Panda have to do with this? Well, it basically makes it even harder to get your website on the first page of Google’s results. If search engine optimisation and ongoing website marketing wasn’t already a hard enough sell, Panda just made things ten times more difficult. The Panda update (named after the guy that created it, not China’s most endangered bear) added a whole load of extra requirements on top of traditional SEO techniques, as well as re-ordering many existing results (to the extent that entire businesses were wiped out overnight by a catastrophic drop in traffic, and in turn, turnover from advertising commission and/or bookings). As the video detailed above points out, the growing number of websites now in existence means that search engines really have to work hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and ensure they provide the best results for your search.

In addition to traditional SEO techniques, businesses need to further invest in their website marketing to ensure the following:

  • None of your website content should be duplicated (across your own web pages or any other websites), and it must be as original and enticing as humanly possible. Using management speak you may need to do “blue sky thinking outside the box”. If you have access to a unique video clip that relates to your business, photos of your work or services that show something special, the ability to write a blog or produce informative articles, you should get these things on your website to show Google that you have something special, and that your site is worth making note of by visitors.
  • Your visitors metrics (behaviour or analytics) must be positive with a low bounce rate, so the design and content arrangement ensures site visitors stay on your pages and engage in your website. If visitors to your site leave shortly after arriving, only look at one page, or look at a few pages but are gone within seconds, your metrics will suggest that people don’t like your website. If you get your content right (first point made above) you should naturally retain visitors longer and you will end up with much improved metrics.
  • Your website must feature references on a range of different media platforms, so instead of just inbound links from other sites, blogs and directories, you have a presence on social media as well. When Google initially developed its algorithm to work out how to gauge the usefulness of websites and where to rank them for search requests, it needed to work out how popular a website was. For this it looked at the overall number of inbound links, working on the basis that a website with 100,000 inbound links must be more popular than a similar website with just one inbound link. That worked well for ages, but along came social media. The web is now littered with people tweeting about websites on Twitter, liking websites on Facebook, and chatting and commenting on numerous other social media platforms. In addition to inbound links to your website, the Panda update now means that Google also takes into account links, comments and the overall number of references to your website in the world of social media. You may not have time to do it, you may not have any interest in getting involved, but getting your business and website involved with social media is now a key part of online promotion and is heavily interlinked with SEO/SEM.

The Panda update goes way beyond what I have time to mention here, but if you’ve reached this far into the article without falling asleep and stotting your head off the keyboard, you will have realised the importance of continued search engine optimisation, website promotion and online marketing. Now, more than ever, business websites must be viewed as an ongoing investment if they are expected to succeed as a useful marketing tool.

How can my website be leaking juice?

Pure website juice, with bits (never from concentrate)When discussing website optimisation I often mention juice, and if the other party hasn’t run off thinking that I’m insane because I’ve also used terms such as Panda and Penguin in the same breath, I go on to explain that it’s the influence that can pass from one web page to another by way of a hypertext link.

What’s juice doing in my website? Well, every website has a Page Rank (PR) named after Larry Page, co-founder of Google. The PR is assigned to a website based on multiple factors such as the code used to build the site, the content within the site itself, the number, range and quality of other sources linking to the site, as well as things like visitor metrics (how long people stay on the site). These are all worked out by a mathematical computer program referred to as an algorithm.

Lets imagine a brochure site with a Page Rank of 3. On a typical brochure website you may have ten internal links (to things like “services”, “prices”, “about us”, “terms of use”, “disclaimer” and the like) and you may have a few external links to websites such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. By linking to all these pages without the correct code in place you are passing juice; basically telling search engines that your website (with it’s Page Rank of 3) values all of the web pages and sites that it links to equally; but is that true? Do you want your “terms of use” page (which will hardly ever be looked at and is highly unlikely to bring in site visitors) to be considered as important as your “services” page (which summarises all the great work you do and is a key lead generator)? Do you want a search engine to think that you deem your link to Twitter (which allows people to leave your website) as important as the link to your own “about us” page (which defines who you are and can help persuade a site visitor to call you to request your services)?

Answer: No. If you’ve managed to get your Page Rank up to 3 you must have put quite a bit of work into your content, optimisation, website marketing, and as a result developed a decent online presence. By allowing all links to pass juice you’re also allowing your PR3 authority to be passed on to everything your site links to, and in turn, you are undermining the great work you’ve put into your website.

Juice etiquette by Del MonteHow do I stem the flow?
As some of your internal pages are far more important to you than others, and also because you want to retain as much authority over your content and links as possible, it is best to plug the holes and stop passing juice. By adding ‘rel=”nofollow”‘ to the less important links and all external links, you are advising search engines what you consider to be important (your “services” and “about us” pages) and those pages that are useful but to which you don’t want to pass any authority (such as “terms of use” or a link to “Twitter”). By doing this you make your internal and external links far more efficient, retain authority, and stop your website from from dripping away all that hard earned influence.

Ultimately deciding when to pass, or not to pass juice, is just a small part of the ever evolving science that is search engine optimisation and marketing, but it’s another little thing that can help your site along the way.