Back in 2010, Apple made headlines by leaving a seemingly important feature out of their at-the-time new iPad. The tablet boasted a huge variety of features, aside from one: support for Flash
Apple, which expanded on its reasons for not supporting Flash in an open letter, was far from the only company to be moving away from Flash. Over the past decade, web designers and developers have made their thoughts clear on why they dislike Flash.
Although Flash has only recently been phased out by most web designers – and it’s unfortunately still a fairly common sight on websites designed in the mid-2000s – dislike of Flash is nothing new.
In 2000, 10 years before Apple effectively called Flash outdated and unimportant, a Neilsen Norman Group usability study found that Flash was “99% bad” and a major hindrance to good design and usability on the web.
As it turns out, it’s a major annoyance for marketers as well. Flash not only lowers the usability of most websites – it also significantly reduces the amount of content that’s visible to Google’s indexing bots, lowering search engine visibility.
In this post, we’ll explain why Flash is a bad choice for websites that want to achieve good search engine rankings. We’ll also share some of the places you’re most likely to find Flash on websites and how Flash-heavy websites can be optimised for SEO.
What is Flash?
Once upon a time, Flash was at the cutting edge of web design. In the early 2000s, the majority of websites were built using barebones HTML and CSS, resulting in a level of interactivity that was, well, extremely limited. Flash gave websites the ability to add animated content beyond what the typical animated GIF made possible. It also lets web designers create interactive menus, modules and page elements that, for the time, were fairly impressive. However, like most early web technologies, Flash went from cutting edge to major annoyance over the past decade. The development of HTML5 made Flash pointless to web designers, leading to its current status on the web. Along with the development of HTML5, the rise of mobile browsers and tablets have pushed Flash aside for the most part, since it’s designed for the keyboard and mouse combination that’s only found on desktops computers.
Why Flash is bad?
Flash is bad for several reasons. The first is that in 2015, with mobile phones and tablets making up more than 60 percent of total traffic, software designed strictly for a mouse and keyboard just isn’t relevant.
The second reason is that Flash is massively inaccessible. Flash elements can’t be scaled using the plus and minus keys on most keyboards. There’s also no ability to copy and paste content, no back button and no way to identify clickable links. Flash content can’t be bookmarked – at least not beyond the home screen. It also can’t be searched or navigated using any touchscreen device, making it largely a relic of a previous Internet era. The third problem with Flash is that it’s massively insecure. More than any other web application, Flash Player is riddled with vulnerabilities that have made it an extremely popular target for hackers. Finally, Flash is dreadful for SEO. Since Flash content doesn’t have any URLs, isn’t able to be searched or indexes, uses unreadable text content and doesn’t provide any way of monitoring outbound links, it’s a nightmare for Google’s search bots. Simply put, if you’re using Flash to power your website – whether for the content of your website’s navigation – in 2015, you’re massively reducing the level of search visibility your website could achieve.
Google’s warning to Flash-heavy websites
In October 2014, Google announced that it would expand its warning system to help mobile users navigate away from Flash-heavy websites. The warning informs users on mobile devices that Flash sites “may not work” on their devices.
If your website attracts a large mobile audience and uses Flash, Google’s warning is likely to have a serious negative impact on the number of people that click through to your website, reducing your traffic from search.
Google, Apple and numerous other technology companies have made the message clear: Flash, while using technology early in the web, is now more of a hindrance than a help from a usability and search perspective.
Where can you find Flash on modern websites?
For the most part, Flash has been phased out of modern web design. The majority of large companies that previously used Flash on their websites have switched to using HTML5 or abandoned their animated or interactive page elements altogether.
Despite this, it’s still possible to find Flash on many websites, particularly websites that use mass-produced WordPress themes and plugins. Carousels (also known as sliders) are a common web design nuisance that often depend on Flash.
Homepage sliders have SEO issues beyond Flash. Since they often use more than one H1 heading, sliders make it difficult for Google to assess your page’s key themes and topics, reducing your page’s optimisation for search.
Other places you might find Flash on modern websites include navigational menus, video players and interactive content. Although the very occasional use of Flash won’t cause any serious issues, Flash is almost always better replaced with HTML5.
How to optimise Flash for SEO
Although Flash is certainly bad for SEO, it’s not completely worthless. Over the last few years, Google has made some changes to its algorithm – including the ability to index text in Flash files – that have improved the visibility of Flash websites.
If your website features lots of Flash content, the best way to optimise for search is to make sure that the Flash content isn’t critical. Any text, navigational menus and other content that can be non-Flash almost certainly should be.
Finally, consider dropping Flash altogether. With HTML5 offering the functionality of Flash in a package that’s better from every perspective, there’s no reason to still depend on Flash in 2015 when there are better alternatives out there.
In the early days of the web, Flash was an exciting new technology that created new possibilities for web designers. Today, it’s the exact opposite. For optimal usability and optimal SEO, it’s best to leave Flash where it belongs: in the past.