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B2B Homepage Animation: Flash is Dead. Blame the iPad.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Online MarketingTechnologyWeb Design

Note: this is not a comment on Flash’s quality, usability or usefulness. And this post is not about app development or sites purposely built entirely in Flash.

This is a comment on current perceptions about Flash and how it relates to online marketing websites.

B2B folks specifically don’t want Flash for their homepage animations anymore. And here are the top four reasons I’m hearing in my conversations with business owners and online marketers:

Reason #1 – iPad. Browser compatibility on the iPad and smartphones is top of mind of B2B marketers.

Reason #2 – “Flashiness.” Clients have seen too many “flashy” or excessively long, elaborate and slow animations.

Reason #3 – SEO. Google doesn’t index content inside Flash files.

Reason #4 – HTML 5, AJAX/Jquery are “cool,” Flash is “old” and “uncool.” When middle-aged executives of mention HTML 5 and say “no Flash,” you know there’s change in the wind.

Homepage Animations

Animations on marketing website homepages are the real issue here. For years, designers have been building, and clients have been asking for, some sort of animation on homepages. These animations, and the content in them, are designed to quickly show a viewer what the company or product is all about, since they grab viewers’ attention.

And since the functionality within these animations is very limited (usually just movement, linking and maybe CMS integration), Flash is no longer required to make them work.

The 4 Reasons and What They Mean

#1 – Flash doesn’t play on the iPad.

The iPad is incredibly popular among folks in the high-tech business-to-business marketplace, so the people I talk to might be more concerned about the iPad than people in other industries. And really, they’re only concerned about the main animation on homepages. Video and other Flash-based page elements are not as big a concern – yet (maybe because there are so many site-specific apps … which defeats the whole purpose of browsers … don’t get me started).

#2 – “Flashiness.”

This reason has nothing to do with Flash itself, but is rather the result of design and content issues. Some companies love having long, elaborate animations on their homepages. Some people hate them. In any event, the messenger (Flash in this case) is blamed.

#3 – SEO.

It’s true that Google does index the content in Flash files that appear embedded in homepages. But, it doesn’t do a great job at it and you can’t get the same value as you would with HTML text, for various reasons. However, pages with Flash embedded really aren’t penalized unless the Flash slows down the page load time (which is a good reason to keep any homepage animation short and sweet – see #2 above). On the other hand, unless non-Flash homepage animations use the alt-tag (which many don’t for design reasons – some people don’t like how it looks when the text appears on mouseover) or include real HTML text, they aren’t gaining any benefit by not using Flash.

#4 – Flash “uncool;” AJAX/HTML 5/Jquery “cool.”

When you have Google, Firefox and Apple all behind HTML 5, it’s hard for Adobe to fight back (although Google still supports Flash rather impressively on YouTube, and most pro designers use Adobe products on their Mac PCs – go figure).

Also, I think there are deeper and more profound reasons behind how quickly people started reacting negatively to Flash. First, I believe that most people don’t like the idea of plugins, and don’t want to have to rely on one to make their marketing site work properly. And I believe there is a basic understanding by online marketers that the content in homepage animations is not worth the trouble of downloading a plugin. (A video of a dog playing a piano, however, is a different story! People will do anything to see that.)

Second, online marketers and developers don’t like proprietary software and players, and the idea of an “open source” video codec and support is very appealing, especially if it promises to play across all browsers and operating systems.

Well, we’ll see if that ever comes to pass.

Whatever the real reason, professional online marketers and consultants are dissing Flash and praising Jquery – probably without understanding the underlying issues around video codecs and < video > support at all.

Final Thoughts About Flash & iPad

Is Apple trying to kill Flash? Is Flash as awful as Apple says? I’m staying out of that argument. But, for better or worse, Flash has an image problem that might never go away.

Note: Yes, yes, I know – the Workbox site still has Flash on its homepage … cobbler’s shoes.

Yours, Eric Weidner