Friday, January 20, 2012

Flash-Only Websites and Insulting Your Customers: Shooting Yourself In The Foot

This is the second post in a series of best practices for tea company websites. This post is about something that some businesses, including some tea companies do, which is to have flash-only websites, meaning a website that is only accessible or navigable by using Adobe flash player. In my opinion, the best practice for the use of flash in websites is as follows:

Make your entire website fully accessible, and attractive looking without the use of flash player. Use flash player only for supplemental interactive features that cannot be achieved without flash.

The screenshot above shows what a flash-only website looks like to a user who has flashblock installed. Does this look inviting? Professional? Do you think you're going to make a new customer or retain an old customer with this sort of greeting?

Why not flash?

  1. A large number of people legitimately cannot install flash on their computers or browsers. Most users on mobile phones cannot use flash; Adobe discontinued flash for mobile devices some time ago. Some very old computers cannot handle flash, and some browsers, including text-based browsers, cannot handle it either. Flash can also provide problems for the blind and visually-impaired, who must often rely on text-based browsers. Yes, by relying on flash you are completely shutting out visually-impaired users.

  2. Many users simply do not install flash player. Security concerns are a major reason. Security-sensitive workplaces can ban the use of flash for this reason. Annoyance and slow speed on older computers are another concern that leads people to not install flash.

  3. Many users who have flash player installed use flashblock, because they find flash ads annoying. A certain portion of these users will choose not to load the flash elements of your website, instead just leaving your site in annoyance.

  4. Search engine crawlers cannot navigate flash menus and flash websites. If your site is just one page with a giant flash program, you will only get one page indexed by search engine, and it will just index a blank page. Even if your website has normal URL's and some text content, if you rely on flash for navigation features, the search engines will not be able to navigate your website and will have a hard time determining its structure and returning your site in search results.

  5. If your site is flash-only, you lose the benefit of people being able to include deep links to specific pages on your site, a benefit I describe in my post about the importance of having product pages for individual teas. This also causes you to lose potential traffic when people talk about your products on blogs or social networking sites.

  6. Even people who have flash installed and not blocked may still find it annoying. Even before I installed flashblock, I disliked flash-only websites, and I had a very low tolerance level for them.

Think these are small amounts of users? The percentage of mobile users is on the increase; on my websites it tends to range in the 5-10% zone. I've seen estimates that roughly 25% of Firefox users use flashblock. My estimation is that if you have a flash-only website, you are shutting out a minimum of 15% of your users, and probably losing 25-50% of visitors between annoyance and inability to view your page.

In practice, however, when considering the loss of search engine navigability, since search contributes 50-80% of traffic to many websites, you can easily be losing 90% or more of your total traffic by having a flash-only website.

An example of a flash-only tea company website:

The most egregious examples of a flash-only websites are those where you cannot even view any aspect of the website without flash player:

Really? A user on a text-only browser would just get "Please click here to get the Flash 7 player and enter the world of Tazo.", and the full message, "Your patience with technology will be rewarded..." is worse. This message is a particularly self-destructive marketing move on the part of Tazo: it is worded so as to imply that if you do not use flash, you are not "patient with technology".

Never insult your customers!


If you use Adobe flash on your website, use it only for supplemental features embedded as a small feature within specific pages on your site. Make your site fully functional and navigable without flash, or make a flash-only alternative for search engines and people who cannot use flash. Requiring flash can cause you to lose a majority of your potential web traffic. And, if you do make a flash-only website, at a very minimum, think carefully about the wording of your message. How about offering an apology for your own failure to make your site accessible without flash, instead of insulting users who do not use flash?


  1. I don't like websites that tell me I need a certain plug in to view their content. If they want people to read what they have to offer they'll make it easily accessible by everyone like you say.

    I love tea and look forward to reading your blog. :o)

  2. As one who has only the barest knowledge of what you are talking about, I prefer regular websites, full of information and above all, very easy to navigate. If you value customers, go with the easy and most readily available to them and make it interesting!

  3. So... you're saying Tazo is all flash and no substance? lol. Couldn't resist. I almost never wait for flash pages to load and I hate stuff moving around on the screen while I am trying to read. Only too bad the guilty will not see themselves here. As always good stuff.

  4. Interesting. I don't normally look at Tazo but I did now. I was trying not to be put off, thinking I'd just keep an open mind. However, there is too much happening on their site, hardly know where to look. Perhaps their efforts are a little overzealous. Being different isn't enough, a site still has to be practical. By the way, they have a feedback page. Maybe you should simply link to your article here?

  5. Thanks!

    Yeah...there are a lot of other comments I'd have about the Tazo site too. It opens in a pop-up, and the way this happens on most browsers is unintuitive to the user, another no-no. Overall though, it's just not the kind of website I like.

    I know some companies want to entertain the user with their website, but I don't want entertainment, I want information. There's a reason I use the internet, and don't own a TV. I like the web because it gives me control over the pace and to some degree, formatting of the information. When a company develops an interactive multimedia website, it makes the experience more like watching an advertisement on television and less like using the web. Usually I just close out of these websites...and when I don't, they irritate me and leave a negative impression.

    It's so easy to make a cut-and-dry informational website, if companies want to have a fancy flash site, there is little reason not to make a purely informational, traditional HTML-only website alongside of it too.

    1. Yeah, I was hoping you'd unpack "people just find flash annoying" in your article, but you've done it here in the comments. More navigation, less vegetation!

    2. That was my first thought, but I wanted to be gentle and to give step-by-step reasoning so that I would be more likely to get through to the people who still think it's a great idea to have a flash-only site! =)

  6. I love flash only websites. Awesome design, great navigation. Much more engaging experience.

    1. I think that most people would agree that within the category of flash-only websites, there are some sites that have better navigation and user experiences than others. A flash-only site can be a great user experience or a poor one.

      But none of this changes the basic fact that flash is not accessible to all web users, and that many users for whom it is accessible (such as me) still don't like it. Even if a site is truly amazing, if it is flash-only, then it is losing a large portion of its web traffic.

      And then there are the SEO issues...

  7. Check their site again...

    1. Beautiful! =) I love it...such a huge improvement; the new site is very easy to navigate, and does not require any flash!