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Flash and Ecommerce

According to Adobe Flash is “…the most advanced authoring environment for creating rich, interactive content for digital, web, and mobile platforms. Create interactive websites, rich media advertisements, instructional media, engaging presentations, games, and more”. Although Flash can be used to create dynamic applications it commonly is used for adding a “WOW” factor to many websites.

While using Flash to deliver your content and manage orders may seem like a great way to make your users’ experience more pleasant it actually can work against you and prevent you from even getting customers in the first place! While Flash may be a method of delivering eye catching content to your website it is not suited to powering websites especially ecommerce websites.

The problems with using Flash for ecommerce include:

  1. Not everyone has a Flash player installed on their computer

    Adobe claims that Flash is installed on 98% of all computers. While that number is very impressive it still is not 100%. That remaining 2% of users who do not have Flash installed will not be able to access your site. Another way to phrase that is to say they will not be able to make purchases from your website. Would any smart business shut out 2% or more of their customer base needlessly when they can use an alternative that lets everybody in?

  2. Flash is not very accessible

    While it is true that Flash is more accessible then it used to be, the unfortunate truth of the matter is it still isn’t as accessible as properly written HTML. While this may not be an issue to most users there is a large, and growing, portion of Internet users who have some sort of disability that requires them to access websites differently then many users. Flash, intentionally or not, may prevent some users from being able to access your site. An alternative would be to build a non-Flash-based version of your site for users who cannot use Flash. The problem with this is two fold: not only do you have a second website to maintain which means extra development and maintenance costs but why would you want to have a fully accessible version of your website be an alternative instead of how you deliver your content in the first place?

  3. You lose the power of semantic markup

    In the world of search engine optimization HTML plays a very important role in helping the search engines understand what your pages are about. They can use < title > tags, < h >eading tags, and more to infer what a page about. Basically, if a page’s title or heading contains keywords within them the odds are the page is probably about them in some fashion. If you do not have HTML to markup your content you leave no clues for the search engines to use to determine the importance of keywords in your content. Do you know any ecommerce site owners who would willingly give up the potential for thousands of not millions of free visitors and potential customers just to use flash when they can have an equally exciting shopping experience using HTML/CSS/JavaScript?

  4. You don’t have any anchor text since you don’t have any internal links

    Expanding on the point above, a huge factor in determine a page’s ranking are links. While this can get complex the part we are concerned about are internal links. Internal links are links on your website’s web pages that link other other pages within your own website. When done properly these links play a very important part in helping search engines determine what a page is about. Once again, because Flash-based website do not use HTML you lack these internal links. That just kills your site’s rankings in Google and Yahoo.

The short of it is this: if you plan on developing an ecommerce website do not use Flash to deliver your important content. This includes your product information and shopping cart. Stick to proven methods that are not only accessible to the vast majority of users but to the search engines as well. This means using a shopping cart that produces HTML. If you feel a need to use Flash for that “WOW” factor use it to enhance portions of your site that do not deliver important content. This can be internal ads that promote other products on your website or let your users see data you do not want or cannot be viewed by the search engines like the products a customer has placed in their shopping cart (search engines cannot view this because they aren’t looking over your customers’ shoulder while they shop!)

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