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Flash. A Visitor's Oasis or a Designer's Mirage

by: Ralph Hilliard

Let me get something out of the way right up front... Flash is here to stay. In fact, its not only here to stay but I believe it is quickly growing into the standard for web advertising and interactive media online.

For those who might not know, Flash in its simplest form is an animation technology created by Macromedia that adds graphical and audio flavor to a website. If a web site were a baked potato, then flash would be the butter, cheese and sour cream.

The progression to Flash technology is a natural one. The web began with low bandwidth carrying text only. Later the .gif was introduced and graphics leaped onto the web. Next were animated gif and rollovers. Finally, with the influx of broadband such DSL and Cable Modem being available to the home user, Flash has become a viable option for mainstream websites.

The latest stats show that The Flash player is installed on 97.6 % of browsers, which is about as much market penetration as you could hope for.

Since it is here to stay and will continue to grow, what should you be doing with it? My personal feelings are that you should dive in now or be left sitting on the dock wondering why everyone is saying the water is fine.

Where do you begin?

You begin by first realizing that regardless of the glamour and glitz that Flash provides to a web site, it is and should always primarily be, for a business web site, a tool to communicate.

I bring this up because I believe that fully 75% of Flash on the web is there just because the designer thought it was cool and it is fun to use. I don't care how artistically done, if flash isn't communicating clearly, it is a waste of a terrific marketing tool.

Too many people run out and have a designer create a flash intro thinking that the sheer novelty and creativity of Flash is going to bring sales. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lets first take a look at a few examples of what NOT to do with Flash.

This first site is one that I reviewed on the private MarketingChallenge.com site. Let me preface this by saying that this site owner has a very good site going on the inside, but I believe his added Flash intro may actually hinder his progress.

http://www.daytradinguniversity.com

Notice how the main text message was overshadowed by lots of 'movement' throughout the movie that draws the eyes in several directions. I get anxious just watching that movie.

Now here is another one. Let me also preface this by saying the site uses some of the coolest and most advanced features of flash...but...to what end? Items are moving on the screen all the time, there is never a point of contact, no direction is given to the visitor, no call to action, nothing learned, navigation is so artsy and obscure that its pointless.

http://www.freshfroot.com/main.html

In the end, I spent 30 minutes on the site and still wasn't sure why this site existed.

Okay, the final site. This one wins the prize for the most useless flash site on the web I've seen so far. After watching this, ask yourself...did you feel motivated to go buy altoids? I love altoids, but I have to wonder about the sanity of their marketing director.

http://www.altoids.com

Okay, so is it a fact that flash is entertaining and increases visitor times by 50% or more?

Yes it is, but more time on a site does not necessarily mean more interest or more sales.

Is it also a fact that cool flash sites can increase traffic?

Absolutely, many sites have reported 150% increases in traffic overnight after creating a flash site, but does increase traffic translate into increase sales? NO.

Increased TARGETED traffic translates into increased sales. Most of the people that visit these cool sites are there for the coolness only. I feel sorry for the poor soul who actually visited the altoids site looking for some information on investing in the company.

Let us move on to three great ways in which you CAN use Flash to your advantage.

An intro/tour movie that clearly communicates what the site is going to be about. It should be like an audio/visual tagline. A good tagline not only grabs the visitor's attention but also expresses the nature of the product or service. It gives you something to hang your mental hat on. The mind is then prepared to receive the rest of the message.
Here is an example. It should be clear from the first few seconds of this intro that this site is going to be about a haunted house.

http://www.edgeofmadnesshauntedhouse.com

One comment on intro movies. Always be sure to to include a 'skip intro' link for return visitors.

A short movie clip that draws attention to a particular element of a product or service so that the visitor doesn't miss it.
Take a look at how the following short clip visually shows how this new vehicle security system works and why it would be called the "invisible deadbolt for your vehicle".

http://www.doublelocksecurity.com (click where it says to view flash presentation)

Create an entire site that makes excellent use of global navigation and the Viewer's Window. I have to say that most "all flash" sites do just the opposite, but this is probably the best site I have ever seen for ease of use and ease of navigation. My favorite part of this site is how, as you navigate, different areas are 'grayed out', but you can still easily return to where you were. Give it a try. Be sure to try out the bookmark this shirt feature as well.
http://www.proper-gander.com/flashcontest_stern_zefer/0basemovie.html

Where can you get started with Flash?

First, you will need to get yourself a copy. Standard retail cost is around $399. You can download a trial version at http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/

After that, you'll need some training. I suggest our own WordNet University that teaches Flash Visually.

http://www.wordnetuniversity.com/application.cgi?afcode=5e90bfb548

As you dive into the future of Flash, keep in mind that a Flash site can be either a visitor's oasis or a designer's mirage. I personally would rather drink deeply of the oasis of practical design than thirst in the mirage of the cool and artsy.

About The Author
IMC's resident Site Reviewer, Ralph Hilliard, has created a visual learning center that will teach you web design so easily it will blow your mind. NO BOOKS. NO PROGRAMMING.
Learn Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash in a matter of days.
http://www.wordnetuniversity.com/application.cgi?afcode=5e90bfb548

Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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