What’s Wrong With A Flash Website For A Photographer’s Business?

I have a question for you.

Why are photographers so obsessed with having a Flash driven website?

This isn’t a new question. In fact, I’ve been asking it for years. I’ve even given classes on why Flash websites are the worst thing a photographer could ever have for their web presence.

But today I was referred to a site, and the question was brought up to me once again.

The site I visited was amazing. This photographer had a gorgeous intro video – probably one of the best I’ve seen.

Then I clicked into his site, and the headache began.

As I entered, it asked me to install a new plugin to make the site more effective. No. Never. So it brought me into the site without the plugin. Every click opened up a new browser window. The music started playing, and with that many windows open, it took me several minutes to figure out how to turn it off. Every gallery opened up a new window. The content (words) weren’t on the site – they were graphics, meaning none of the content had any effect on search engine rankings. Every gallery took seconds to load.

Really, it went on and on. I kept clicking because I was amazed at how much content he had – yet how poorly the representation was as his entire web presence unfolded before me.

This person had beautiful work. I know he’s a very talented photographer – I saw his work and know he’s going places. Yet with such a difficult site, he’s limiting his potential.

You don’t need the bells and whistles. You don’t need complicated galleries and Flash popping here and there. With your web presence, you need two things.

1. Simplicity

2. Content

Keep it simple. Don’t let anyone tell you you need Flash and lots of movement to have slideshows online. You don’t.

Flash Website For A Photographer’s Business

Your work should speak for yourself. And you don’t need Flash to showcase a lot of your work. We had over 20,000 images online in the mid 1990’s – we kept everything simple, loading multiple images into one low res file. People came and stayed on our site (yes, 20,000 images took a while to load using dial-up modems.) They’ll stay on your site longer if you keep it simple, and make it easy to get from here to there without waiting for something fancy to happen.

And use a blog to add content. Content marketing will rule this next decade. You have to have quality content to play in the search engines, to get traction from being ranked in Google, and to have people find you through those rankings. It doesn’t matter how fancy your site is if its sitting among the billions of pages in Google-land.

It’s getting found that matters the most.

24 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With A Flash Website For A Photographer’s Business?”

  1. I dont get it: you say you never install plugins, and then your browser almost crashes because you enter the non-plugin (non-flash?) version of the site? Don’t you mean that flash could have saved you frpm a horrible HTML popup experience?

    • Sorry about that – no the site I was talking about had a special plugin that I didn’t have loaded on my computer. So it stopped at the beginning and asked me to update my site and install a new plugin. I never install anything new based on a site I’m visiting. If you aren’t designing for what the average person has on their computers, you’ll end up losing many of the people trying to visit.

  2. There are different ways to use flash. Some are working great for photographers and some are not. But I do believe that presentation should be about the image. Image should open fast and large enough to see, preferably full window size (and to re-size according to viewers window size) navigation should be fast and simple… Photographers are selling their photographs or their style. Not web design skills. However a few playful plug-ins that can enhance viewing experience and make the site more interactive will not hurt- but as mentioned in this article it better work right. Otherwise it work against you.

    • Thanks so much. Yes, the bottom line is making it easy for the average user. Your clients don’t care about the bells and whistles – they want to easily be able to see who you are and what you offer. Make it frustrating and you’ll lose the contact.

  3. I completely agree that is why I’ve been trying for the last month to find someone to help me change my website. I’m going simple and HTML

    • Tip for you – consider having someone design it in WordPress. I’m completely amazed at what WordPress has to offer, and with the complexities of the system anymore, no one can tell the difference between “site” and “blog”. It really is the way of the future.

      If you have any questions about WordPress you can visit here, or contact me directly and I’d be happy to tell you more about the power of WordPress.

  4. Flash also isn’t searchable by many of the web robots. I think Google can pick up some of it, but if it can’t link to a direct photo or image, it can’t reference you or find your work. I know it’s a big and scary thing for some photographers – the concept of getting directly to your work, but if you aren’t being discovered – that’s why.

    You can do wonderful things with non-flash websites. Thanks to jquery and some other javascript bits of code, you can really make things look good. I looked far and wide for a good template for my own portfolio, and I found a great one. It’s smooth looking, it works well, and believe it or not – it’s based in WordPress. Win win all around.

    Good post and thoughts.

  5. I totally agree! I am always searching for the mute button and sometimes get impatient while waiting for photos to upload on flash.

  6. Still the article is more about creating a smoorh and eady user experience than it is about using or not using flash, I think.

    Some flash and some HTML sites indeed have too many bells and whistles and a photography site should just be about the photos and not much else. The technology you choose to use actualy doesnt matter that much.

    As for direct links to photos within a flash site: this is actually quite possible, thereby also making a flash portfolio SEO optimized.

  7. There are some really good flash-based websites, but it only happens when either the photographer is a web-specialist or he/she gets a serious company to make it. To make a good, SEO- and user-friendly flash website is a real challenge, nowadays flash gets better and more dynamic (web speaking, I don’t mean animations) and it is a black magic to people who designed websites 10 years ago and never learned the new web standards. Thats very sad because those people make web backward and unfriendly.

  8. Wow, your description of a photography website built with Flash sounds like a stereotypical disaster of how Flash websites *used* to be 10 years ago.

    Flash has evolved. Browsers have evolved. User familiarity with Flash has evolved.

    Flash is literally everywhere on the web. Adobe claims that nowadays greater than 95% percent all clients have Flash Player *already* installed. No interruptions to install a plugin, not on modern computers with current browser versions. Adobe Flash Player Statistics:

    Even Google has cooperated with Adobe to ensure that Flash websites are properly indexed and searchable. Read this for more:

    Elegant websites made with Adobe Flash are completely possible, and common. Professional website vendors like BigFolio produce Flash website templates for professional photographers. Just take a look at http://www.stevenerat.com/ to see what I mean.

    • First of all, thanks so much to everyone that has commented on this post. I know this subject really brings out the comments, and I’ve seen action on this post all over the web. I love being able to take in comments, and see how the community is thinking. Keep it up, I always welcome it!

      Okay. Now it’s education time.

      The purpose of this blog post was to educate people on the current status of Flash websites. What I am referring to is when a designer designs the entire site built on a Flash platform, and expects to get that Flash site ranked high in Google.

      I’m not talking about looks – I think Flash sites are gorgeous. And I know most people have Flash players on their browsers. I have the latest, and always stay up to date. (What I’m talking about above is when I enter a site and it makes me load new plugins that I don’t have, totally unrelated to the Flash plugin.)

      I’m not talking about the looks of Flash. What I’m talking about is ranking on Google.

      Steve – Boston Portrait Photographer – I am going to use everything in your comment to show exactly what I mean. First of all, I love your site. It’s beautiful, and you have great work. I can see where you attract a ton of new clients – once they make it to your site.

      I agree, Flash is everywhere. And to use a Flash splash on a page – go for it. I love the movement, and having galleries – slideshows – video presentations. Whatever you want to call it, use it all.

      Where I disagree is making the entire site Flash based.

      Google can’t penetrate a Flash created site, and because it can’t penetrate it, it can’t rank it. The only way to drive traffic to a Flash site is by telling people about it, through word of mouth, or though links, and things like social sites.

      So Steve, when I look at the keywords you are using for your Flash based site, you are targeting “Boston Portrait Photographer”. If you type that keyword into Google, you are nowhere to be found in the first ten pages of search results. I looked.

      If you look at the sites that come up at the top of that keyword phrase, all of them are html based – and the reason they are ranking high is because of content.

      Google loves content. They rank high for content. And they rank even higher for current content. They really don’t use keywords anyway – that is a few years old. What they do use is content.

      So if you design your site on a WordPress platform, for example, you can create quality content on your site every day, as many times a day as you choose. You don’t “keyword” your pages – each post creates automatic title tags, plus has quality content throughout the page it creates.

      In the video on Flash you suggested to watch, they talk about 4 things to make your site findable:
      Title tag
      H1 tag
      Links back to the site – authoritative links

      Because Flash cannot be penetrated – meaning Google can’t penetrate all the stuff on the inside of the Flash site – it uses these 4 things to help you get your website noticed.

      Also from the videos, they state Google ranks based on 60% of on-page content, 40% authoritative links. The only way Google will rank is based on content, and the authoritative links you’ve collected. The speakers give you a way to check your links in Google “site: (yoursite.com)” and it will give you what pages are indexed in Google. For your Flash site – one page. We have over 1500 pages linked, because of the blog format and the richness of content.

      Again, the purpose of this comment is to educate. The purpose of this site – VirtualPhotographyStudio.com – is to educate photographers on building a strong, profitable business. I get into this argument all the time. Photographers love Flash. I get that. But what is the most important thing to you? Do you want to attract attention in Google, and be a part of the 31 billion searches that take place every month in Google? Or do you want a “WOW” site?

      If you like Flash – create a side page that WOW’s anyone that wants to watch. Share that on YouTube. Use it as a promotional piece. But don’t make it your entire site.

      Your site should only be for marketing. How can you attract as many people to your site as possible to gain prospects, and gain customers?

      Again, Google LOVES content. I’ve proven it time and time again with the way I create my blog posts. Business goals should always be about trying to bring in new customers – for new profits – so I’m sticking with content – and a WordPress format.

      So, I’m open for comments.


  9. Thank you for your complete response to my comment and the comments of others. Regarding your response addressed to me, I have a few more points.

    Lori: “you are nowhere to be found in the first ten pages of search results”

    Yes, I know. The site just went live Wednesday early morning. I submitted URL to Google Wednesday afternoon. Part of my strategy, which I learned from noted SEO Author and Photographer John Harrington, is to continue posting my site URL with keywords Boston Portrait Photographer so that over time I will build up the association.

    Lori: “And to use a Flash splash on a page – go for it.”

    Well, my site does not use a splash page. I have an automatic slide show upon entering the site. Web Developers are very aware that “splash pages” are passe, so “90s”. Its bad usability. Using Flash to build a website does not require building a pointless Splash Page, its just an unfortunate practice by over eager marketing people IMO.

    Lori: “Where I disagree is making the entire site Flash based.”

    My Flash website is built from a website wizard for professional photographers. Specifically its made with BigFolio. BigFolio offers an option to provide a complete HTML mirror of the Flash site, automatically by checking a box. I will investigate this option in the next few days. This is intended as a proxy for search engines that do not index Flash sites well (at this time).

    Furthermore, BigFolio offers an iPhone compatible plug-in called SmallFolio for an additional fee. iPhone as you know does not support Flash, however anyone viewing my website from an iPhone is redirected to an automatically generated mirror of the Flash site.

    During the period of time that Google does not completely index Flash sites, having an HTML mirror and smart phone mirror provide an easy to use stop-gap for search engines.

    Having a photography website made with Adobe Flash (or Adobe Flex for that matter) provides the high quality level of human usability and interactiveness to make it a good experience for potential customers looking at the content (which is primarily photographs, not text). I think providing attractiveness and good usability to customers is a first priority. SEO is second priority. BigFolio is one example of a professional vendor of Flash websites that makes a very good attempt to compensate for the problems with Flash and SEO.

    Finally, the problem of search engines indexing content is Flash websites is a ephemeral one. Flash is pervasive on the Web, and there are lots of smart Ph.D.s and Software Engineers at search engine companies (and at Adobe) that are working to *completely* solve this problem. All of this debate is likely to be for naught in a few years, and SEO issues with Flash websites will also be an anachronism.

    • Thanks again Steve for more comments. While I understand what you’re saying, I still have some comments back to a few of your points. So here goes:

      Steve: …is to continue posting my site URL with keywords Boston Portrait Photographer so that over time I will build up the association.

      I hear exactly what you’re saying here. But you’ll actually be heading out to other blogs, other social sites, and using your keywords in order to create the link – like you’re doing here in my blog. And that’s a great strategy to have, one that will work. But again, that’s an online strategy, not a Flash website. The whole point is you cannot accomplish this with just a Flash website – you have to work the system outside of the Flash website in order to get the links.

      Steve: Web Developers are very aware that “splash pages” are passe, so “90s”. Its bad usability.

      I think you’ve misunderstood me – I completely agree that splash pages have no usability, and shouldn’t be used. They waste space and options to try and capture the attention of your visitors. But Flash splashes on a site are more popular than ever. You can imbed a video presentation into you sidebar. Or include it in your blog post. Or hardcode it so it’s a part of your opening home page. That way you have the beauty and the option of an incredible Flash presentation, without it taking over the usability of your site.

      Steve: …to provide a complete HTML mirror of the Flash site…

      Dangerous game. Google’s policy is to not index any mirrored site. When it finds it, it will pull you from the ranking.

      Steve: I think providing attractiveness and good usability to customers is a first priority. SEO is second priority.

      I completely agree. You should never design with SEO in mind – but it shouldn’t be ignored either when 31 billion searches are done every month in Google. If you want to grow your business by finding new prospects and customers online, you can’t afford to ignore that Google is synonymous with growth. I really think there are ways you can design with both. You can have a site/blog that is beautiful and showcases all of your work and content, and makes you findable on the search engines. Throw in your beautiful Flash presentations and use them on YouTube to drive traffic to your site. Use social to gather the people, showcase your work, and get known online.

      People don’t want complicated – they want simple. They want to find an answer to their question, and get what they came for. If they can’t find it in a few seconds because they have to install a plugin, or wait many, many seconds for a program to load, they’ll back out and be on their way to another site. I know that from experience.

  10. I think its only a matter of time until this dinosaur is put to rest. Being that it is so old and over stretched from its original purpose, there are just newer technologies out there that are better and more compatible. I’m glad that the IPad doesn’t offer flash, its a wake up call to not put all your eggs in one basket.

    • Thanks Flash. I just attended a seminar today on iPad and future developments. Amazing technology is coming our way, and yes Flash is dead and dying. It’s so amazing to me to think of where we’ll be in just a few short years. Time to run fast!

  11. I have the same problem with my web site and i am wondering about converting it in a jquery gallery…

  12. I’m well over a year late but oh well, that’s my trademark;) So here goes…. I’m thankful that I read ALL comments after the initial topic. Its actually the battle of wits that led me to continue reading after the topic or I would’ve promptly backed out of this site. What I got from all this was that both of you, Virtual Photographer & Boston Portrait Photographer, we’re starting to get into a ‘pi$$ing match’ aka who is the easiest accessible, more popular,or what-have-you on the web search engine Google. No problem, as its human instinct with people whom realize that they are indeed wrong, to find wrong in the other person or either, find better in themselves to toss back and forth. All my analyzing poking aside, I will say that I, now, know how to build a nice, simple, clean site with a flash option or two. And more importantly, I can quit stressing about looking ‘flashy’, no pun intended;) Now I will go off into the world of Google or WordPress to create my site with simplicity and substance, all while leaving myself less work to do. So THANK YOU VIRTUAL PHOTOGRAPHER:) And since I am not ‘website building savvy’, I can refer back to the indepth info on ‘flash’ once my simple site is finally up and running. So THANK YOU AS WELL, BOSTON PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER:) whhhheeeewww….. I’m just happy that this pi$$ing match war was waged between two, very competent individuals that both explained all I had hoped to learn prior to reading this article!! KEEP UP THE INTERESTING READS!!!!

    • Thanks Melinda! Yep, I always know people have different opinions and ideas. That’s what makes business so great. So I really try and not get into the “he said, she said” side of things and really focus on getting main points across. Glad you found that in this post!

  13. My flash website was having problems getting indexed and ranked in Google I searched at Google for a “flash seo optimization specialist” and I found a company that I liked and I hired them. It worked out fine. I still have a flash website but there is now an HTML version of the site and Google is ranking me at the top of the first page.

    • Hi Jonnie

      Yes, I do know of the SEO companies duplicating sites in Flash and HTML to get them ranked. I still have issues. You now have 2 sites to maintain, its still not “friendly” to add content to on a regular basis, there are still mobility issues, and many more problems. With Flash, its “old” technology. People don’t care about the bells and whistles, lots of movement and lots of Flash. They want information. They want to see your photography and don’t care if it rotates, flies in, and puts on an impressive show. I love the impressive shows as marketing tools, just not as your every day website you are using to market your business. To me, information will always be king, and if you can find an easy way of sharing your content with the general population, the better off you’ll be in the long run.


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