We’ve recently run tests for two clients in which we’ve tested a “sta­tic” ver­sion of a home­page vs. their default Flash ver­sion. “Sta­tic” sim­ply means that we served users a non-Flash ver­sion of the homepage.

The desire of our clients to run these tests prob­a­bly has a lot to do with the state of the econ­omy. It’s no secret that a Flash home­page is much more expen­sive to main­tain and to make changes to. It’s also makes it more cum­ber­some to make quick updates to the page, or to test new con­cepts. Don’t get me wrong — no one loves a use­ful Flash home­page more than I do. But most com­pa­nies sim­ply don’t have the in-house skills to keep a Flash page updated.

For each of our clients, the tests were very sim­ple. Point 50% of users to the default, Flash ver­sion of the home­page, and point the other 50% of users to a sta­tic ver­sion of the home­page. In both cases, the sta­tic ver­sion retained much of the func­tion­al­ity of the Flash ver­sion; how­ever, the sta­tic ver­sions often got users to con­tent faster. For exam­ple, on an insur­ance company’s web­site, the Flash ver­sion played a video when a user clicked on a type of cov­er­age, while the sta­tic ver­sion took peo­ple directly to the cov­er­age page.

In both tests, the busi­ness users behind the tests were root­ing for the sta­tic ver­sions to win. They wanted the abil­ity to update their pages more eas­ily, with­out hav­ing to go through a lengthy pro­duc­tion process. Essen­tially, the orig­i­nal deci­sion to use Flash on their site was taken with­out a clear busi­ness need.

And the results?

For the major insur­ance com­pany that we worked with, we were able to declare the “sta­tic” ver­sion as the clear win­ner. There was no neg­a­tive impact on leads gen­er­ated for new poli­cies when serv­ing the sta­tic ver­sion. More impres­sively, pageviews to inter­nal site pages increased by more than 40%. This led us to start plan­ning a new test to opti­mize lead gen­er­a­tion from those inter­nal pages.

For the office prod­ucts sup­ply com­pany, the sta­tic ver­sion also per­formed bet­ter than the Flash ver­sion on all key met­rics, although by a smaller mar­gin. How­ever, this test was def­i­nitely a win for the client. By mov­ing to a sta­tic page, our client now has much more free­dom to quickly update the home­page with new con­tent and offers, spar­ing pre­cious inter­nal resources.

Remem­ber that a sta­tic page by no means implies a bor­ing page, or a page with­out a lot of great fea­tures. In fact, the sta­tic ver­sions for our clients often main­tain much of the most impor­tant func­tion­al­ity of the page.

So, when does Flash make sense for your site? First of all, look at your site from your users’ per­spec­tive. Is the Flash serv­ing a real pur­pose for your users, by adding mean­ing­ful func­tion­al­ity? If so, Flash will likely out­per­form a sta­tic ver­sion of your home­page. If, how­ever, you’re using Flash for eye candy, or because you’ve been told that every­one is doing it, then a test might be in order. If you can give your­self more con­trol and flex­i­bil­ity with­out sac­ri­fic­ing per­for­mance against key met­rics, why not try it?

5 comments
Milwaukee SEO
Milwaukee SEO

Flash can be a tricky thing to work with especially if you are worried about how it will affect the user experience. I think that you will most likely be seeing more sites switching to html5 then using flash in the future. HTML 5 provides a greater set of elements that are indexable by search engines while flash seems to be falling by the wayside.

SEO Expert
SEO Expert

For myself, I would normally encourage users to start with static websites before going on to flash-based pages. A static website gives more chances to include keywords on the main page and is friendlier to SEO web bots. Most SEO expert will also agree on this. The other problem with flash-based pages is that not all mobile devices are able to view it, the biggest example being Apple smart phones. You would be losing a big chunk of views if you ignore iOS devices.

SEO Professional
SEO Professional

Great article! I definitely prefer to static over flash when you have the option from both a usability and SEO standpoint.

SEO Specialist
SEO Specialist

However, to be clear, it is very possible to SEO all Flash websites. There are plenty of great examples, including some of the MillerCoors brand websites (i.e., MillerHighLife.com and MillerChill.com). I recommend "Search Engine Optimization for Flash" (O'Reilly Series) by Todd Perkins. It's a handy resource in addition to info you can get directly from Adobe's website.

KatieK
KatieK

HTML content (such as on the static pages) is also much much better for SEO than Flash content (or any content inside rich media).