Simple, elegant web design

UPDATE

Thoughts on Flash, SEO and Photography Websites

The iPad doesn’t run Flash and search engines don’t index Flash. That seems to be the thinking behind the voice of ‘No Flash design’ for photography websites. It seems like a fairly clear cut case. But it’s not.

A photography website is one of many investments photographer’s make to do business. When it comes to marketing, it is perhaps the most important one. Being paid for photos, or to take photos, by someone who has seen a website is a return on the investment made to make that photography and website happen (the time and money spent).

Photographers get a return when 1) people who want to buy photos or photography (the target audience of a website) find a photographer’s website and 2) when they do find the site, it makes them want to choose what they have found. These two things are equally important and why ‘No Flash design’ is not a useful position to hold when choosing a photography website. It might be the final choice based on fitness for purpose, I am not advocating ‘No HTML design’, just advocating choosing a website based on fitness for purpose.

I imagine most people buy photos to make something better, to add value to something. They look great on a wall, they can communicate complex ideas simply, they can capture someone’s attention, they communicate a story, they help us remember. If a website does not do this for the photos it is displaying then it puts them at a disadvantage to another website that does. I’m sitting in New York City writing this on my iPad using an application called Writer, the TV is on, there are magazines, papers and a Joy Division book in front of me on the table. When I think of Joy Division, I think of the album artwork for Unknown Pleasures by Peter Saville. I am visually literate. I am not alone. HTML websites visually underwhelm me, Flash websites visually arrest me. This is because Flash technology is more visually capable than HTML. This might change, but it’s probably always going to remain the case. Google say ‘Googlebot’s got no eyes’ and there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that changing soon. What they mean is it’s difficult to index anything other than words. They don’t pay attention to fonts, colors, shapes, movement, images, video, just the words around them. They don’t pay attention to the things that add value in a visually literate society. HTML and HTML5 in combination with JavaScript are proving to be more and more capable but Flash is already great. Hence why Flash is fit for purpose.

So on at least one of the two equally important factors a website must perform well on to achieve it’s aim, Flash does a better job than HTML / HTML5.

Whether or not people can find a website depends on a few things, not just search engines or Google. If the photos on a website manage to add value to someone’s day, they might link to the website on their blog, they might Tweet about it, it might win a competition, who knows, they might even just tell someone. That’s one way someone might find a website. Flash is good for this.

When it comes to searching and not browsing many things affect how a website is indexed by a search engine and on what words. Some things are within the website author’s control and other things a website author can only try and influence or learn more about. The website’s address and page titles are the most important thing a website author controls and both of these remain in the author’s control whether the site is built in Flash or HTML. However, a good Flash website exists on one page whereas HTML sites, and not HTML5 web apps which are like Flash, exist on many. The text and tags on these HTML pages help with indexing and the text in Flash is usually not indexed and there are no tags associated with images in Flash. These are both clear advantages for an HTML website being found. But they are diminishing advantages, pages deep in a website are indexed less highly than a home page. So how is it pages deep in large websites come first on a search? Links in. The more links in a page has, the more important it is. This is the aspect of search engine indexing a website author can only influence. Links in to a website are more important than the text on a page, but perhaps less than the page title or web address. That’s all the factors within a website author’s control and influence.

A website author can only research what people who might buy the photos are searching for, what words they are using. These words or combinations of words might also change over time. It is important to remember that a website not only has to index, but it has to index on the words a target audience is searching on. Good SEO is a complex and evolving process. HTML has some advantages when it comes to factors within the website authors control but few when thinking about things an author needs to influence and research.

So what … What am I saying? What I am saying is most photographer’s would be best suited with a Flash portfolio website and an HTML blog. Flash to add visual value, and HTML in the form of a blog to index in the search engines and extend the narrative. HTML5 web apps might eventually prove to be an alternative to Flash but are not there yet. ‘No Flash Design’ as an approach to a photography website really is foolish. Blogs generally index better than websites and encompass more keywords as they are more easily updated. They are also more easily shared (links in) and all posts made to them at one time are on the blog home page, giving them importance. Blogs are a better investment than websites when when considering SEO. Just point them at a Flash portfolio for people to enjoy the photos.

To discuss … head to Quora:
Is ‘No Flash Design’ for Photography Websites Foolish?

Or find me on Twitter:
@Mike_Hartley