Why Small Business Should Use Flash Sparingly
It’s about two weeks past the big announcement by Google Webmaster Central Blog about indexing flash on websites. I know, personally, I’ve fought off a rush of designers who wanted to create heavy-laden flash websites because they think it’s “ok now”.
I had to shut down the flood gates quick before everything became just a huge conglomerate of Flash animation. I told them to actually read the blog, not just the headline. Because, if they’d actually read it, they’d know it’s about as vague as vague can be. Moreover, while aesthetics are important, we’re in the business to be found and make our clients found. Flash, like AJAX, is still, as far as I’m concerned, a “website” cloaking device.
Let’s read what Google says their Flash limitations are:
Q: What are the current technical limitations of Google’s ability to index Flash?
There are three main limitations at present, and we are already working on resolving them:
2. We currently do not attach content from external resources that are loaded by your Flash files. If your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, another SWF file, etc., Google will separately index that resource, but it will not yet be considered to be part of the content in your Flash file.
3. While we are able to index Flash in almost all of the languages found on the web, currently there are difficulties with Flash content written in bidirectional languages. Until this is fixed, we will be unable to index Hebrew language or Arabic language content from Flash files.
The third point doesn’t concern me as much because I am just starting to get into the international scene, but the first two are a deal-breaker. And the update Google provided doesn’t do much to reassure me that their Flash techniques in the algorithm are SEO-ready. To get a nice, in-depth blog about why all-flash or heavy flash is not a great idea, check SEOmoz’s blog post by Rand.
I work with smaller business. Most small business have this strange attraction to flash, and up until now, I could never figure out why. But I finally came to a conclusion: larger corps (i.e. Starbucks) use flash like it’s going out of style; it looks great and represents the brand they way these smaller businesses want to represent their brand. The problem is, the smaller business doesn’t have nearly the brand recognition or brand staying power to be able to develop an all-flash or heavy-flash site.
Let’s take the Starbucks example further:
Here’s what the site looks like normally:
Here’s what a search engine sees:
Creating a flash-heavy site for a small business is like putting a Romulan cloaking field around the site, forever hidden from the eyes of the search engine. The object is to be found not to hide. And, even though Google can supposedly index flash, we don’t have much of an idea how they’re temporally conveying the contextual text. The example the blog gives is probably the utopic example, so don’t expect treatment like that.
Still think Flash is good for Small Business?
Flash can be done well, but it rarely is. The conclusion is to use common sense when designing the site. If CSS and HTML can present the nearly the same look and feel as Flash, then go with the CSS. If you absolutely have to use flash or AJAX, then use it as sparingly as possible and stick to the basics.
Designing Sites for Baby Boomers
It’s the market that still seems to be eluding the online marketing world: Boomers. In the last two years, several sites have popped up to court this generation. And, yet, they still can’t find a way to form a real boomer community with them, even though there are, according to the 2000 Census, over 79 million. Sure, many companies are investing heavily into tapping this market, but online, I believe that many still consider this to be a niche group not worth catering to.
Three Boomer Sites Not Up Snuff:
eMarketer predicts that by 2011, over 83% of the Baby Boomer population will be online and active. Logically, and naturally, these folks are going to want a place to congregate. And, whomever can find the right model and design, will own the market. As you can see from the chart, all three sites are below half a million monthly users. So where are they all going?
How To Design a Dynamite Baby Boomer Site:
Just a few quick tips on how to design a site that Boomers may actually want to visit
1. Color Choice is Key:
Studies have shown, and science has proved, that the color blue is actually the hardest color on the eye on the as we age. Moreover, you have think about the psychological implications of the palette you choose, what group of colors best represents that generation. Blue, while being a very gender-neutral color and representing trustworthiness, also represents sadness and the ambient. Physiologically, blue calms and sedates.
Colour perception and sensitivity; less violet light is registered, making it easier to see red and yellows than blues and greens and often making darker blues and black indistinguishable.
If you look at three sites listed above, blue dominates the palette. Seems this would be the color to stay away from, right? These sites aren’t banks or financial entities in any sense, so why use blue? What kind of trustworthiness do they have to build, visitor loyalty? Why “calm and sedate” your visitors, seriously?
2. Large, In-Your-Face Text
Not only does body deterioration come with age, but so does eye deterioration. To be honest, I like sites with text bigger than 10 point font, considering I live at the keyboard 60+ hours a week. If your users have to struggle to read the site, then you can bet 99 out 100 times, they’re gone, especially a demographic that has poor eyesight to begin with.
I would stick with no less than a 12 pt. font, possibly in Arial or Tahoma.
3. The Site has to be About Boomers
Of course all three sites are “about” Boomers, but are presented in such a way as if they are selling something to them, rather than a place to commune. I believe the website will have to serve the ego of the Baby Boomer generation, not merely have a name and outer shell that identifies with them.
If you’re following, then the solution to designing the Boomer site is to create a robust social networking site. All they’ll want to do is talk about themselves: photo-sharing, video sharing, blogging, discussions, etc. (after all it’s what they’ve done best the past 50+ years) It doesn’t need to be as globally-integrated to other sites, they won’t use it. They key is to have very easy to use functionality: pick and post. Remember the K.I.S.S. Rule: Keep It Simple Stupid.
No website is going to take over for Ebay or Amazon to serve their commerce needs to buy goods. No website like this going to serve as the “News” station replacement over their local newspaper sites and national news sites. They don’t even want to connect with one another; they just want to talk out loud to everyone else.
1. Start from Design and Architecture UP:
It starts from the bottom-up; it starts with design and architecture. Most of the time when we, as SEOs, get websites, they’ve been out in the public sphere for months to a couple of years. The chance to impact the site architecture is very minimal at this point, so we end up making due with what’s there and make smallish suggestions.
If we are lucky enough to get our hands on a site that’s pre-launch and early enough in the development phase, you’ve got to have usability knowledge in your pocket to evaluate it quickly and efficiently. And, taking a tip from Steve Krug, you want this new site to keep your user’s “Reservoir of Goodwill” as full as possible.
Key Items to Look For:
2. Make sure you, as an SEO, as a user, understand what the website is trying to accomplish.
3. Are the GOALS easily identifiable?
You don’t want the goals to shrouded or surrounded by superfluous “extras”. No one wants to get to the website and have to become Sherlock Holmes to give you money. The website goals should have giant, blinking neon arrows.
If it takes the user more than 1-2 clicks to perform a goal from a search engine, then it’s time to consider reworking your landing pages. Nothing will frustrate and deplete the “goodwill” for a user more than being led astray. Remember, users require instant gratification, so the faster a user can get to what they want, the better.
If a user searches for you, finds the title “XYZ Plane Tickets to California” and a description that seals the deal for them, and they click on the link that takes them to your page, the first thing they see should be content telling them how to purchase a plane ticket to California from you.
4. Is your site navigation and architecture easily understood?
Nothing helps conversions better than an easily understood and workable navigation. If users can’t get to where they’re going, they’re never going to come back.
At this point, we have to have an honest chat: people are not robots. People make mistakes, people get lost on through their own volition, and people LIKE to explore. So, no navigation is going to be fool-proof, and no navigation is going to prevent folks from getting lost. But, a good navigation and site design will help people get out of their own way as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Make sure each page has the following elements:
- A Site ID:
this is usually the company’s logo or branding identification. The Site ID should be, about 99% of the time, be clickable back to the home. Always give users the option to start from scratch and find their own way .
- Page Name:
let your users know they’ve landed on the right page by indicating the page name. Best way to do this, and to earn some great relevance is through your site’s page title tag and employing breadcrumb navigation
- Sections and Subsections:
let your users know what else is in the section. Put a unobtrusive sub-nav or side-nav on the page. Nothing could be worse than signaling to the user with a overbearing navigation, that “we want you to go somewhere else on this site too!” For good SEO results, avoid AJAX and Flash menus. Stick with good ol’ HTML links, and yes, images will work, but make sure you have keyword-targeted ALT and TITLE tags in them.
- Local Navigation:
if you can find a visually-pleasing way to include this on each page, I would. It’s a POI for the site: “If you aren’t interested in what you’ve found here, then how about Door #2?”
- Search Box:
Not every site needs one. If have less than 20 pages of content, I wouldn’t put of these on your site. But, if you run an e-comm site or a article-laden site, this is an absolute must. However, your sites audience needs to be taken into consideration. If you have a less-savvy group of users, it would be best to build out a database and create in-house search functionality.
With the Google Search API, users have to select to search your site or the ENTIRE web. The last thing you want is for user to jump off the site, when they were just about to enter the Purchase Funnel.
5. Contact/Subscribe Forms
A great quote that comes to mind is from Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”: “Take only what you need to survive”. That’s how you have to look at these forms; what do you really HAVE TO have and what’s a NICE TO HAVE. If you’ve noticed that your goal conversions are down, and you’ve applied the other steps above, then sadly, as much as it is going to pain you, you have start pointing the finger at your forms.
With the advent of “Identity Theft” and the media coverage exploiting it, and a rising SPAM NATION getting a hold of it and unrelentingly spamming you to death, users are less and less likely to give out information they feel will threaten them. Even things as simple as a phone number, which coincidently, I’ve found to be an absolute deal-breaker on all our clients’ forms.
The main rule for forms is to keep it K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. An old Army adage that goes a long way. Of course, different companies have different needs, and so you may have to sacrifice best practices for essentials, but try to keep them to a minimum. And, besides, long forms that need all the optional information necessary to submit, just makes your consumers and users resent you. Here are some quick guidelines:
- Make only fields that are ABSOLUTELY required for your business, be required for the user
- Don’t ask for too much additional/optional information; i.e. phone numbers, address, how they found you. They found you once, they’ll find you again. And, you should be running analytics, so you’ll know how they found.
- Show your users/consumers the value they’ll receive when they sign-up and submit. If it’s a mystery, not too many are willing to believe on blind faith.
- Put in a “We won’t sell or distribute clause” by the submit button. It’s a lot more encouraging to me, as a user, if I at least read you care about my privacy.