Mixing Flash With Fashion – It’s Soo Last Season

by Hessam on October 21, 2010

It seems that the more money and fame a company has, the crappier websites it manages to produce. Two major sinners in this area are the fashion and the film industry. Others are restaurants, hotels, media and marketing agencies, and visual artists. What they all have in common is a fetish for websites built fully with Adobe Flash. In this post I would like to focus on the fashion industry and the terrible websites they show off. As you will see through the examples, these companies have effectively blocked all their content from search engines and anyone else not using Flash. The list is not exhaustive of course, as there is not enough time to analyze all the websites out there.

It’s however not all bad as there are a few brands which have understood the fact that web is not TV and hence created websites which fit the medium nicely – we will look at them too.

A few points which apply to most of the bad websites; they are built fully or partially in Adobe Flash. This means there are a number of visitor types who cannot access the content published on these websites, i.e: 1) Visitors who don’t have, or have disabled, Flash in their browsers, some obvious examples are iPhone and iPad users, 2) search engine spiders, 3) users with slow internet connection (incl. mobile surfers), and 4) visually impaired visitors using screen readers to access the web.

Here is a simple example of Prada’s website and how Google’s algorithms see it:
Prada's website fully implemented in Flash

I hope the image is clear enough. With Flash mainly being a graphic medium, search engines are generally blocked from reading, understanding, and indexing the published content (yes, I know there are some exceptions). In short, if you build your website with this platform, you are surely digging yourself a nice big hole to throw your money in.

The question you may ask now is how big is this user group and if it’s worthwhile adjusting to their needs?! The answer is Yes and I let the data speak for itself:

  • There are 1 billion searches performed on Google alone EVERY DAY
  • There have so far been over 60 million iPhones sold worldwide
  • iPads are currently selling 4.5million per quarter
  • With 33% of the market, Android smartphones are currently the most popular smartphones (iOS has 22% market shares)

‘Nuff said.

In the listed examples below, make sure to compare the “regular” website seen in your browsers against the text-only cache which shows how the page is seen by Google’s search algorithms. You’ll be surprised how different some sites look to users versus search engines.

So Much Money Wasted

Below is a list of well-known fashion brands who have failed to produce accessible websites; let’s call them the Sucky Crowd. There are obviously many more fashion brands out there but we don’t have the time to analyze them all.

Manolo Blahnik (Google cache)
When your website is not among the top3 Google search results for your own brand name you know you’ve messed up big time! The official website also fails to show up for searches for basic keywords like “manolo shoes“. The website is implemented fully in Flash and Google has only a few PDF files indexed. There’s also a page scroll from hell which I dare you to use…

Christian Louboutin (Google cache)
Once again, the website is fully in Flash and there are only a handful of pages indexed by Google. Lucky for them the site ranks quite well for short head keywords.

Prada (Google cache)
Built entirely in Flash, this websites contains a huge amount of rich content such as articles, images, and videos. Unfortunately none of this is visible to visitors who don’t have Flash (= Google).

Converse (Google cache)
Funny thing here is that they have developed quite OK looking pages for the iPhone (judged by the CSS filename). These pages are well indexed since they don’t use Flash, but a normal user will get redirected to the Flash version. Below is an example of these redirections (you must turn off JavaScript to stop the redirection):

http://www.converse.com/products/collections/chucktaylor/108929F
redirects to http://www.converse.com/#/products/collections/chucktaylor/108929F

Also, they have the nerve to blame the browser for their mishap – this is from their error message on the pages:

Just to let you know your browser won’t let you see everything here. But you can still buy all of our stuff. Nice

Wrong, nothing nice about this.

H&M (Google cache)
These guys have actually managed to offer a great non-Flash version, and what’s baffling is that it looks EXACTLY the same as the Flash website. So why on earth they continue to shove the Flash site down customers’ throats is anybody’s guess really. Read a more detailed site review on Econsultancy.
H&M's website

Hermes (Google cache)
The main site is a disaster – not only because of Flash – but because all internal links are implemented with JavaScript! The webshop is a whole other story with top level URLs looking like this:

http://uk.hermes.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=10201&catalogId=10051&langId=-11&categoryId=130042&leftCategoryId=130042&topCategoryId=130042&parentCategoryId=130042&nbItem=0

At least they aren’t using Flash in the shop…

CHANEL (Google cache)
One positive thing with this site is that there are unique URLs generated for each page in the Flash file. If only there was any content to read on those pages.

Dolce&Gabanna (Google cache)
When I first entered the front page I was surprised to see that it was NOT IN FLASH! That feeling lasted until I tried to navigate to another page on the site. Yes, you guessed it. At least the online store is not as bad.

Onitsuka Tiger (Google cache)
Terrible.

Tiger of Sweden (Google cache)
Everything in Flash except for the blog (WordPress) which is the best thing on this site. Also, the main page seems to have been hacked (cache from 27 Sep) and filled with spammy links. The live page seems to be clean however – hackings suck!

Some Exceptions To The Rule

Luckily there are those who’ve actually got it and managed to spend their money (surely much less than the ones above) to create websites which not only look good, but have also nailed the accessibility and search engine friendly aspects of webdesign.

French Connection (Google cache)
It’s difficult to say anything negative about this site. By building an accessible website and following the basic SEO guidelines French Connection manages to rank well for a wide range of keywords including specific phrases such as “french connection shirt” or “jeans women french connection“.

GAP (Google cache)
No Flash whatsoever here. All categories and product pages are presented through basic HTML. They could however tidy up their URLs.

Jimmy Choo (Google cache)
One of the most optimized websites in this category. Minimal use of Flash creates an accessible and attractive website.

ZARA (Google cache)
There is no Flash nor other accessibility issues, but what’s up with the huuuuge URLs?!

Burberry (Google cache)
Quite a good site where Flash is used for what it’s aimed for: animations and unimportant graphics. The rest is in plain HTML. There are many SEO improvements to be made here, but accessibility is not one of them.

Ralph Lauren (Google cache)
Some use of Flash, but the regular product pages look decent. URLs are however very messy.

Marc Jacobs (Google cache)
The navigation is kept away from the Flashy parts and the category pages are accessible. Also, the product pages are bang on.

Calvin Klein Jeans (Google cache)
Nice use of Flash – category and product pages remain fully accessible to search robots.

Among the list of accessible sites you can find several Swedish brands:

Nudie Jeans (Google cache)
Product pages look pretty neat, I wish I could say the same about the URL-formatting.

Acne Jeans (Google cache)
Once again, a nice website with no technical difficulties, and the product pages are quite optimal. The URL format is however awful. Also, for some reason they are using two domains, www.acnestudios.com and www.acnejeans.com which doesn’t really make any sense.

Flippa K (Google cache)
The site rocks because it’s built on WordPress! One negative aspect here is that the products load in a popup window which makes them unreachable to search engines.

WeSC (Google cache)
Designed and developed in Berlin, this site offers a very fast and search engine friendly experience.

Conclusions: Who needs Google!? We are the f$#&ing GUCCI!!

The bad websites in this list surely see traffic to their websites, but a) that’s not the point, and b) I can confidently approximate this being from users who search for branded keywords (e.g. ‘prada’ or ‘hermes’), and considerably less or no traffic from more specific searches containing more keywords like ‘onitsuka tiger sneaker mexico’, ‘manolo pumps’, or ‘sneaker converse leather’.

Is that a bad thing, you ask? Hell Yes! As a brand you should work hard to own your search results for all your relevant search phrases. That’s something which all of these and many other highly brand-focused companies utterly fail at.

By avoiding Flash sites you won’t only open up your content to search engines and non-Flash enabled browsers, but your site will load faster, show up in search engines for many more of your related keywords, as well as being more flexible to changes in the future (i.e. HTML won’t go old). It’s also generally easier to measure and analyze user activities on a HTML site and you’ll be able to better optimize your content to increase conversions.

Accessibility, Accessibility, Accessibility

When I say you should build accessible websites, it’s not meant as any of the regular SEO mumbo-jumbo you read on the blogosphere, but really one of the fundamental principles for publishing content on the web. I hear over and over again that Flash is not the problem blabla, and that you can in fact build search engine friendly websites despite using Flash. There is some truth in that, i.e. you can indeed build a Flash site with different degrees of search engine friendliness. But the fact remains that a Flash site can never compete with a HTML-only one, no matter how hard you try. One very simple way to show this is by looking at all the sites which rank above you for your keywords – how many of them use Flash!?

So what do you do if you’ve been screwed by some hot-shot agency who sold you an expensive Flash website?! Lucky for you there are a few things you can do to ease the pain:

  • First, kick yourself for not consulting with an SEO consultant before writing that check.
  • Create a non-FLASH HTML version of your site and let search engines index it.
  • If your site is built entirely with Flash, consider using tools such as sIFR which can make some of the content available to search engines.

If your web agency tells you things like “hmm, but it won’t look as hip/ cutting edge / exclusive / emotional / blabla” then fire their asses because a) they don’t care about your business, and b) they don’t do their job well enough – the web is full of websites with gorgeous original design and I’ve seen people creating magic with CSS and jQuery.

In your future web projects, make sure to limit the use of Flash to non-essential elements such as video players, animations, and anything else on top of a text-only website. With the increasing popularity of HTML5 we can hope to see less and less websites implemented in Flash in the future. But then again, major agencies have been fully aware of these issues for a long time and still they spit out useless websites like the ones you have seen here. The only way to solve this is better customer knowledge about the basic aspects of search engine friendly websites which will certainly save money during development, and make more money in the long run from happy online users. But then again, the fashion industry has always been more focused on form rather than function.

Do you know any websites who use Flash successfully? Any other thoughts or comments on the subject? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.

9 comments

You're so right about the fashion industry, and it's not just the labels. Try looking at some sites promoting photographers or models — all Flash, all the time. Photographers in particular seem to like having sites with puzzle-based navigation, too.

I built a plain, rather boring, Flash-free site for a friend who models about eight years ago. At least on searches from here in the US, she's still number 1 in Google for [paris fashion model] and in the top 10 for [fashion model], not because I did anything extraordinary with the site (I'm no designer), but simply because so few other sites in the niche are designed with any consideration of search engine friendliness.

by Bob Gladstein on October 22, 2010 at 15:32. Reply #

Thanks Bob, that's a very good point. Another good example is websites of restaurants, usually in Flash, long intro/splash-screen, music on autoplay, AND they make you download their menu as a PDF…

by Hessam Lavi on November 1, 2010 at 11:04. Reply #

In what way would the Prada Group benefit from ranking high on the search engines?

In all seriousness, I think you should realize that not all fashion labels need to rank high for handbags or whatever. "Prada" is ranked #1 in all search engines (I did not check, I assume) and that's should be more than enough.

If you would have ever dealt with high end fashion producers/companies, you would have realized that the end costumer is not buying an overpriced bag but a lifestyle — and these fashion labels do not even want online stores to carry their stuff. Before you can carry their stuff, you have to mention which street you will be selling their overpriced products at. Why? Well, as I've mentioned earlier, you are buying a lifestyle and not a cheap, mass produced handbag at a production cost of €15 and retail price of €800.

Secondly, if you are still browsing the web using lynx, you are probably not the target market for Prada.

Everything in this world does not need to be SEO'd and could, quite contrary to your belief, be a cash sink.

But please enlighten me as to how Prada would make even more money from a massive SEO campaign?

by Mark S. on November 11, 2010 at 1:11. Reply #

Thanks Mark, I'm happy you posted this because I've heard similar comments a few times on Twitter and offline.

You are completely right in that "SEO traffic" is not the most important channel for some fashion brands, and that's not the point I'm trying to make here. When your official site (say prada.com) is not ranking high for relevant searches other than your brand name (eg. "prada handbag" or "prada winter 2010") you are opening up the field for other websites to show up in that space – and that's a problem imo. Most of these other sites don't really care about presenting the lifestyle you are trying so hard to market, all they want is to rank high for *your* high trafficked keywords.

This has actually little to do with SEO, but when you build an inaccessible website you are as a brand shutting out a large chunk of traffic which belongs to you. As a result you're losing control over how your brand is presented online through search engines.

This can be mitigated very easily (even while using Flash) and there shouldn't be a compromise between building a visually/emotionally attractive website, and one which is accessible to search engines.

by Hessam Lavi on November 11, 2010 at 10:34. Reply #

"Two major sinners in this area are the fashion and the film industry. Others are restaurants, hotels, media and marketing agencies, and visual artists." So basically the creative industry is here to blame because it is using a creative tool in order to be creative. Hmmm! You're right they should all look like http://www.drudgereport.com/

by alex on November 23, 2010 at 23:14. Reply #

My point here is that this is not a mutually exclusive choice i.e. you can in fact build an attractive site which is also accessible to search engines.

by Hessam Lavi on November 25, 2010 at 10:11. Reply #

also, being first at google is not a priority anymore, sorry!

by alex on November 23, 2010 at 23:19. Reply #

To show up first in search engines for *your* brand name should be the number 1 priority for any organization.

by Hessam Lavi on November 25, 2010 at 10:13. Reply #

[…] have already written about the apparent inability of fashion brands to build websites which don’t suck. The German fashion brand Hugo Boss is no exception to […]

by Big Brand Search Engine Spam - Hugo Boss | SEO | The Secret Swede on March 8, 2011 at 16:48. Reply #

Leave your comment

Required.

Required. Not published.

If you have one.