splash page advice and SEO expert

Evils of the Splash Page
by Leslie Lee of Laughing Cat Arts

As a designer, I often run into clients requesting a splash page for their web site. I’ve yet to find one client who has a good reason for doing so. Maybe they saw a competitors’ splash page, and now they want their own. Maybe they realized their new Flash site has no searchable content and want to try to work around this flaw. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: splash pages are at best useless and at the worst severely undermine your Web site's ranking, hurting your business.

Basically, a splash page is an introductory page for a web site. It may be a Flash animation, it may offer the user the choice between a Flash and HTML version of the site, or it may be just a static graphic with an "enter site" link. In any case, a splash page holds no written content. So, if you’re expecting your web site to come up in a search engine, think again.

Splash pages are often vanity pieces that only profit the site designer at the expense of the site ranking and user experience. Designers may use splash pages to show off Flash animations. They often think of them as ways to show off their design skills.

While the Flash movie or animation may look neat (and stroke your ego as a business owner), it’s more often that not, a turn-off to customers. Research shows that one-quarter of all visitors leave a site after seeing a splash page, never to return. Customers don't want to muddle through several clicks to get to your core message, much less wait for a commercial, thinly veiled as an entertaining animation. The best site not only looks great, but also streamlines the user experience.

Maybe you’ve been told the Flash site you current use is unsearchable by the search engines and a splash page can help.

Splash pages don’t help; in fact, they actually hinder. The most important content on your site is the first page. That’s what the search engines sees. If an image (.jpg or .gif) or Flash movie (.swf) comes up first, the search engine thinks the page is empty and skips over it. Even if you try correcting this by adding comments to the page, you risk being penalized for spamdexing (or cloaking text to get more keyword hits), which lowers your ranking even more. You may have a great site, but if it’s out of search engine sight, it’s out of mind.

And yes, the “cool” kids do it. Big corporations use splash pages. They can afford to do so because they purchase ranking on search engines. So unless you have a multimillion-dollar advertising budget, you can't afford to make this mistake.

By the way, if you are reading this article while still in the design process of your site, this is the time to back out of an all-Flash site. DO include Flash components; they can be placed in any site, just like an image. But DO NOT have a site built entirely in Flash if you are concerned about search engine ranking.* Again, that empty page is a negative in the eyes of the search engine so your mirror site may not even be seen.

As an aside, javascript can actually create all kinds of neat effects that look like Flash animation. If you get a good designer who is also knowledgeable in javascript, they can create the kind of effects you see here without using any Flash what-so-ever. (Kudos to Gucci's designer and coder on their mad skills. And yes, this site starts with a splash page, but they are that multimillion dollar corporation who can afford it.)

As a rule, don't force the user to jump through unnecessary hoops. If you must, splash pages should have a logo on them with an "enter here" link. Always remember that the visitor is viewing your site for product information. You may have a great logo, but the user doesn't care to deal with unnecessary clicks, they are your customer and are at your site to see what you do, how to contact you, what you have to offer. In other words, the visitor wants to get to the meat of your site right away.

In sum, visitors aren’t on your site to be "wowed" by the same animation over and over. If they think their time is being wasted waiting on load bars or unnecessary clicks, they’ll click somewhere else. Unless you’re one of newest competitors in the personal networking scene, remember, treat the visitor like a customer.

Your customer wants to know what you are selling, your store hours, your contact information and address, what services your company provides. When they find you, they want your most useful information right away. Give it to them, and give it to them quickly. They will come back for more.

* While Leslie is really darn bitter towards splash pages, she is not in the least bit a Flash hater. In fact, Leslie thinks Flash is really neat and hopes to build a Flash art gallery for her personal projects. What she suggests is, know what is vanity and know what is business. Remember, a car is a really neat thing too, but in the hands of an unlicensed or inexperienced driver, it can be a bad thing.

Leslie can be found in Dallas doing web design and print design at Laughing Cat Arts.



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