First impressions are important for everyone doing business online, but maybe more so for small businesses that don't have the benefit of name recognition and consumer trust. That desire to make a good first impression, though, often leads the small business owner down the wrong path. They decide their home page needs some pizzazz, or a "Wow! factor", as I've often had it described to me.

Enter Flash. Flash is what makes all those "cool" animations you see on home pages, and gosh, if you're a small business owner, having Flash is like having a piece of Hollywood on your home page. Few can resist the temptation….

Flash is not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of situations where a Flash-based movie file is the right way to go. With product demos, for example, Flash can be an educational tool that adds to the user experience. The problem is that Flash is rarely used correctly. The most common mistake -- and one that small businesses seem particularly susceptible to -- is the creation of a Flash-based home page (or "splash" page).

Here's a quick rule-of-thumb: If you want to add something to your web site that requires a "Skip This" button, you're probably making a mistake. But better than that, here's an old quote from Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering, a very well respected usability expert interviewed by the Marketing Sherpa web site:

"When we have clients who are thinking about Flash splash pages, we tell them to go to their local supermarket and bring a mime with them. Have the mime stand in front of the supermarket, and, as each customer tries to enter, do a little show that lasts two minutes, welcoming them to the supermarket and trying to explain the bread is on aisle six and milk is on sale today.

"Then stand back and count how many people watch the mime, how many people get past the mime as quickly as possible, and how many people punch the mime out.

"That should give you a good idea as to how well their splash page will be received. That's the crux of it."

Your Flash movie may look cool, but the only lasting "wow" you'll get will be something like, "Wow, we're really getting in our customers' way with this, aren't we?"

If you're looking for a "wow" factor, it's best to look elsewhere.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 30, 2007

Matt McGee is SEO Manager at Marchex, a search and media company in Seattle, Washington. He's guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings. Matt is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences, and writes about online marketing at Small Business SEM. He's a frequent contributor to several SEO/SEM forums, and is a moderator for the Small Business Ideas Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Matt McGee > Small Businesses and the "Wow" Factor