Using Frames

A Look at How Frames Pages Affect Your Web Site

This is a legacy article. For more recent information relevant to today’s fast changing online world, visit our blog.

Many individuals use frames to create their web site layout.  Only a few years ago, frames technology was new and many of the available web browsers did not support them.  With the fast improvement of Internet technologies, current web browsers no longer lack frames support, and the usage of frames in web sites has increased.  This article takes a look at the possible advantages and disadvantages of using frames today.

Why Frames Were Popular

Webmasters usually choose to use frames because of the convenience it provides for maintaining the site’s most frequently included content.

If a website contains several pages (or perhaps several hundred), and each of those pages has the same navigation links at the top of the page, it could be very time-consuming for the web designer to update each and every page individually, just to make a small change to one link.  By including the navigation area beside the content using a frameset layout, the designer saves time by only needing to update one html file that represents the navigation area.  Another advantage is that your file size and/or disk space usage is often much lower when using frames in a well-organized manner.

Websites that contain several links to “outside” pages – pages that are located on another party’s website – often prefer to use frames. This ensures that one or more frames of content – such as a logo header or navigation bar – constantly remain in the browser window surrounding the other website’s content.  Website designers use this method to discourage visitors from leaving the original site completely.

Why Frames Are Shunned

In recent years, there has often been talk that frames are a poor choice for site design in consideration of search engine optimization.  This notion is causing many well-established site owners to abandon current website designs for complete revision, which can often be a costly procedure.

The reason behind this caution is related to the way that search engines locate and index your website.  Many of the key search engines and directories “crawl” the Internet for signs of keyword-rich content and useful links.  While occasional human-powered searching is used, most of these search tool providers use automated “robots” to locate the information within the source code.  These robots may be trained to ignore certain tags in the page code, as they strive to seek out the more relevant keyword-rich text content and links as quickly as possible.

When it comes to frames, the page is usually setup using “frameset” tags and lacks the detailed source code of each page.  This means that the search engine is unable to locate any content n the page which would cause it to consider your website a relevant source for the index, and it has no links to follow to additional pages in your site.

Also, since all of the “content” pages in your site are simply “included” in a frame on one single frames page, the individual content pages probably do not include the navigation or other important information you want your visitors to see. This means, if a search engine happens to index one of your content pages, when a visitor finds that page on the search engine and clicks the link, they will see only the page’s limited content, without the other frames’ content like the navigation area, or a header with your logo. (For example, your frames page includes a top frame with the page “header.html” and a bottom frame calling an initial page of “price.html”; your header.html page includes your company name, logo, and phone number, while the price.html page is only a list of product names and prices.  If the search engine were to index the “price.html” page in its results, the visitor who clicks on that link will only see a list of product names and prices, without the header that you prefer them to see.)

Possible Solutions

For some website owners, frames are the preferred method for creating and maintaining their web pages, and abandoning that method would be painstaking.  There are several suggestions that webmasters are considering to maintain the principles of frames technology while avoiding some of the disadvantages.

Search Engine consultants such as Robin Nobles mention the importance of retaining the “no frames” tag. This tag is typically used to provide the visitor with an alternative to viewing the website in frames, but it may also be used to ease the search engine’s ability to read your site’s source code.

For website owner’s who wish to move away from frames yet prefer to maintain an easy system for updating content and minimizing file sizes, alternative technologies are available.

Server side includes, or SSI, allow the designer to “include” content such as a company logo or signature file into an HTML page; however, the end result is a page which appears to contain the entire combination of content, rather than using a tag such as a frameset tag to only refer to it.

Other technologies, such as PHP, also allow a webmaster to include html content in this way.  The FrontPage software also provides an automated “webbot” function for including a page into an area of another page or pages.  For assistance with this feature of FrontPage, please consult the software help documentation or Microsoft’s technical support website.

For sites that provide links to outside web pages, a possible alternative is to code the hyperlink with a “_blank” target tag, forcing the link to open in a new browser window.  By using this method, the original website remains accessible in the first browser, while the visitor is able to peruse the second party’s website in the next window.

Misunderstandings About Frames

Many individuals are under the impression that search engines “penalize” a website that uses frames.  This is a common misunderstanding; in actuality, frames do not cause search engines/directories to lower your ranking or “demote” your website in their listings by taking points away from you.  Frames do, however, make indexing the website more difficult for the search engine, and often the content information that the engine is looking for cannot be found as quickly as another “non-frame” website.

Typically, a website owner who is not currently using frames should consider other options before deciding to redesign the website with frames.  While a search engine will not directly penalize a site for using frames, a site that is already indexing well with a high ranking in search engines could lose that position anytime it undergoes drastic design changes.