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Search Engine Optimization
for Frames-based Websites

Frames-based websites present special problems for search engine optimization and ranking. On the whole, you should avoid using frames at all costs, but if you absolutely can't avoid them, you need to be aware of how users, browser programs, and search engines deal with frames when you design your website in order to reduce the problems they cause. Let me emphasize that your goal should be to eliminate the use of frames on any area of your website to which the public has access. The suggestions made here are only meant as a stopgap measure until you can change your website design.

Search Engines and Frames

Frames present special problems for all concerned because they break the single document per URL paradigm on which the World Wide Web is based. They're essentially pages within pages. Users can't bookmark the interior pages of a frames-based website, and when they click on a direct link to such an interior framed page, they can be left without any means of navigation to other pages within your website. But many new webmasters love frames because they use them to keep a navigation menu and site title and logo in front of the user at all times. They look fast and slick, and he can update the navigation menu of the entire site by editing a single page. What could be better? But when it comes to search engines, frames-based websites don't always fare as well as standard sites in two key areas:

The first area is sheer ranking. Since search engines base much of their ranking algorithms on link popularity measures (like Google's PageRank), a website's main page is usually the strongest. But on many framed websites, the main page consists solely of the <frameset> layout and the ubiquitous "Your browser doesn't support frames." message in the <noframes> section. This is an enormous mistake when it comes to search engine ranking because such <frameset> pages have no relevant text content for the search engines to use for ranking purposes. Even worse, perhaps, is that Google has reverted to often showing the information from an internal frame-ed page in the search results, but linking to the <frameset> page. So users are often sent to a page that has little to do with the terms they searched for, and are left to try to find the information on your site on their own. Naturally, few users will ever make the effort and will immediately leave your website and look elsewhere.

If you take nothing else from this article, know this: Your <noframes> section should include a scaled-down version of the main or default document's content so that search engines will have ample relevant text to index in addition to just the page <title>. Use an <h1> tag to display an appropriate headline, along with a paragraph of two of keyword-rich text - what I call a mission statement - to give your frame-based website's strongest page a fighting chance to compete with conventional designs. You should also include regular HTML links to the most important pages in the website. If you make your <noframes> section like a standard webpage, it can rank as high as any standard webpage.

The other search engine-related issue for framed websites is that search engines look at individual pages - not websites. So, it often happens that when a search engine user clicks on a link to a page from a frames-based website, he sees the interior page well enough, but he is left without any means for navigating to other pages within that website because the interior page has been loaded in his browser without the intended <frameset> that included the navigation menu. There is a JavaScript solution for this problem that works pretty well. The JavaScript you'll find by following the link below detects when a page that has been designed to be contained in a <framset> has been loaded directly into a browser, and automatically reloads the page in its proper position in the <frameset>. It's not a panacea. You still have to include a <noscript> message on these interior pages for those few users who run with JavaScript disabled in order to avoid pop-up windows and security threats. But overall, its as elegant a solution as you'll find. The script can be found at Rainbo Design's Automatic Framed Page Loader/Re-loader.

If you want to remove the frames from your website, but you don't want to give up the simplicity of a single common menu page for navigation, there is help. I call my methods Rainbo Design's No-Frames Navigation System. It will show you three alternative methods of giving you a single file for providing navigation on your website without using frames. I also guide you through the process of removing frames from your existing webpages.

Let me give you one additional reason to avoid frames. Google will often display the <title> and <meta> description from the <frameset> page when a framed page appears in the search results instead of the title and description that is incorporated into the page itself. Few users will ever see anything directly related to their searches when Google does this to one of your pages, and so they will be very unlikely to click on them. So don't delay any longer. Take a cold, hard look at any area of your site that uses frames and do your best to remove them whenever possible. You'll be much better off in the long run.

This SEO Tip by Rainbo Design was last updated on April 25, 2016

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In writing these SEO tips, I'm often reminded of a pearl of wisdom that my high school computer programming teacher passed on from one of his teachers, "Computers are high-speed idiots!" Remember that, and don't let them get under your skin.

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