When website frames were introduced around 1998 with HTML 4.0, it was a time when most users used modems for connectivity – 9,600 and 14,400 baud modems were the norm and download times were horrendously slow compared to modern broadband connections like DSL and cable.
With frames you could split a page into pieces and section off fairly static content like headers, menus or footers into their own frame. This drastically reduced download times because only the main body of the page needed to be downloaded.
Today, websites are larger and require more dynamic elements and real estate to display additional content and other media like ads. Frames are now only used in relatively few instances, where a website designer needs a certain overall look and feel to the website, and quite often where traffic from search engines is not a big priority.
Website frames are problematic if you want to create a search engine friendly website and get it ranked well. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it can cause problems for the inexperienced website designer. Here’s my top 10 reasons why website frames should not be used:
1) Orphaned Pages
This can happen when a webpage is linked to, but never links back to anywhere. Typical scenario is where a frame is used for a header, but has no navigation links. The header may be optimized with appropriate title and meta tags, but Google doesn’t tend to rank these orphaned pages very well at all.
2) Lack of Content
If you use a frame for the footer of a page, it typically may not contain any links (see above) or much content at all, apart from perhaps a small tag line and a copyright notice. In building a search engine friendly site, we try to maintain contextual relevance across the whole site, or at least across certain sections. This helps in the tail of the search curve where valuable traffic is obtained.
3) Crawl Path Problems
If you have a complex frame set up, search engines may not be able to access every page on your website. You can get around this by using a sitemap, but why initiate a problem in the first place?
4) Internal Link Integrity and PageRank Problems
Similar to the point above, you may not be spreading Google PageRank laterally, i.e. linking similar level pages together, instead of relying on the main navigation to provide the links. Where possible you want to link similar pages to each other because the text surrounding the link is important in determining the contextual relevance of the link, hence, making that link more valuable.
5) User Suspicion/Deception
When a website uses frames, the address in the user’s browser stays the same as they move from page to page. For websites which are expecting a conversion, like an ecommerce site, this may be perceived as trying to hide where the real content is coming from and conversions could suffer.
6) Bookmarking and Linking
Because the address never changes in the browser, it’s more difficult to bookmark or link to internal pages. If you are able to get the URL of the internal frame content to send to them in say a customer service email, it’s sometimes pretty useless for the user, since when they arrive there may not be a header or any website navigation.
7) Dynamic Content Limitations
8) Nested Frames
With just one small coding mistake you can end up with nested frames – i.e. multiple headers or navigation frames which is difficult for the user to “break out”. They either resort to having to go to the homepage and starting over, or they just leave.
9) Entry Page Problem
Since many times frames are used to hold the site navigation, if an internal page becomes an entry page from a search engine, there may not be any navigation for them to follow to go further into the site. And if you don’t link inner pages, there’s really nowhere for the user to go. They either manually adjust the address in the browser to get to the homepage, or just leave.
10) Limited Real Estate
Oftentimes the space right next to the main navigation is used for promotions or serving third party advertising. If you have the navigation placed in a frame, the “real estate” available to you is limited to the user’s screen resolution. You could use scrollbars within the frame, but if your main page content already needs a scrollbar, having 2 makes the user work extra hard to navigate your website.