Tackling the Frames Dilemma

Frames have gotten a bad rap because search engines have a hard time reading and indexing them. Yet webmasters like to design with frames because they are useful for organizing a site. They can be used for navigation, to highlight the site title, and to feature a main content window. Depending on the type of content you offer, frames can make your site look better.

But when it’s time to get a frames site indexed into the search engines, it can leave some people scratching their heads and mumbling to themselves. “Let’s see, it says here to use the NOFRAMES tag to solve the frames problem… What’s a NOFRAMES tag, and how do I use it?!” Don’t feel like you’re the only one who’s fallen victim to this baffling yet critical dilemma. Plenty of people, including seasoned web designers, continue to ask this question. So we’re going to tackle it on ClickZ.

First, it helps to understand a little bit about search engine operations and how the “spidering” (also called indexing or “crawling”) takes place.

Search engines read through the HTML content of web pages and record specific information from each page into their databases. Relevancy can be determined by how often and where the search phrase is located on the page, how much other text is on the page, how many links are on the page, the relevancy of the pages linked to, and the relevance of pages linking to this page.

Search engines find web pages on the Internet in three ways:

  • Web page URLs are submitted to the engines. Most engines have limits of how many URLs they will accept from any one domain each day or week. Some time after a URL is submitted, the search engine will visit the site, read through the HTML content, and record the information.

  • Pages that have been recorded by the search engine are eventually used as starting points for “spidering” or “crawling” the rest of the web site. In this process, the search engine reads through pages and follows the links on the pages to other pages that it reads and records. Any subpage on a site that is not linked to and is not submitted directly to the engines will never be found. Search engines try to “respider” all the pages in their databases as often as possible, but this may happen only once every few months.
  • Some search engines look for new web site home pages by trying random IP addresses. This may not happen often because the engines are so overwhelmed with new submissions and the “spidering” of known pages.

The use of frames becomes a significant indexing issue if your content is not properly located within the NOFRAMES tag and if you haven’t given proper consideration to page titles, internal links, the positioning of meta tags, and the indexing of individual frame pages.

Properly located content: Search engines have a problem reading HTML within a frames site. The content is usually arranged from different pages and pulled together into a main page called the “frameset” page. Typically, engines will see only the main page because they can’t understand how to arrange the information from different pages. However, the information inside the NOFRAMES tag can be read by the engine. Therefore, you must place content inside the NOFRAMES tag.

In its most basic form, not including the various other HTML tags, it would look something like this:

    </p> <p> Online Insurance Quotes &#8211; QuoteToday.com &#8211; Insurance for the New Millennium</p> <p> Quote Today makes it easy to get free online insurance quotes for health, term life, medical, auto, or home insurance policies and find an agent.</p> <p> online insurance quotes, free online quote, auto insurance quotes, home insurance quotes, health insurance quotes, medical insurance quotes, life insurance quotes, affordable insurance</p> <p> Internal links</p> <p>

Titles: Give every one of your frame pages a title, even though the titles won’t appear when the pages are viewed. Titles are the most important element that search engines look for, so you want a title on all your pages.

Internal links: These are internal links within the NOFRAMES tag, where search engines begin to “crawl” the balance of your site. For instance, have hypertext links from your home page to various other pages in your site. Install a link back to your home page on all subpages, too. Place these inside the NOFRAMES tag.

Meta tags: Standard meta tags should go at the top of your frames page. Your “title” meta tag is the most important, and, unfortunately, framed pages all have the same title. This will affect your ability to use various combinations of titles, which will limit your ranking efforts on some engines.

Individual frame pages: Search engines are now indexing the individual pages within your frames site. A user clicking on a link from a search engine could become trapped on a frame page without links. A link to your home page at the bottom of every frame page will resolve this problem.

When your NOFRAMES content is indexed, all links could bring the user to the same URL, namely your home page. If so, the user will have to search within your site to find the content he or she queried. If you want to experiment, you can try an alternative that takes users exactly where you want them… in relation to the search term they used to find you.

This requires registering the actual content page (the one that has the real text without the navigation frame) with the engines, then using a Javascript solution to redirect users, landing them on predetermined subject pages within a site based on their stated interest from the search phrase.

Special note regarding redirect: I’d like to hear more from the search engines regarding redirect. In the past, they have taken a strong position against the use of redirect. However, incorporating Javascript to redirect users to specific pages makes good sense, especially in helping users find exactly what they are looking for.

I hope this helps clarify some of the solutions for dealing with search engines and frames, as it’s important for all web businesses to get indexed and for potential customers to be able to find these web businesses. A couple of good references for more detailed information are Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch section on Search Engines and Frames at: http://www.searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/frames.html and Dan Brown’s “Framing the Web” at http://webreference.com/dev/frames/.

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