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Friday, August 26, 2011

Advantages and Disadvantages of Frames

A frames page itself contains no visible content, it contains instructions on which pages to show simultaneously and how they will be displayed within the browser window . Think of it as a clear overlay, much like a paneled window frame - except this window frame allows you to look into different rooms of the house. A frames page can contain references to many other pages, but usually they consist of references to pages to be used as the header, the content, a left hand menu bar and a perhaps a footer bar. When a hyperlink is clicked in one frame, say the left hand navigation window, it will open a page in the content window, or the target frame.

This makes site-wide changes easy to implement (especially when used in conjunction with Cascading Style Sheets) as you can change the items such as the menu bar and logo for your site in one page, and that will update the entire site.

Using a frame for the header (top) area or navigation bar of your pages will also make it static (fixed) so visitors can easily access menus etc... no more scrolling back up the page.

All this sounds great, but there are a number of points you need to consider before implementing a framed site, especially when using WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web page editors .

1) Many search engines cannot index framed sites. Because the home page is merely a frame, with very little content or hyperlinks to follow, search engine spiders may stop dead on the page and have 'nothing to report'. A way around this is the proper implementation of Meta tags and use of the "noframes" tag.

2) If a search engine does manage to spider your site, visitors from search engines may land on the content pages, rather than the full-framed version, i.e. they may arrive on your site and all they will see is the menu bar.

Search Engines

Search engines don't deal with frames well. Some search engines can't follow framed pages at all, but even the best search engines will have problems. More importantly, many search engines choose not to index frames because they are so problematic.

Although search engines can theoretically index frames well enough, there is no way to reliably organize them in a database and display them in results pages using the correct framesets. Remember that search engines find individual pages with the relevant content, and then have to work backwards to determine which frameset each page belongs to. How would they do that? Answer: They can't, so they don't try.

In theory, for very small databases, there might be some way to track and record framesets. This would be impractical for large search engines, but it would also be hopelessly unreliable. For example, if a page appears in two different framesets, how would a search engine know which frameset to use when that page is returned in a result? What happens when a page is moved from one frameset to another, or placed in a frameset temporarily — how would the search engines know? There are many other such problems which make frames unsuitable for search result pages.

So.... search engines can't reconstruct framesets from individual pages. The only option is to show the pages isolated (independent of their frameset). Therefore most search listings to framed pages result in broken framesets.
The situation with search engines will not change for two reasons:
  1. The root of the problem is with frames themselves, not the search engines, so there is little hope that search engines will "get better" at dealing with them.
  2. Frames are out of fashion, especially amongst the types of site the search engines are trying to target, so the problems associated with frames are not a priority for search engines.
Note: Search engines index the "noframes" content of a frameset, which is why search engines will often show a site's description as: "Sorry, your browser doesn't support frames so you are unable to view this website". That's not going to attract many visitors! You can get around this to some extent by providing better noframes content, but it's more work and will never have the same results as standard pages.

3) Non-frames capable browsers. Fortunately, only 1% of visitors browsers fall into this category. Once again the use of the 'noframes' tag will assist, but to be used effectively you basically need to create two sites, one framed, one not - the "time saving" is suddenly gone.

4) Bookmarking. A visitor cannot bookmark a specific page in your site without requiring additional customised scripting for each page. Even then there is a risk of visitors landing on the content frame, with no navigation frames to view.

5) Visitor opinion. Many find frames annoying.

6) Copyright issues. You'll need to ensure that all links within your site that point to external sources open in a new window to avoid copyright wrangles. There have been legal precedents in relation to this issue. Many site owners object to their content appearing in someone else's frame, to the point that special "frame busting" code is used.

7) Internal linking. Special attention will need to be paid to your internal links to ensure that any page pointing to, for example, the home page opens as a "whole page", otherwise the framed home page will appear in the target window, causing confusion to visitors.

8) Printing issues. Visitors need to take further steps within their print settings to ensure the information they want is printed correctly. In most cases, a full page cannot be printed as displayed on the screen, only in sections corresponding to the frame.

9) Scroll bars, divider bars. If your framed site uses a number of frames, scroll bars can prove to be unsightly. These can be removed, but check compatibility with other popular browsers. (See further resources at the end of this article).

10) External linkages to your site. If other sites wish to link to specific pages in your site, it is more difficult for them to do so.

11) Refresh/Reload problems. Again, special care needs to be taken with coding otherwise   when a visitor tries to refresh a particular page, they may be taken back to the original frameset. A common problem.

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