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How to Optimize a Framed Site for High Rankings

By Jill Whalen
Posted Friday, September 17, 2004

Is Your Framed Site Doomed? Not Necessarily!

The question of whether or not to use frames when designing a Web site seems to be as old as time, or at least as old as frames themselves!

A framed site very often makes for an easily updated Web site, and many designers opt to use frames for this reason. They are especially useful for maintaining very large sites.

Personally, I find framed sites that utilize scroll bars to be fairly ugly and outdated-looking. But I've also seen creative uses of the frame design, with no scroll bars, that look very professional and Internet-savvy.

What Is a Framed Site?

You can usually tell that a site is "framed" when the left-hand navigation bar stays still while the information in the center of the page scrolls. Alternatively, there might be a logo or some navigation at the top that stays still while the rest of the page scrolls.

Most of what you read about search engine optimization says that using frames on your site is basically a death sentence because the search engines simply cannot navigate the frames, and therefore your site will not get indexed properly. This is both true and false. It's true if frames are used improperly, false if they are used correctly.

Here's why many framed sites fail to get listed on search sites that use spiders. (Please note that the following explanation, while not technically complete, offers an accurate layperson's description of what is going on.)

If you look at the HTML code of a typical framed site, you will usually see the TITLE tag, the META tags, and then a FRAMESET tag — and that's about it!

Search engine spiders are programmed to ignore certain HTML code and, instead, to focus on indexing the actual body text. But with a typical framed site, there is no body text for the search engine's spider to index, because the text is all on another page (usually the inner, framed page).

If you've read all my previous articles, you know that the actual text on your pages is the most important thing for your search engine optimization efforts. Therefore, as you can see, it would be nearly impossible to get a high ranking for a Web site designed in this framed manner.

Using the NOFRAMES Tag

Do not despair! There is an HTML tag called the NOFRAMES tag, which, when used properly, gives the search engine spiders the information they need to index your page correctly. I believe it was designed to give frames-incapable browsers — early versions of browsers that cannot read or interpret the FRAMESET tags — the ability to "see" the information on a framed site.

Unfortunately, too many sites that utilize this NOFRAMES tag put the following words into it: "You are using a browser that does not support frames. Update your browser now to view this page." It might as well say, "We are putting the kiss of death on our Web site and have no interest in being found in the search engines for relevant keywords regarding our site! Thanks for not visiting our site because you couldn't find it!"

What happens when you do the above is that the engines will read your TITLE and META tags (if you even included them) and the above information that the browser is frames-incapable, and that is what they will index for your site.

Try a search at AltaVista for the following: "does not support frames" and guess what? 260,882 pages are found! Nearly all of them are framed sites that used those words in their NOFRAMES tag. I bet that the circular-saw maker whose site is ranked number 1 for those keywords doesn't have a clue that he has put the kiss of death on his Web site! I also bet his site is nowhere to be found under the keyword "circular saws." (It isn't.)

If you want to have a framed site for whatever reason, then for goodness' sake, use your NOFRAMES tag properly! The proper usage of this tag is to take the complete HTML code from your inner page and copy it into the NOFRAMES tag.

So the code on your page should actually look something like this:

<TITLE>Your keyword-rich descriptive title goes here.</TITLE>
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Your one- to two-sentence keyword-rich marketing description goes here.">
<META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="Your important relevant keywords and keyword phrases go here.">
<FRAME SRC="navigation.html" NAME="nav">
<FRAME SRC="main.html" NAME="main">
Here is where you should copy all the HTML code for what I have named main.html. Be sure that you have all your navigational links to the rest of the site also in here for the search engines to follow.

Once your inner page information is within this tag, it's as if your site is not framed at all as far as the search engines are concerned, because now they can read everything and index your site properly.

Of course, doing all this is only useful if the information in your main page is well-written and utilizes your keyword phrases properly. Putting a poorly written main page into your NOFRAMES tag won't help you much more than putting the above kiss of death in your NOFRAMES tag.

Other Frames Issues

The above information takes care of your front page. However, there are other issues having to do with getting the rest of your pages indexed properly when you use a framed site.

Most Web designers use frames for ease of navigation. That is, they have a left-hand frame with a static navigational bar or buttons that never change. When someone clicks on a button on the left, the frame to the right brings up the new page accordingly. Because of this type of design, there are usually no navigational links on any of the inner, framed pages.

Why is this bad? It's bad because you could (and should) optimize these inner pages to rank high in the search engines. But if you do, and someone searching in the engines finds them, they will be what I call orphaned pages.

I'm sure you've come across these at one time or another in your searches: a page that has a bit of information about what you were searching for but offers no way to get to the rest of the site!

Savvy Internet users might look at the URL and try finding the root directory, but most users don't have a clue about doing that. It's too bad for the site owner, who just lost some potential eyeballs — or worse, a potential customer.

If you use a framed design, it is absolutely imperative to place navigational links on all your inner pages. At the very least, include a button that links back to your home page. However, I would recommend that you have links to all your major category pages, as this will help the search engine spiders visit all the pages, index them all, and rank them high!

About the Author
Contact Jill Whalen by e-mail at

Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter.

She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.


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