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Optimizing Frames for Search Engines

By Dale Goetsch
Posted Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Because of the way framed web pages are created, search engine robots have a difficult time spidering sites built in frames. As a general rule, search engine robots are not very good at executing client-side code, and framed pages are "built" on the client side. The best way to make a website accessible to the robots is to take it out of frames, but what can be done if the site absolutely must remain in frames?

How frames are built

Typically the "framing" page--the page that includes the tags--does not contain any links to the rest of the website; rather, it contains only information necessary for the browser to construct the framed pages.

Figure 1--index.html: the "framing" page

The framing page loads the files named in the tags into the frames defined in the framing page. In our example, they look like this:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

Figure 2--navbar.html

Welcome to XYZ, home of the new and improved SuperWidget XYZ. We
have the best widgets available anywhere today, and at half the price
of most leading widgets!

Figure 3--page1.html

What if you can't do frames?
Unfortunately, most robots cannot navigate through this page. They do not understand the tags, and are unable to move through this page to the pages "navbar.html" or "page1.html". Without being able to move through here, there is literally nothing of interest for the robot to index, so there will really be no information in a search engine listing, if the site is listed at all.


Figure 4--index.html with added

Figure 6--index.html with better

Figure 8--index.html with added hyperlinks

Now you have the best of both worlds: you have text that the robot can grab, and you also have links that the robot can follow to access the rest of your site. As long as you have links to all of the pages on your website that you want the robot to access, you are home free now, search engine-wise. The robot follows the link to the file "page2.html", for example, and indexes the text on that page. How useful this newly-indexed content is to your visitor is now up to you.

Why is site framed?

People use framed sites for a number of reasons: ease in navigation, uniform appearance throughout a site, keeping your company name front-and-center, and so on. In other words, there is probably a reason why you wanted to display the pages on your site (file1.html, file2.html, file3.html) within the frames designated in the "framing" page. Your search engine entries, however, will not keep the pages in this configuration--remember that the robot didn't do frames, so the search engine database knows nothing of frames now either. That means the hyperlink created in the search engine listing will load only the individual page (file2.html), and not put it in its overall context. That's not what you wanted, or you would have designed the site that way!

Loading page into frames

In order to force the user's browser to load a given page into the framed environment that you wanted, you must employ some JavaScript sleight-of-hand. Specifically, you need to make each page aware that it wants to load only within the frames that you have designed. This is a two-step process that involves placing some JavaScript code in each page on the site.

Individual pages

For each of the individual pages, you need to add an awareness whether they are loaded into a frame, or sitting by themselves as an individual document in the browser window. This is accomplished by adding the following JavaScript to the page, typically within the HEAD section:

Figure 9--JavaScript for individual pages

You will replace some of the parameters here with names more appropriate to your situation:

replace "frameset.html" with the name of the page on your site that has the tags in it
replace "right" with the name of the frame on the frameset page into which you want to load the current page
Let's implement this for the page "page1.html", which we want loaded into the frame named "right" that is defined in the framing page "index.html". Remember to add your meta tags and give the page a meaningful title. Note the substitutions referenced above.

Page 1

This is Page 1 of the XYZ site, home of the new and improved SuperWidget
XYZ. We have the best widgets available anywhere today, and at half the
price of most leading widgets!

Figure 10--individual page with JavaScript added

The "framing" page

For the "framing" page, there are two additional pieces of JavaScript that must be added. The first is a JavaScript function that is placed in the section of the page:

Figure 11--JavaScript for "framing" page

There are no substitutions in this code. Place it exactly as shown.

The other piece of code that must be placed is an "onLoad" event handler, that is placed in the tag, like this:

Figure 12--onLoad code for "framing" page

Remember that your frameset may have "cols" or "rows" attributes, and the numbers may vary. When we have it all together, the completed "framing" page will now look like this:

Figure 13--all components placed in "framing" page


Once you have made these changes for the "framing" page and all of the individual pages, you are now ready for the search engine robots to visit your site. They will be able to access all of the pages in your site, and when your visitors click on your listing in the search engines, your individual pages will load in the way you designed them to work.

About the Author
Dale Goetsch is the Technical Consultant for Search Innovation (, a Search Engine Promotion company serving small businesses and non-profits. He has over twelve years experience in software development. Along with programming in Perl, JavaScript, ASP and VB, he is adept at technical writing and editing.


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