Some websites still use “frames” as a way to keep navigation and branding in front of visitors’ eyes all the time while fresh content loads. Frames create problems for visitors though. Find out why. [First published August 2005.]
I know! We’ll use frames!
You’re designing a website. Whichever page a visitor is on, you want them to see the name of your organisation and the navigation (links between pages). This is an excellent goal.
Then someone says: I know! We’ll use frames! We fix our organisation’s name in a frame at the top and we fix the links in a frame on the left. Then we put the individual pages in a frame on the right and that’s the part that will change when the visitor clicks on a link.
Why not frame?
It all sounds good, doesn’t it. Except that unless this is handled with a very high degree of skill and expertise you’ve now probably just made your website harder for people to use and to bookmark, and reduced the ability of search engines such as Google to catalogue your content. If your web designer is skillful enough to create frames correctly then s/he should also be skillful enough to achieve the ends you want without using them.
Bookmarks go awry
The first big problem is that your visitor can’t bookmark individual pages on your site. They spend half an hour finding a fantastic resource, add it to their Favorites and when they use that Bookmark to visit again they are taken to the front page instead of the page they thought they’d added to the Favorites. That builds bad will.
Links lose the frame around
Another organisation wants to link from their website directly to a fantastic resource on your site. If they link directly to the page and visitors click through to your site they will almost certainly not see the frames. This leaves the visitor stranded, not knowing who the site belongs to or how to navigate around. This breaks the web.
If they link to your front page then the visitor has to find their own way to the fantastic resource. This makes the web less useful.
Search engines get lost
Nearly everybody wants the search engines, such as Google, to list their site, and ideally, at the top of the list. Unfortunately search engines often have difficulty with frames, meaning your site may not be listed or it may be lower ranked than it could be.
Here’s what Google says:
Google supports frames to the extent that we can. Frames tend to cause problems with search engines, bookmarks, emailing links and so on, because frames don’t fit the conceptual model of the web (every page corresponds to a single URL).
Frames can’t be ‘seen’ by visually impaired
Your website probably has valuable information about your organisation and its activities and services. By using frames you can almost guarantee that some people will be unable to access that information. Some newer technologies and most software used by blind people have a lot of problems with frames and the visitor may be unable to get at the information you’ve so painstakingly crafted.
How can we tell?
After reading this Tip you want to be sure your site doesn’t use frames. How can you tell?
Visit your website and click on a few links to other pages on your site. Does the address in the Address Bar change? If not, that’s your biggest clue. Talk to a web designer urgently about overhauling your website.
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, August 2005. This article has been edited for use here.