When is it good to use frames?

Good News Web Designers Association

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This tutorial presumes that you already know how to build a frames page. The question is, should you do it?

Frames can be a helpful and interesting way to organize a Web site. It divides a page into two or more separate pages that appear on screen simultaneously. This page is an example of three frames on one screen. The left frame has the background graphic. The middle frame has this text, and the right frame has the "Extra Tips."

Normally, frames are used to display links on the left side or bottom, while the main body contains content that changes every time the visitor uses those links.

You can have a simple two-frames page (a main viewing section and a sidebar) or five frames (surround the main section with four small frames) or other combinations.

Of course, the more frames you use, the longer the page takes to download. Did you notice that this page you're reading took longer to load than the other pages in the GNWDA tutorials?

Before deciding to use frames, you should have a very good reason for using them. The wait should not only be well worth it, but necessary.

Here are good uses for frames:

1. Do you need to give viewers an easy and constant access to your List of Web Site Contents? Make a sidebar frame. It stays there even though the main frame changes often.

When a visitor clicks on a link in the left frame, a new page shows up in the main (right) frame. 

2. Do you want to make the whole screen look like one picture, and have some of it (the central portion) change with new content? Take one large image and divide it into sections, leaving the main section changeable. Remember to account for different size screens of various visitors.

Put the edges of the picture into the top, bottom and two side frames. This takes long to download, so keep the graphics to a minimum.

3. Do you want to keep people from leaving your website when they use links to other Web sites? Set up a frames page that keeps the other sites inside the main area of your frames. In the top frame, give the folks a quick link back to you.

Wherever your visitors travel in their Net surfing, they can always get back to you whenever they're ready.

Sometimes this doesn't work, however. If the Web site that your visitor goes to is deliberately set up to prevent this, it will pop them out of your frames and take over the browser.

4. Take a look at this site, which is completely nested in a frame: wordbytes.org

It wasn't always in a frame. I converted it to this format to sell the site's contents to my website clients. By giving the client their own top and left side frames, while putting my Directory of Contents in the main frame, their visitors can read my Good News WordBytes without ever leaving the client's site.

The frames page resides on the client's site, and only the main frame is linked to my WordBytes site. It's like a magazine that has a cover that changes for each client.

Despite common worries about search engines not finding and linking to the frames site properly, I've found that the WordBytes site still ranks high in searches. However, any search engine that points to those inner pages "orphans" them. The articles are shown without the frame, but every page has a link that puts it all back into frames.

To make my site display better for search-engine users, I created the top level home page without frames. The link to the Directory of Contents starts the frames version.

Search engines are not hindered much by frames; the problem is that they list each webpage separately instead of in the framespage view. But they also list the framespage view -- which needs a good description and keywords in meta tags to work effectively.

Download this tutorial as a printable Word Document.

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