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Using Frames in Web Pages - Advantages and Disadvantages


The Decision to Use Frames


Frames - benefits and problems

This page is part of the e-journey called Web Site Design and Construction (WSDC), an e-learning tutorial presented by Derek Stockley.

Jakob Nielsen has a very popular article, originally written in 1996, and revised in 1999, that describes the ten things not to do with websites. It was hard to read his comments about frames, as I included them in my original web site design. More importantly, I retained them in the revised site design - twice! in 2013, apart from one or two specialist pages, they have now been removed. Frames are old technology. Google requires websites to use newer website technology.

Frames - website structure and appearance

Frames and tables were explained in the: Learning HTML and Other Programming Languages section of this WSDC (Web Site Design and Construction) e-learning program.

As you read this page, it should have two columns. If it doesn't, select: two column display.

This is my now very outdated frames design of 2002/2003. The colour scheme was very bad, but relatively normal back in those days.

Originally, each page comprises three columns, but only two frames. The first or left column was one frame. The second frame contains two - the middle and right columns. The second frame basically consists of two tables to form the columns. The right (third) column was extra navigation material. The 2013 design has been simplified, so the page can adjust to desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones (although the old design did do this quite well - Google didn't know it).

HTML frames and website design

Why did I make it so complicated?

At the time, I thought it was a good idea as the following justification shows. In retrospect, I should have stayed right away.

I liked frames because computer screens were smaller then.

In my original web design, I wanted the left hand column to be my site contents. Wherever you wanted to go, it was there to select. It was always visible. You could select information about my services, background, articles, contact details, etc. very easily. The other methods of doing this were clumsy - you may remember seeing left hand columns move with you down the page - it was most annoying.

The only exception was the Links Page which opened a new page. This is because there is nothing worse than looking at another site with only two thirds of the screen! This may have happened to you. You normally can't escape the site that referred you to the link. It makes the referral a waste of time. (You can insert JavaScript code in your page to escape this - do a search on "JavaScript" and "frames".)

The same design rules are applied in the revised design. The left frame is the contents. For most of the Derek Stockley site, the left column is the site contents. When you enter the e-learning area, the left frame changes. It provides a contents list of the actual e-learning program you are using. For example, on the left you should now be seeing under the "Derek Stockley - Home" logo, the letters "WSDC" (short for Web Site Design and Construction) and the contents of this tutorial (introduction, road map, my personal journey, etc.)

The right hand yellow column gives pointers to the content of the section you are now reading. It highlights the key content of the section and can be read prior to reading the section in detail. It is also a help for "skimmers".

Frames provide better site exploration

I believe this design using frames gives you better control of your exploration of this site. At most points, you should know where you are. In each e-journey, you know where you have been and are yet to go because the links are color coded.

I do open a new window for each external link. When I do, you read: "This opens a new window. Please close it to return to this point. " Some writers state this is annoying. However, it allows a 100% screen, and secondly, it allows you to come back to the e-journey quickly - you just close the window. This is particularly important if you have viewed a number of pages on the link. If the link is good, you may go to ten or more pages. That's a lot of "back" buttons to go through.

Consequences of using frames

So what have been the consequences?


Frames and bookmarks

Sometimes you cannot bookmark a particular page, for example, the third page of an e-learning e-journey. However, you do bookmark the framed page which gives you the contents in the left-hand column.

Frames and search engine listings/results pages

I initially did not have a problem with search engines. Most index both the framed and unframed pages. Each page is designed so that it is not an "orphan". Each unframed page has links at both the top and bottom of the page. This enables surfers to get to the framed site quickly.

This page was initially a very popular entry page into my site because of search engine referrals!

There are some special techniques that help with search engine ranking. If you are interested in some general SEO/SEM information, see: Search Engine Optimisation and Marketing.

In 2013, I now suspect that the use of frames tells Google that your site is technically "old". Consequently, although Google can index your pages, it may assign a lower ranking.

Frames and website statistics

Web statistics programs that track site traffic can also have problems tracking "framed" traffic. Again, it can be overcome, as my comment in the previous paragraph shows. I still know what search terms you used to reach this page and how many "views" it received. If you need more information, see Website Statistics which explains the website statistics package I use.

Frames require more effort and should be avoided (if you want your site to rank in Google)

I still get frustrated when I have to scroll up and down on non-framed sites! I much prefer the ease and speed of moving about my old site!

So there you have it - a fairly long statement justifying my decision to use frames. Looking back in 2013, in retrospect, I should have tried harder to find a design that was current and acceptable in the internet community.

Would I use frames again?

No. CSS is the preferred option.

Will I continue to use frames? No

I have removed the framed structure.


I've done many restructures already. They are a lot of work, and they do not alter the important thing - content! So one day, I will find the time.

The popularity of this page, and the search terms used, strongly suggest that others are deeply interested in this issue. Please let me know your thoughts, even if it is only a quick note. If you think I should mention other points, please also let me know.

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I searched extensively to find someone to justify my decision to keep using frames. Luckily, many of the initial problems with frames have been overcome with the later versions of most browsers (Internet Explorer, etc.).

Many writers still list frames as a bad design decision. They are incorrect. Careful reading indicates that they have put frames in the "too hard" basket. Yes, it takes some work, but if you know what you are doing, you can use frames efficiently and effectively.

They also have some SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) advantages.

An article that supports my approach is: To Frame or Not to Frame ...That is the Question. (This will open a new page. Please close it to return to this point.)

Another useful tutorial is: Frames and Tables - Advantages and Disadvantages. (This will open a new page. Please close it to return to this point.)

Jakob Nielsen's 1996 and 1999 articles are very good. To read them, select: Jakob Nielsen's 1999 Article - this is the revised article. A link to the original article is included as are links to related articles. (This will open a new page. Please close it to return to this point.)

Good luck with your "framing".

What's next?

To return to web design principles, please select: Web Design

If you now wish to reconsider hosting issues, please select: Service Provider and Hosting Issues

If you now wish to review your HTML, etc., select: Learning HTML and Other Programming Languages

Alternatively, if you are now ready to proceed with your web development, see: Web Development Processes

To return to the index of this e-journey, see: Web Design and Construction - Road Map

To return to the Derek Stockley Home Page: Derek Stockley Home Page

           This page was last reviewed and updated on 4 April 2014.