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• Monday, October 19th, 2009

Frames used to be cool

If you’ve been surfing the web for more than a few years, you may remember the days when seemingly every Web site was constructed using frames.  I built more than a few of those myself.  On the surface they seemed to be an ideal solution to many of the problems both coders and marketers had with non-framed sites.  For coders it meant you didn’t need to copy your navigation, headers and footers into every single page – saving you lots of time.  For marketers, it meant that your menus. logos and other branding information was always viewable by your site’s visitors, no matter how much scrolling they did.  In the days of Yahoo and other directory pages, it was a perfect way to build pages.

Then came the next generation of search.  Instead of relying on human provided data to build a huge list of web pages, these new search indexes used “robots”, “spiders” and “crawlers” to automagically navigate the internet.  Following links, they located pages and read their content dynamically.  This is when using Frames become a bad way to build pages.

Most web developers slowly stopped building pages with frames, mostly on their own, some after repeated, severe beatings by SEOs.  They are a very rare thing today, but I happen to stumble across one this weekend that is a perfect example of why using frames is bad, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Frames are Bad for SEO

I’ve been planning to replace my above ground pool’s small paper filter (which seems to always be clogged) with a more robust sand filter.  Thanks to some good luck (and Sherry’s Craig’s list addiction) we scored a used filter for next to nothing.  Now we just need a pump.  I spotted one at our local Home Depot and rather than buy it on the spot thought I would do a bit of research on it.

When we returned home I turned to my good friend, Google, and asked it to show me information on “flotec pool pumps.”  Considering that I included the company name, I was surprised at the results.  They were on page one, but way down at number nine.

It seems the Flotec brand is well known on the web, but most of the results were for resellers or local pool shops.

The fact that they did not rank higher for a query including the company name was odd.

flotec pool pump serp
My puzzlement grew when I clicked through to the page.

As you can see, it does have some navigation to various product categories, but no other site navigation or information about the company.

I kept clicking through, eventually working my way to the pump I was interested in.

It looked like it would suit my needs, but I wanted to know where else I could buy it, if Flotec offered a warranty, where they were located.  I could find none of that information.

Flotec pool products no frames
Noticing that all of the URLs I had visited contained an .asp file and some dynamic code information, I decided to strip off all but the root domain name.

Happily, I was greeted by a not altogether unattractive home page.

The page had decent menu, branding and links to the additional information I had been looking for.  The layout seemed a bit too familiar to me though.

Flotec pumps home frames
I clicked the “pool & spa” link to see what navigating from the home page would show me.

The scroll bar revealed the answer to the mystery.  When the scroll bar does not go all the way to the top or bottom, you can be sure the page is loaded inside some kind of frame.

This is also why the layout seemed so familiar to me.  Branding on the top, navigation on the left.  It was the same layout used by nearly every frames-based site ever built.

This is why the pages I found in my Google search looked the way they did.

Flotec pool products with frames

Search engines are dumb

Flotec Home Code View

You have to keep in mind that as “smart” as the algorithms get, they are still pretty dumb.  They do not understand images and do not care about layout – well, not entirely anyway.

The most important thing to the search-bots are links and content.

Even though the Flotec home page appears (to us humans) to contain both content and links, what the search engines see is just three links.  This is where the problem begins.  To the engines, each of these links exist as independent documents.  Some have content, some just have more links.  The engines don’t care, they just crawl and index as they move along.

Because the engines are dumb, they don’t know that these content pages contain no site navigation and rely on other pages to provide it.  So, when a query comes along that seems to fit the content, they deliver it in the results.

That brings us back to where we started – an interior products page, devoid of any navigation or branding.  Obviously, that is bad.

Bad SEO bonus points.

The Flotec site earns a few bonus points in the bad SEO contest.  Not only are they using frames, but they also have at least two domains serving the same content, and also allow the pages to be served by both www and non-www versions of the domain.  That makes Google think there are FOUR sites with all the same content.  And what’s even more fun?  Google site searches for each of the four return different numbers of results.  They are throwing Google goodness right out the window.

site:flotecwater.com – 68 pages
site:www.flotecwater.com – 61 pages
site:www.flotecpump.com – 191 pages
site:flotecpump.com – 192 pages

Yahoo’s site explorer reveals even more trouble for Flotec and their web site.  Each of these four valid domains has links pointing back to it.  Having links distributed to multiple domains like this (without properly redirecting them) hurts their overall rankings.

Now you know why frames are bad (and why canonicalization is good).

Oh – if you happen to know somebody at Flotec, PLEASE have them drop me a line, cause we seriously need to talk.

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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Hillary  //

    I am searching exactly for the same.Found very useful information here.I really liked it.

  1. 2
    uberVU - social comments (via Trackback)

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JackLeblond: Frames: Good for pictures, bad for Web sites http://kl.am/4bFG

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