“The first hope of a painter who feels hopeful about painting is the hope that the painting will move, that it will live outside its frame”, Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946).

Much like Gertrude Stein’s painter, web designers have hopes for their framed web designs but are very often disappointed. This is because framed websites do not fit the conceptual model of the web where every page corresponds to a single URL. Consequently designers must use a variety of tricks to overcome the disadvantages and if you miss a trick there can be unpleasant results.

Designers’ intent on using frames may use the NOFRAMES element which can be used to provide alternative content. However not the useless alternative content provided by so many designers such as “This site requires the use of frames” or “Your browser does not support Frames” which is a great way to prevent your website being found on a search engine. The correct use of NOFRAMES is described in the W3C document Frames in HTML documents.

Apart from having to provide alternative content the other major problem is what happens if a search engine query matches an individual frame on a page? The search engine simply returns the URL for that frame and if a user clicks the link then the page will not be displayed in a frame because there will be no frame set corresponding to that URL. Designers get round this by detecting when a content page is trying to display outside its frameset and redirecting to either the home page or to a framed page that loads the orphan into an alternative frameset. If you really want to know how to do this you can read a description of the technique using JavaScript in Give orphan pages a home.

Also framed sites have a problem with obtaining inbound links because it is not easy for someone to link to one of the content pages. Either they must link to the home page and give directions to the page they want to point to or they must bypass the frame arrangement. If it’s not easy to link then only the very determined will be prepared to go to the trouble of doing so.

If you want the framed look but don’t want the problems you can achieve it through cascading style sheets. Stu Nicholls has an excellent example on his website CSS Play (and there are lots of other interesting experiments with cascading style sheets on Stu’s site).

The bottom line is this, if your web designer uses Frames seek a better and more experienced designer and if you find Framed sites attractive in spite of the problems ask yourself why your competitors do not use them.