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Shoving Frames are evil and Fixed navigation is user friendly under one brilliant hat.

Phoenix posted a great tip at SEO Roundtable:
Creating a Framed Site Without The Drawbacks to SEO

With regard to search engine crawling and indexing, frames are the SEO's nightmare. Some brilliant people have taken the time to develop a CSS solution for fixed site navigation, examples:

Here is the tutorial from Webreference:
Summary: "HTML Frames have been used so far on the Web to provide sections of a Web page that scroll independantly of each other, but they cause a lot of hassle, making linking difficult and breaking the consistency of our documents. CSS fixed positioning helps us work around this by positioning parts of one document relative to the viewport. The overflow property can be used to control their scrolling appropriately. By being careful about how you position these elements, you can have your layout fall back to the default rendering on Navigator 4 and Internet Explorer, making this technique useable in a production environment."

However, if you make use of this technique, test the results with a few browsers. Browser Shots is a neat tool automating the rendering of a page in different environments, give it a try.

Why is framing a bad idea?

Well, the usual answer would be, that framing stands against the concept, that each resource on the Web can be reached via one and only one unique address, that is the URL. On a framed site the contents, although they have an URL assigned, are masked by the site's main URL, the frameset. I call this hiding content from visitors, and here is why.

If a visitor finds a nice article on a framed site and tries to bookmark it, that attempt fails, and the visitor doesn't even recognize that s/he bookmarked everything except of the half read or skimmed stuff earmarked for a second visit. Yes, some browsers store the current URLs of all frames in bookmarks, but even if that would work with all browsers, it surely doesn't work with most social bookmarking services, "blog this" plug-ins and alike. Chances are good that the visitor remembers the bookmark, comes back one day, lands on the home page, is pissed and therefore not willing to surf thru the site's navigation to find the pretended bookmarked content again ... another potential customer lost in cyberspace.

When it's that easy to confuse and lose visitors, the trick should work even better with Web robots like search engine crawlers. Indeed, framing hides content from search engine users too, because URL references in framesets don't count as much as a navigational link in SE ranking algorithms, and because nobody places deep links pointing to URLs in a frameset. To lower the negative effects of the first issue, one can use the noframes element to repeat the URLs in real links, but that's not that good as navigational links which are always visible to all user agents (browsers, crawlers ...). Thoughtlessly giving away the ability to get deep pages ranked with the help of linkage from outside the site is the more serious issue. Home page links to a framed site lose their power long before they reach the real content buried deep inside a not optimal crawlable structure.

Here is a real world example, which by the way brought up the idea to update this article (initally posted on July, 20, 2005). In January 2006 I've received a link request from a smart publisher at jaculis.org, who runs a few nice academic papers on eCommerce topics, all of them hidden by a frameset on the root level and not indexed by all search engines. He noticed that the source code of this site doesn't validate that well at the W3C (a known issue I couldn't care less about for some reasons, at least at the moment), so I think he's smart enough to revamp the architecture of his site (and destroy my example).

Friday, January 20, 2006

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