Just recently I seem to have come across a spate of websites cobbled together by people who have clearly picked up on the fact that Google have launched major changes in the way they analyse and rank websites, but which miss the point entirely. In fact many of the changes people have made to their websites are likely to do far more harm than good, and so I thought it might be helpful today to detail one of my recent observations and provide some constructive feedback on what it is that’s wrong about the design of these sites, why it is wrong, and what should be done to avert disaster and get back on the right side of the search engines.

Using iframes for SEOOne of the features which seems to have become increasingly prevalent is iframe boxes stuffed full of text. Now, the first problem with this is that iframes aren’t good SEO practice to start with, because Google tends to see iframes as including content that isn’t really part of that page. Of course, this is exactly true – the content of the iframe is on a page elsewhere, and there may well be no direct link to that content. In fact the content might not even be on the same server or be part of the same website domain. So there’s a real risk that Google will at best consider the iframe content as being of significantly less importance than anything else on the page, and at worst it will be ignored entirely.

But there’s a further problem, becauseĀ  I have noticed lately that people are reducing the size of the iframe so that it’s just a half dozen lines high or so, and then stuffing several hundred words in there, meaning that anyone bothering to read it will have to scroll continuously, which isn’t very user friendly.

Now this is bad for two reasons, firstly because it will put people off, and secondly it will put the search engines off. Let me elaborate. Real visitors will take one look at your iframe with its scores of scrolling lines and conclude that either you’re incompetent as far as designing something that’s suitable for real people, or that you don’t value real people much and have only included it for the benefit of the search engines. In either case the next step will probably be to go elsewhere.

Today Google is monitoring the behaviour of your visitors, including their reactions to your site, as well as identifying design features such as a small iframe stuffed full of content which is clearly only there as a way of trying to fool the search engines into thinking your website’s full of great content. The combined result of which is to significantly lower the importance and relevance of your website, dropping you like a stone through the search results listing.

Yet another issue with these iframes is that often people seem to be shoving these at the bottom of the page. Presumably this is because they know how awful they are for real visitors, and so they hide them away where they’ll be much less obvious. The trouble is that the search engines tend to weight the relevance and importance of content based partly on its position on the page. Content at the foot of the page is given much less weight than content at the top, meaning that as well as being penalised for simply being in an iframe, your content is then also penalised for being at the bottom of the page. Frankly your chances would be improved simply by getting rid of the iframe altogether!

So what’s the alternative? Apart from completely redesigning your web page template to provide proper space for text to be displayed clearly one alternative is to use SSI (Server Side Includes) which work within PHP based websites. This means that content stored externally will be rendered into the web page so that it appears as one single page. Alternatively there are JavaScript, AJAX and JQuery solutions out there which provide a range of SEO friendly alternatives to the iframe.

Oh, and by the way, let’s just clear one other thing up I came across recently. An iframe is not an Apple product, despite the initial vowel!

So how about you? Have you used iframes? Have you done away with them and come up with an alternative? What alternatives to iframes are you using? Please leave a comment below to let us know.