Should you use iFrames on your website?


Rory Mason

Technical SEO

For years the debate around iFrames has been going on with web designers  / developers seeing them as an incredibly easy asset to embed great content from around the web, however from a site optimisation point of view iFrames have caused many a hair to fall out of the head of an SEO professional.

Why do iFrames cause SEO headaches?

iFrames can cause multiple problems, but the main one, historically, has been that search bots have not had the ability to crawl them. It seems however this is no longer true as Google have admitted that they have the ability crawl iFrames, although it is still assumed that both Bing and Yahoo cannot.

Most SEO professionals will optimise a site with largely Google in mind, so this may not put some people off. However another issue you should be aware of are instances where the spider enters an iFrame but cannot get back out and simply moves to the parent page, leaving the remainder of your site uncrawled. Infact Google itself admits it is limited in what it can achieve through crawling iFrames:

“Google supports frames and iframes to the extent it can. Frames can cause problems for search engines because they don’t correspond to the conceptual model of the web.” Support.Google

The reason iFrames don’t ‘correspond to the conceptual model for the web.’ Is because pages with iFrames tend to have more than one URL, one for the page the iFrame is hosted on and another from the page it’s pulling the content from. It’s no wonder that SERPs bots get confused.

Another reason iFrames should be approached with caution is quite simply because it isn’t SEO best practice. As we all know the best way to get content to rank in SERPs is to ensure to create brilliant and unique content you create yourself. Yet by using an iFrame all you’re doing is pulling in content others have written and attributing it to them so all the link juice will be sent to the parent site.

Is there a workaround all this iFrame confusion?

In short, yes – don’t use them.

A much better way to approach this is to study in detail the information you want to pull into the iFrame, then figure out a way of creating similar but unique and valuable content for your site. By using <div> HTML tags and a little bit of customisation you can create a scrolling function, similar to the way iFrames are laid out (this will stop your web designer getting annoyed about your recommendation ruining the style of the site).

Of course there are other ‘Black hat’ solutions available, but at Search Laboratory we do not condone the use of black hat tactics, so I will not elaborate.

One exception to the rule where you may find an iFrame very useful is when you wish to index content from your own site. This way any link juice created by a page will be passed onto the original parent page. However this will not get round issues such as the crawler getting stuck in the iFrame so it may be simpler to just link to the content you want to request.

I hope you found this useful, if you’ve had any experiences where you feel iFrames have benefited your site from an SEO point of view, do let me know I’d love to hear your opinions.