SEO Terms You Need To Know – a quick introduction
The world of search engine optimisation can seem a land inhabited with its fair share of shamans and charlatans. This SEO glossary is intended to provide some illumination for those seeking enlightenment and a path through the terminology. Where possible, I will try and err on the side of simplicity whilst attempting to remain useful.
While researching the idea I found that publishing a concise SEO glossary was neither a new nor novel concept, which was not surprising. Even the best however, seemed to be a few years old and thus didn’t include recent SEO evolutionary changes. Hopefully, this SEO glossary is up to date and I will endeavour to edit and update it when necessary.
Where possible, I have attempted to distinguish between on page / on site SEO factors and off site or off server issues by colour coding the titles. Red is for site related terms whilst off site I have left black. I have purposely left off terms that are wider advertising / marketing related terms. For example, Google Adwords, Google Adsense, affiliate, banner advert. Also missing are any terms I consider redundant, obsolete or depreciated. If I’ve missed anything important [ and I probably have ] or if any new terms come along post writing that would be worth adding, please drop me a note about it.
If you need an introduction to the differences between on page and off page factors, may I recommend this article on the difference between SEO factors at the Marketergizmo website.
The 2017 / 2018 SEO Glossary
A redirect is where you arrive at a page and are immediately taken to a different page [ normally before the original page even loads ]. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirection. It is telling search engines that the page they’re trying to access has changed its address permanently. Therefore any ranking the page already has should be passed to the new address. Whereas a 302 redirect is a temporary redirection and search engines do not pass on any ranking if this is found.
The error message when a page or resource cannot be found on a website as the result of a broken link. Your website should have a specifically created and styled 404 page that offers navigation and other help to anyone who lands there.
Above The Fold
The section of the webpage that can be viewed within the browser window without the user scrolling down. Important for SEO purposes as the Google’s Page Layout algorithm focusses on first content on a page. Often home to a hero header or section.
A website ranking tool that’s been around for a long time. Now owned by Amazon who have confusingly also given the name to the intelligent personal assistant used by their Echo smart speaker. For most sites, the ranking tool isn’t of any real relevance.
Normally refers to the Google Search Algorithm. The programs used by the search engines to rank web pages in reference to any given search query.
alt Text / alt Tag / alt Attribute
All essentially refer to the same thing. Text that provides alternative, descriptive information for an image if a user for some reason cannot view it. For example, if the user uses a screen reader. SEO important as Google has no other way of telling what an image actually is. Historically have been used in SEO terms to reinforce a page’s keyphrase.
Refers to Google’s program for gathering and analysing website usage data. A key tool, just don’t expect to get your life back once you start peering into the blackness of its depths.
Anchor text / Link text
The visible text that a user clicks on to follow a link. Important for SEO in link building as search engines use anchor text to indicate the content relevancy of both the referring site and the referred landing page.
The level of trust[ and thus ranking ] that a site is credited with for a particular search query by the search engines. Derived from a large series of factors including visitor traffic, backlinks, social media shares, bounce rate.
A website that has established enough authority to be considered a ‘centre of excellence’ for a particular search phrase or subject.
Backlink / Back Link / Incoming Link
Any link to a site from another website, social media platform etc.
Bait and Switch / Code Swapping
Dubious practice of establishing a good web page ranking using legitimate, relevant content then replacing the content with marketing or advertising material. Considered to be…
Black hat SEO
Any SEO practices which are considered unethical and try to cheat the search engine guidelines. Likely to be met with harsh ranking penalties from the search engines if found out. Of course, marginal SEO techniques might be deemed OK today but punishable at the next algorithm update.
The percentage of website visitors that do not proceed beyond the page they initially land on. Instead they ‘bounce’ away to a different site [ often the web page they were on previously via the back button ].
Small horizontal navigation bar above the main content. Useful on sites which have a deep structure in letting viewers know where they are in the site hierarchy. For instance, Homepage > Category > Sub-category > Current Page. They can have some SEO value on such sites.
Broken Link / Dead Link
A web link that now points to a non-existent page or resource . Covers outgoing links to other sites, backlinks from other sites or internal website links. Are detrimental to your site’s search engine ranking so fix or remove wherever possible.
Canonical tag / Canonical url / rel=canonical
Often website page content gets fully or partially duplicated on other pages, or the page can be accessed via different URLs. Search Engines don’t naturally comprehend which page is the ‘original’ and can end up ranking the wrong page or even diluting it across several. A canonical tag indicates which URL is the original, the one you want ranked. Also useful in circumstances where you publish an article through external channels like Facebook and Medium as well as on your own site.
Displaying different content to search engines as opposed to human visitors. Normally considered a Black hat technique designed to fool the search engines into giving an inflated ranking. Definitely not recommended as your site will be severely penalised and even banned from the search indexes.
Click through rate ( CTR )
If 100 people see your listing in a search index for a particular keyphrase [ impressions ] and 25 of those click on it, that’s a CTR of 25%. There is an ongoing debate on whether CTR influences organic search rankings. Basically, will increasing your click through rate have a positive influence on rankings. What is obvious is if you are getting high impressions but a very low CTR then think about amending your Title and Description meta tags for that page.
Content Delivery Network [ CDN ]
Hosting that provides geographically diverse copies of your website resources so that visitors can access them quickly regardless of their relative location to your main hosting. Helps with site speed.
Content spinning / Article spinning
Taking an original piece of content and re-writing it to create numerous ‘unique’ versions so they can be published on other sites. Normally considered Black hat SEO because most spun content is produced through automated methods and is considered poor for human readability.
Co-citation and Co-Occurence
Nope, I’m not even going to try and explain these here. Best you head over to this article on their SEO value.
Crawler / bot / spider
The program search engines [ and others ] use to gather the information on your website.
Deep Link / Deep Linking
A backlink from another website which targets a content relevant page of your website rather than the front page. Ideally, the link will be from a content relevant page on the outgoing website also.
Normally refers to the Google tool which allows you to specify incoming links that you don’t wish to be taken into consideration when ranking your site. For instance, links from sites that Google might consider to be spammy and thus those links may actually be detrimental to your ranking.
Similar or exactly the same content on another page or website. To be avoided unless you have the canonical URL set. Excessive duplicate content on your website is likely to have it considered as spam by the search engines.
An outgoing link to another website. Although the recipient is normally considered the primary beneficiary there can be SEO benefits for the giver if the link is a ‘good’ quality editorial link to a page with related content.
Favicons are 16×16 pixels small icons that usually contain the logo or a simple graphic and appear in the tab of web browsers as well as bookmarks. Now easier to produce via free web resources and can help reinforce brand. No direct SEO value so perhaps out of place in an SEO glossary but your website really should have one.
Adding new quality content to websites helps with ranking. The key word here is quality…
Google Mobile First Indexing
2017 will see Google experiment with preferring mobile versions of websites when it comes to indexing and ranking. Thus a poorly configured mobile site might negatively impact your search engine standing.
The search giant’s practice of highlighting unencrypted websites if you use the latest version of their Chrome browser. Other browsers may quickly follow suit.
Google Webmaster Guidelines
These are the SEO guides and articles designed to help you build a successful search engine presence.
Google Webmaster Tools
The resources Google provides to help you.
Commonly are the page title [ H1 ], paragraph titles [ H2 ] and sub-paragraph titles [ H3 ]. Previously had some SEO significance and still often included in SEO page checking programs. Actual current SEO value a source of discussion. Still best to use no more than one H1 tag on each page and go easy with the others.
An area at the top of a webpage often consisting of strong visuals with simple typography and user interface elements. Most of the elements rest on top of a background image and can be often animated. All designed to provide a vibrant and stimulating introduction to the page.
Hidden text is text on a page which is visible to search engine spiders but not visible to the human visitors. Dubious SEO technique used to try and gain you extra ranking credit with search engines. Likely to get you a penalty or even a ban if discovered.
a protocol for secure communication over a computer network. Now seen as the default configuration for websites of all types. See this Wikipedia entry for an in depth explanation. See also Google shaming.
Commonly used to refer to the search engines’ complete databases of web pages. Your initial SEO activities are aimed at getting into the index.
The general term covering how you design, categorise, organise and structure your content in a useful and meaningful way. Good Information architecture should show consideration to how both humans and search spiders read your website.
Keywords are the specific phrases or single words which are of a particular SEO importance for a web page.
The number of times a key phrase or word appears on a page relative to the overall content. Specified as a percentage. A high keyword density was previously an important SEO factor. Nowadays your primary concern should be that the keyword density is not to high or you will be penalised for…
Keyword stuffing / Keyword spam
If your content is written with an unnaturally high keyword density then it is likely that not only will it appear to readers as awkward and unpleasant to read but will likely attract the ire of search engines.
Landing page / Entry page
The page a visitor arrives on. Although the front / home page is most popular, well ranked inner pages may also have decent numbers. Make sure they are well configured to keep visitors on your site and don’t bounce.
Latent semantic indexing (LSI)
The method by which search engines contextualise your keywords or phrases with other content on the webpage. Thus, it can be determined what other phrases are relevant to the main keywords and are likely to be associated in normal language use and hence help reinforce the initial keyword’s standing. On the other side, it allows search engines to determine where keywords are being stuffed into content which has little or no relevance. I know, clear as mud…
Creating content with the specific aim of attracting a lot of backlinks, often via Social Media channels. Basically content which you hope will go viral.
The process of actively increasing the number of backlinks to your site.
Link exchange / Link swapping / Link partner / Reciprocal linking
Where two sites link to each other. Often of low quality in terms of related content and rarely now of any great SEO significance.
A network of websites featuring similar content that link to each other and which have been created for the sole purpose of attempting to increase their rankings. A Black SEO technique.
The quantity of trust and authority that a link will pass to the landing page at the other end. The quantity is dependant on the quality and ranking of the originating page or website. Concisely, the SEO value of any particular backlink.
Link popularity / Link equity
A measure of a website’s value based on the quantity and quality of backlinks to it.
The description of a backlink structure taking the form of a pyramid with your website at the top. For example, your website has 10 links pointing to it from other sites. Then each of those 10 sites may have 20 further links pointing at them. And so on and so on…
A measure of he quantity of broken links on a site combined with the length of time they have remained broken. Can become an SEO indicator of a stale or abandoned website.
Long tail keywords
A search query phrase which is longer, more precise and specific. As they’re more specific there is often less competition in search indexes than for shorter, generic keyword terms. The vast majority of searches are now long tail.
The general term for several code snippets that are often incorporated in the head section of a web page. These include the Meta Title, Meta Description, Meta Keywords & Meta Robots.
Meta description tag
The 155 character [ approx ] snippet that search engines often use in their listings to describe that web page’s content. SEO significant and should be well crafted to both reinforce the Meta title tag and be relevant and unique to that page.
Meta keywords tag
A list of the keywords you consider important for that page. No longer taken into consideration by search engines and best not used at all.
Meta robots tag
Used to tell search engine crawlers/ spiders whether to index that specific page.
Meta title tag
This defines the title of the webpage as seen seen in the browser tab and in search engine result pages. SEO important and should contain the primary keyphrase you want that webpage to rank for. Ideally should be less than 60 characters long.
Natural search / Organic search
The search positions and web traffic which originate naturally based on SEO and not through paid advertising.
Nofollow / rel=”nofollow’
The tag or attribute which informs the search engines that the associated link should not be given any value or trust when calculating rankings. Essentially no link juice is passed on to the site at the other end.
Offsite SEO / Offpage SEO
Those activities that are carried out away from your site [ or the actual content pages ]. Normally now refers to items such as link building and Social Media signal development.
Onsite SEO / Onpage SEO
Cover term for all SEO activity carried out on the actual site itself.
The judged value of any specific page by the search engines. Not to be confused with the old Pagerank Toolbar which used to show a Google measure of a site’s value [ long since disused ].
If your website is frequently visited by returning users then this can positively enhance your search engine position as this is seen as a mark of authority. If people come back for more then it likely means the site contains good quality content.
I will go with Google’s own definition for these: “Rich cards are a new Search result format building on the success of rich snippets. Just like rich snippets, rich cards use schema.org structured markup to display content in an even more engaging and visual format, with a focus on providing a better mobile user experience.”
The term used to describe structured data markup that site operators can add to their existing HTML. This allows search engines to better understand what information is contained on each web page. For more detail read this beginners guide.
The file that sits in your root folder and provides instruction to web crawlers about which pages or sections of your website you want them to index.
Search engine friendly (SEF) URL
A page url which descriptively reflects the page content or at least the main keyword or phrase. Should have stop words stripped out and not be overly long. To create one after the page has been published is to do a URL Rewrite.
Stands for search engine optimization, the processes used to increase website visitor numbers by achieving high rank in the search results indexes. But you knew that, surely?
SERP / SERPS
Stands for Search Engine Results Page or Pages.
A page on your site with active links to all other pages. Used as an alternative navigation system. An HTML sitemap is designed for human use, an XML sitemap i
How quickly your website loads for visitors. Can be affected by a variety of factors including server issues, rendering large image files and running too many onpage scripts. Has been an SEO influencing signal for some time and not likely to change.
SMM (Social Media Marketing)
Using social media channels for website promotion. Either by using it to increase user visits or for link building.
The overall ranking attributes garnered by social media shares and discussions.
An initial page on a website that provided plenty of visual stimulation to human visitors but actually contained little content of SEO value. A bit like having a hero section but without anything else on the page.
Usually refer to the most common words in a language and are normally filtered out in queries by search engines. Can be similarly filtered out from webpages when being ranked or indexed.
A plain HTML link.
Time on page
The amount of time that a user spends on one page before moving on. Used as an indicator of page quality and relevance.
Making URLs more descriptive and content related to boost search engine ranking. Commonly the rewritten URL will include the primary keyword or phrase for that page and can be classified as a search engine friendly (SEF) URL. Ideally, the URL should be usefully descriptive from the outset. If rewriting remember to add a 301 redirect from the old URL.
User generated content (UGC)
The content generated when interacting with a website. Comments left after articles, Facebook conversations, discussions etc.
White Hat SEO
Ethical SEO activities. Obviously the opposite of Black Hat SEO.
Also published on Medium.