The Ultimate Guide to SEO Terminology
If you’ve become concerned about being invited to too many parties, memorize my SEO Glossary of the latest search engine optimization minutiae, and talk about it to anyone within earshot. Your dance card will quickly clear!
Okay, so you’re good with “alone time”. Perfect! Learning SEO requires an understanding of the obscure, jargon-filled terminology associated with the process.
I’ve put together the following glossary containing some of the most common SEO terms and definitions. I’ve also provided the occasional helpful link which can be used as a reference while learning about the SEO process.
This glossary can be read from start to finish. It is roughly in alphabetical order, though occasionally sorted by importance of concept.
For example, if I reference SERPs, but I haven’t told you what a SERP is, it’s a bit annoying.
This is something that always bugged me in the past about glossaries.
The SEO Glossary: Essentials
A program that searches for and discovers items in a database that correspond to key words included in search criteria specified by a user (specifically searching for and finding specific sites that match the request submitted by the user (called a query). Examples of search engines include Google, Bing, and Yahoo. YouTube is a search engine as well, and actually, the #2 most-used search engine in the world!
SERP = Search Engine Result Pages. These are the results that are returned to a user following submission of a search request.
This acronym stands for Content Management System, such as WordPress, Drupal or Duda.
This is the discovery process used by search engines to visit and find content on web pages. “Crawlers”, or “Spiders” are special search programs that go out to the internet and consume the content they find.
An index is the database that stores the content search engines discover from websites through the crawling process. If a website’s information is not contained in a search engine’s index, users using the search engine will not be able to find it.
The removal of a web page or group of pages from a search engine’s index. In some instances, de-indexing can occur following a violation of the search engine’s guidelines, terms and conditions. De-indexing can also be more benign, as when a webmaster shuts off indexing on a particular page in order to remove it from the sitemap and suggest to a search engine that it not be crawled.
Also called “Answer Boxes” or “Rich Results”, featured snippets usually appear at the top of each SERP and contain a small amount of content extracted from the page that is associated directly with the search information entered by the user.
Google My Business (“GMB”)
A free business listing that can include a business’s location on Google Maps and additional information such as street address, hours.
SERPs that include a series of scrollable images (i.e., from left to right).
Key Performance Indicator
Also known as a “KPI”, this is a measurable value that indicates progress toward an intended result or goal. In practice, it’s a fancy way to inform an audience that you’re an SEO guru. 😉
Local Pack or Map Pack
A set of at least three local business listings, often accompanied by reviews, that appear for local-intent searches that include a local map. The user is not required to perform another action to see the location on a map.
Short for Name-Address-Phone; usually used in the context of Google My Business, since getting these elements precisely correct is a small ranking factor in the Map Pack.
People Also Ask
A section provided in some Google SERPs offering a list of other questions and answers that may be related to the user’s query.
In SEO parlance, search intent refers to what users are really seeking to find from the words they used to search.
The words a user enters into a search engine.
The order that the search engine results are presented to the user based on relevance to the query. Somewhat counterintuitively, having a lower rank number (e.g, 1) vs. a higher rank number (e.g., 27) is better, because it means you are ranked higher “up the ladder” in the SERPs.
The volume of visits to a specific website following user queries.
Uniform Resource Locators are the actual web addresses for individual websites that enable users to find and visit the site.
Guidelines published by individual search engines (i.e., Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) for website owners providing them with instructions on how to create content on their site that will help their site to be more easily discovered and indexed by search engines to increase traffic on their website.
Search Engine Optimization Terminology
HTTP Status Codes
- 2xx – A page request which was successful.
- 3xx – a page request resulted in a modification (redirecting to a new page, for example).
- 4xx – a page request that resulted in an error.
- 5xx – These codes indicate the server was not able to perform the request.
Advanced Search Operators
Special commands you can enter that narrow a search to more specific content or phrases (i.e., searching for a specific word or phrase in the title of a page or for exact match words or phrases). For example, a minus sign “-” indicates that you do not want web results that include that particular word, such as “classic rock bands -tribute”.
Processes or calculations performed on data used to order the information in meaningful ways.
Also called “inbound” or “Incoming” links, backlinks are created anytime one website contains a hyperlink that points back to another website. This is a form of a citation.
“Black Hat” SEO Techniques
These are techniques that can be used to increase the SEO ranking for a page but also include tactics and strategies that are not in compliance with the search engine”s terms and conditions. A list of these can be found on both Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Also known as “crawlers,” “spiders” and “Googlebots”, bots are programs that crawl web page content. These programs find new and updated content and suggest what information should be added to a search engine’s database or index.
A temporary storage area for copies of web pages that have been recently browsed (allowing you to return quickly to a page that you recently viewed).
Caffeine is the indexing system that Google uses to store information that’s collected through the crawling process.
A canonical tag indicates to the search engines that if they find similar content on other parts of the website, that this page is the definitive discussion of that topic on the website.
Citations are references to a source. In local search parlance, a citation includes the name, address and phone number (NAP) of a business.
Presenting different website content to search engines than the content presented to human users. A popular technique in the swingin’ 2000s.
The number of pages a search engine will crawl on a specific website on a given day.
Instructions a webmaster provides to a crawler regarding what sections of the website to crawl and index. A robots.txt file is the most common example of crawler directives.
For local and map pack results, the location of the searcher to a particular map result.
A key metric that represents how visitors are interacting with a website, such as the amount of time on the site, the time spent on a particular page, pages viewed, buttons clicked, etc.
Google Search Console
A tool from Google that enables site owners to monitor search traffic, queries used to find pages on the site, as well as performance issues.
Hypertext markup language is the standard markup language used to create web pages and tells the browser how to display the content on the page.
Index Coverage Report
A report in Google Search Console that shows which pages on your website have been indexed and any problems experienced when indexing your site.
A link on a page on a website that points to another page on the same site. Internal links, largely ignored for many years, have emerged as an important method to help search engines understand and relate the content on a website.
Pages that require a user to enter authentication credentials before the user is permitted access to the content.
This is an action taken by Google against a site after a human reviewer determined that content on the site is not in compliance with Google’s quality guidelines.
Meta Robots and X-robots-tags
Pieces of code that tell search engines how to crawl or index content on a web page.
Navigation links help visitors navigate to the pages on your site that contain the information they’re searching for and also for search engines to crawl. These links can be added at the top of the page, along the sides or in the footer. Breadcrumbs, little links that show the location of a particular web page relative to the home page, are an example of navigation.
A meta tag that directs a search engine not to include a particular page in its list of search results.
A Google algorithm that estimates and ranks the importance of a web page by measuring the quality and quantity of search engine results.
Refers to the way a search engine will modify a person’s search results based on factors unique to their usage activities, such as their location and search history.
A core component of Google’s algorithm. When RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, it adjusts ranking by searching for words and phrases that may have similar meaning and providing the most relevant results.
In the Map Pack, relevance refers to how well a local business matches the information entered by the searcher.
Search functions on websites that help users find what they’re looking for on that website.
Search Quality Rater Guidelines
Guidelines used by human quality raters that work for Google to evaluate websites and SERPs to determine the quality of web pages.
A blueprint or list of URLs on your site that help search engines crawl, discover and index content on your website.
Spammy SEO Tactics
Spammy SEO tactics are “black hat” techniques that are not in compliance with search engine quality guidelines.
Sections of a website that can be labeled separately from the root directory. These additional sections are separated from the root directory by slashes (“/”). For example, in the URL “boomcycle.com/services” the section labeled “/services” is considered a URL folder.
Information following a question mark that is appended to a URL to change the page’s content or track information.
“White Hat” SEO Techniques
Naturally, the opposite of “Black Hat” SEO techniques, “White Hat” are best-practices and associated processes that are used to increase SEO rankings for a page that comply with search engine terms and conditions.
A search entered by a user where the objective of the searcher is not clear.
Commercial Investigation Query
A search that compares products and determines those that are most suitable.
A query in which the searcher is simply looking for the answer to a question.
Keyword Difficulty (“KD”)
A numerical score indicating how difficult it is for a site to outrank their competitors for a particular target keyword. In Ahrefs, for example, a keyword with a KD between 0-10 is possible to rank on a new website, whereas anything over a KD of 30 is probably only possible on a website that has some authority already. On-site SEO is often a calculus weighing KD and search volume.
A free tool used in conjunction with the Google Ads service to research and help find profitable target keywords. The Keyword Explorer can also be used to reality-check keywords surfaced by external tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush.
Unique keywords which can be used for searches within a specific locale. Not all regions use similar terminology, e.g., “gas” vs. “petrol”.
The number of times a specific keyword is searched. Optimizing a web page for a search term with low volume may result in becoming a big fish in a little (or empty) pond, though dominating searches for low-volume keywords is a way to build authority on smaller topics, which Google “likes”.
Seasonal Search Trends
Popularity of keywords during specific periods of time. For example, “Christmas Gifts” during the months of November and December.
The primary words that are specific to the product or service offered on your website (typically this will be just one or two words without any modifiers). These can be as simple as “jewelry” or “lawn care.”
On-Page SEO Factors
Alternative text is the text that is added to images on websites that assist search engines with finding the item. Alt text also assists vision-impaired users by explaining what the images they are browsing represent.
This is the visible and highlighted text that provides you with a clickable link to a website. Stuffing keywords into anchor text used to be a reliable way to rank for the keywords used. However, the guidelines now state that anchor text should be “natural”, whatever that means (random!)
Content that is shared between domains or between multiple pages of a single domain. The simplest example of duplicate content is two different web pages that contain the exact same text. A more subtle case is when Google sees web pages that are viewable via http and https to be “duplicate content”, and will penalize the site for this problem, usually due to a misconfigured SSL certificate.
Addition of words that indicate a specific physical location or service area (i.e., the name of a city or region). A recent popular way to do geographic modification is using the phrase “near me”.
An HTML element that’s used to designate a heading. Header tags like H1s may contain a company name, but a very effective way to use an H1 is via a sought-after keyword, like “Best Financial Planner | San Jose, CA”
This is a form of data compression that’s applied to images resulting in reduced image file sizes. Reducing the file sizes of images saves bandwidth and can make your website faster. A nice tool for image compression purposes is sqoosh.app.
This is the overuse of keywords in a website’s content and links, and is considered a “spammy” tactic. This used to work great in the early 00’s.
A search engine ranking factor associated with the value that links pass to their destinations such as the linking page’s authority and HTTP status.
Local Business Schema
A type of structured data markup code that can be placed on a web page to help search engines identify what type of business it is and what the business does.
HTML attributes provide a brief description of the contents of the web page. Google sometimes presents these descriptions in search result snippets.
A Google algorithm update intended to stop websites with low-quality content from showing up in the list of top search results.
So what’s the deal with Yelp, Google?
“Http” or “https” is a client-server protocol that allows data to be relayed between the server and browser and is the foundation for any data exchange over the web.
Occurs when a URL is moved from one location to another as a way to send both users and search engines to the new location of the website.
This tag indicates that a specific URL represents the original or master copy of the content so that it cannot be confused with any duplicate content that may exist elsewhere on the site.
This is a technique that involves taking content from other websites and publishing it elsewhere without the consent of the original author. Ironically, this is exactly what search engines use, or they wouldn’t be useful.
HTTPS websites provide a “Secure Sockets Layer”, which is used to encrypt data passed between the web server and browser of the searcher.
Content that offers visitors very little value.
Image thumbnails are reduced size versions of original pictures and videos.
Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) is a Google project which strips down versions of existing web page content to offer faster load times. AMP is intended for mobile visitor viewing. As of 2019, approximately 50 million websites used AMP out of 1.5 billion websites in the world. The added difficulty of creating and maintaining AMP websites has slowed adoption of the technique.
Short for “asynchronous” and means that while the page is loading the browser doesn’t have to wait for one task to finish before moving onto the next task which increases the speed of the website.
“Country Code Top Level Domain” are two letter identifier codes reserved for specific countries or territories and can show search engines in which country you do business. “.uk” is the country code for the United Kingdom.
Client-Side & Server-Side Rendering
Client-Side and Server-Side Rendering refer to where the code is executed. Client-Side means the file is executed and rendered in the browser. Server-Side means the files are executed at the server and the server sends them to the browser in their fully-rendered state.
A Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) is the code that is used to add style (i.e., fonts and colors) to a web page. The current version of CSS is monstrously ill-conceived (see: !important) and will hopefully one day be replaced by a much simpler version or system.
A Domain Name Server (DNS) translates domain names (i.e., “welovepets.com”) to be linked directly to IP addresses (ex: “192.009.009.2”) so that browsers can load the page’s content.
Domain Name Registrar
A company that handles the reservation of domain names (i.e., “Shopify”) and the assignment of their respective IP addresses. GoDaddy.com and Hover.com are examples of domain name registrars.
This is used by e-commerce websites to offer filtering and sorting options of site content to visitors based on a variety of product attributes (i.e., to sort shoes by price, color, brand, size, etc.).
Fetch and Render Tool
This is a tool in Google Search Console that permits you to view two versions of your webpage side by side. One of the versions represents how visitors see the website and the other is how Google views the site.
The process of reducing the size of data contained in a file is referred to as file compression. The benefit of smaller files is that they can be stored using less space and transferred at higher speeds on the internet.
This is an HTML attribute tag that is used to indicate the language of the content on the webpage. In the event there are multiple versions of a webpage in multiple languages, this tag identifies which language pages are in for search engines.
An internet protocol (IP) address is a unique numerical label or identifier assigned to each specific website. Domain names are also uniquely assigned to each IP address and are used by humans to access websites easily (eliminating the need for people to try to memorize the unique numerical labels…good grief, we’d still be in the bronze age of the internet if we needed to do that!)
A website loading in this manner will paint the top half of a page first when someone is opening the site and load the remainder of the site as the visitor scrolls down. The visitor does not have to wait until the entire page loads to begin viewing content.
To remove as many of the unnecessary characters as possible from the source code of markup languages without altering its functionality. Unfortunately, minification can sometimes in fact alter functionality, in completely unexpected ways.
This type of indexing uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking instead of the desktop version. Google will move websites to mobile-first indexing when it determines that the site is primarily accessed from mobile devices. Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic sent many former smartphone browsers back to their desktop or laptop devices in 2020 (one wonders if Google kept up with the trend).
A process that splits content across a series of pages in a specific sequence. This technique is used to break content into an easier-to-consume format for the visitor.
The process of a browser rendering engine turning a website’s HTML-coded content into hopefully pleasantly-viewable text and images.
Responsive Web Design
A design approach that permits a website design to respond and adapt to fit the type of device the user has chosen to use based on screen size, platform and orientation. Smartphones are much tinier than the roomy desktop screen I’m using to write this SEO Glossary!
An enhanced version of the standard snippet search engines present for URLs in search results (title and description preview) that can include additional detail (i.e., review data displayed as rating stars next to the URLs in the search results…ah, the good old days of schema!)
Organized data which allows search engines to return additional information about content on your website to users (i.e., like the information provided in rich snippets, such as Sitelinks or FAQs).
Structured or organized data adheres to a predefined data model and is easy to analyze. Structured data “spoon feeds” precise data to the search engine which allows easier ingestion of key data.
User Generated Content (UGC)
Content that is created by humans; ideally those using your website, such as people posting on Facebook or uploading videos to YouTube.
Building Links & Authority Hacking
A web page that is removed from the SERPs is said to be “deindexed”.
Directories include general national and local business directories and is a list of businesses that typically include the business’s name, address, phone number (NAP) and other information like their website address.
These types of links are not paid, but are obtained naturally when another writer links to your content as a reference in their own article.
Clicks on a SERP link, clicks on a web page, scrolling, video watching and submitting forms are all examples of website “engagement”. Engagement metrics are the measurement of these events, which figure prominently into Google’s 2020-and-beyond ranking algorithm, as they are the truest measure of usefulness of a particular web search result.
Links that pass PageRank, or “authority”, to the website they point to.
This link building strategy involves the creation and posting of blogs that include a link back to your website in publications with the goal of attracting readers of the publication to your site.
Link Building is the process of getting other websites to add a link back to your website which can increase referral traffic to your site. In a nutshell, the process involves creating great content, then emailing 10,000 webmasters and asking for a link to your new, great content. It’s an innervating numbers game, but still worthwhile for building authority and ranking in Google and Bing.
The original idea behind “backlinks”, was that other websites would refer to authoritative sources on the web by naturally finding and linking to them. Intentional link building is an olde-tymey SEO technique that astonishingly still works, but should be consigned to the dustbin of search engine history.
Also called reciprocal links, a link exchange occurs when two websites agree to share links to each other’s websites on their own site. Sometimes a link exchange is natural, but more often, simply intended to boost each website’s authority, and can be a violation of Google Quality Guidelines
The quality of all inbound links to a website (citations, references, online news, blogs, etc.).
When a link is marked up with the rel=”nofollow” marking, it will not pass PageRank. This type of markup often applies to purchased links.
Paying a third party domain for a backlink that sends visitors to a website is a purchased link.
Visits to your site that are made by those that show interest in the topic of the page, find the content useful and convert.
Visits to your site from visitors who were sent to your site through a link on a different website.
The practice of soliciting, responding and curating reviews and mentions throughout the internet. GMB reviews are an important ranking factor in local search on Google.
Resource pages usually contain lists of helpful links to other websites for a particular topic.
These are artificial links created with the intent to manipulate a website’s ranking. Use of unnatural links is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Metrics and Execution Measuring, Prioritizing, & Executing
The percentage of visitors that navigate away from your site after viewing only one page. The notion is that the visit did not satisfy the visitor’s search intent, and they went back to the SERPs to find a “better” link. Google looks at Bounce Rate as a significant ranking factor. To calculate Bounce Rate:
Bounce Rate = Total Visits of Only One Page / Total Entries to Page
The different means by which websites gain attention and acquire traffic (i.e., social media, search).
The ratio of the number of clicks an advertisement receives to the number of times the advertisement is shown.
The ratio of number of visits to a website and number of conversions. For example, how many visitors fill out forms, call, place orders, etc.
The amount of time a visitor actually spends on a page. This metric is evaluated in conjunction with the Bounce Rate, since, if a visitor “dwells” for a while on a particular page, it’s possible the single page answered the visitor’s question. Therefore, going back to the search results may not indicate a search failure, as Bounce Rate was intended to quantify.
Google Tag Manager
Google’s hub for managing website measurement and marketing optimization tags on a website. The GTM is a powerful and very complex tool which can decrease website load times, as all “tags” (Facebook Pixel, Google Analytics, etc.) for a particular website can be stored in GTM and fired with a single GTM tag.
Pages Per Session
The average of the number of pages that are viewed during a single session when a visitor accesses a website.
Page speed is the amount of time that it takes for a web page to load and become interactive. Page Speed is often debated as a ranking factor. As of 2020, correlative studies don’t show page speed to be a huge ranking factor, but it’s nice for the user’s experience, and may become a bigger ranking factor in the future.
The removal of lower quality pages to improve the overall quality of the website.
How far visitors scroll down on your web page.
The urchin tracking module (UTM) code can be placed at the end of your URL to track additional details about the search including the traffic source, search terms and medium (i.e., gmb, email, social media, etc.). Properly implemented UTM code can be a tremendous help to report on the origin of clicks to your website