The Big Bad List of SEO Terms You Need to Know

Are you an SEO nerd? Are you looking to become one? While our job responsibilities are constantly in flux, other things never change. Behold—the words, phrases, and acronyms we’ve come to love. If you’re just starting out and you want to gab like an industry veteran, or if you’ve been at it for awhile but could use a refresher, this Big Bad List is for you.

Bonus: When you get home tonight, and your spouse/child/neighbor/dog asks you how your day was at work, see how many of these terms you can sprinkle into your summary. If you make to 8 and they’re still listening (dogs excepted), you win a prize! Contact us for details.

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301 Redirect – Code meaning “moved permanently,” used to point browsers, spiders, etc. to the correct location of a missing or renamed URL. Pages marked with such a code will automatically redirect to another URL.

ALT Attribute – A line of text used to describe the content associated with a non-text based file, typically an image.

Anchor Text – The non-URL text that is displayed in a hyperlink.

Backlink – See “inbound link.”

Bounce Rate – Refers to the percentage of a given page’s visitors who exit without visiting another page on the same site.

Broken Links – Links to pages which no longer exist or have been moved to a different URL without redirection. These links usually serve pages with the “404 error” message (see “404 error”). Incidentally, most search engines provide ways for visitors to report on broken or “dead” links.

Cloaking – A prohibited practice of tricking a search engine into indexing different content than the user actually sees. In essence, it is serving one version of a page to search engines (for intended SEO benefit) and another to humans. Often the content is entirely unrelated to the actual topic/theme of the rest of the site.

Contextual Link Inventory – An extension of search engines where they place targeted links on websites they deem to have similar audiences.

Crawler – An automatic function of some search engines that index a page, and then visit subsequent pages that the initial page links to. As the cycle continues over time, search engine crawlers or “bots”/“spiders” can index a massive number of pages very quickly.

Directory – An index of websites where the listings are compiled by hand, rather than by a crawler. Whether general or niche-oriented, the best of these sites are structured, reviewed and regularly updated by humans with transparent editorial guidelines.

DNS – Stands alternately for “Domain Name Service,” “Domain Name Server,” and “Domain Name System”: the DNS is a name service which allows letters (and numbers) that constitute domain names to be used to identify computers instead of numerical IP addresses.

H-Tags (H1, H2, etc.) – Also known as “header tags,” these page elements represent different levels of headings in HTML. From the largest (H1) to the smallest (H6), these define the titles/headings and sub-headings of Web copy. For SEO and reader benefits, headers should contain keywords wherever possible.

Keywords – The terms that a user enters into a search engine. They can also signify the terms a website is targeting to rank highly as part of an SEO marketing campaign.

Keyword Density – The proportion of keywords to the total number of words in the face copy of a website.

Keyword Proximity – The relative placement of keywords in prominent areas of a Web page, including the distance between keywords in the visible text.

Keyword Stemming – The practice adopted by search engines to group search results not only by exact keyword matches, but also by variations of keywords in semantic groups, such as singular-plural, related suffixes, and synonyms.

Link Popularity – A measurement of the number and quality of sites that link to a given site, especially as cataloged in a search-engine index.

Link Text – See “anchor text.”

Link Farm – A website exclusively devoted to listing a very large number of links without groupings, categories, or structure. These sites are largely discredited by major search engines, and your site’s engagement with one can potentially lead to ranking penalties.

Listings – A listing is a website’s presence in a search engine or directory, and is not necessarily indicative of its search-engine positioning.

Meta-Tags – Also called meta-data, this information found in HTML page headers used to be the bread and butter of SEO marketing tactics. Still used today despite widely perceived diminishing relevance to search-engine rankings, the most common are the “title,” “description,” and “keyword” tags (see below).

Meta-Description Tag – A tag on a Web page located in the heading source code containing a basic description of the page. It helps search engines categorize the page and can potentially inform users who come across the page listing in search results.

Meta-Keywords Tag – In the past, this tag allowed page authors to insert a massive list of keywords related (and occasionally unrelated) to a page in order to game search-engine results. Today, this tag’s potential to influence rankings has diminished to the point where it is widely disregarded by major search engines.

Mirror Site – Duplicate copy of a website already in existence, used to increase response time for high-volume sites.

Natural Listings – See “organic listings.”

Nofollow – “Nofollow” is an append which is coded into the HTML markup of a hyperlink. It is used to prevent a search engine from indexing a link to a particular Web page. Some strategic uses of external “nofollow” are associated with link popularity management, e.g. for site owners that do not want to give full “follow” credit to links posted by users in their forums or blog comments.

Organic Listings – Also known as “natural” listings, these are search-engine results that have not been purchased. They are calculated solely by an engine’s algorithm and are based on the merits of the listed pages. Typically, most search engines will display several sponsored ads related to search terms (often separated by background color or otherwise highlighted) before displaying the non-paid listings.

Outbound Link – Any link on a Web page to an external Web page.

PageRank – A former proprietary method of Google (now disavowed) for measuring the popularity of a Web page. Much-debated in the SEO community, the measurement is believed to be influenced chiefly by the number and quality of inbound and outbound links associated with a given page.

Position – Same as “rank” in reference to search-engine listings.

Query – The term(s) entered into a search engine by the user.

Ranking(s) – The position of a website’s listing(s) in search-engine results pages. The higher a rank for a specific keyword, the more generally visible a page is to search-engine users.

Redirect – See “301 redirect.”

Results Page – See “SERP.”

Robot – Also known as “bot.” See “crawler.”

Robots.txt – A small text file included on a website that directs a search engine to include/exclude specific pages from its index. It can be submitted manually to search engines to ensure the latest version is followed regardless of the “crawl cycle.”

Search Engine – A website that allows users to search the Web for specific information by entering keywords. Can include paid or organic listings of websites and sometimes specific images, products, videos, music, place entries or other enhanced results.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – A phrase sometimes used in contrast with “SEO” to describe paid search activities, SEM may also more generally refer to the broad range of search-marketing activities, either paid or organic.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – The process of using website analysis and copy/design/structural adjustments to ensure both the highest possible positioning on desired search-engine results pages and the best experience for a given site’s users.

Search Engine Referral – This statistic represents a visitor who arrives at a website after clicking through a search-engine results listing.

Search Term – The precise word or phrase(s) entered into a search engine by a user (also called a “query”).

SEM – An abbreviation for “search-engine marketing.”

SEO – An abbreviation for “search-engine optimization.”

SERP – An acronym for “search engine results page,” displayed after a query is entered on a search engine.

Shopping Search – A specialized type of search or dedicated search engine that indexes groups of products, prices and reviews for side-by-side comparison, especially helpful for shopping online.

Spider – Same as “crawler.”

Submission – The process of registering a site with a search engine or Web directory. It does not guarantee inclusion, but can lead to it being reviewed or crawled. It offers no guarantee of ranking. The process can be done manually or by using commercial software packages.

Subscribing – The process of opting in to an email newsletter or adding an RSS feed to an aggregator (e.g. for reading blog updates).

Tag – A keyword (often in a string) which is attached to a blog post, tweet (see “hashtag”), social bookmark or media file. Tags help categorize content by subject.

Title Tag – A form of meta-data used by search engines to categorize Web pages by title. Search-engine algorithms traditionally value title tags to determine/categorize page content.

UGC – See “user-generated content.”

Unique Visitor – Also known as “absolute unique visitor,” this statistic represents visitors to a website that are counted once in a given time period despite the possibility of having made multiple visits. Determined by cookies, unique visitors are distinguished from regular visitor counts which would classify two or more visits from the same user as multiple visitors.

User Sitemap – A page containing structured links to every other important page on a particular website grouped by topic or navigational hierarchy. These pages are equally useful for people and search-engine spiders alike, as they provide a categorized look at every page on a website at a glance (with hyperlinks).

User-generated Content – Commonly abbreviated as “UGC,” it is any piece of content created by a member of a given website’s audience for use on that website and sometimes to be freely distributed on the Web.

XML Sitemap – An XML file for search engines containing a list of URLs on a particular domain. This file can be used to supplement regular indexing, where a bot/crawler goes out and visits each page of a site by itself.

Still not satisfied? Try out our list of web design terms and round out your expert web guru vocabulary.










Image Credit: By © 2010 by Tomasz Sienicki  (Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki (Own work)) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons