The Big, Bad List of SEO Terms You Need to Know

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Are you an SEO nerd? Are you looking to become one? There can be a steep learning curve in an industry full of obscure digital marketing terms and SEO acronyms. SEO itself is an acronym; if you don’t know what search engine optimization is already, the long SEO glossary of terms and abbreviations can seem daunting.

Behold! These are the words, phrases, and acronyms we’ve come to know and love. If you’re just starting out or you’re an expert who needs a refresher, this list of SEO key terms is for you. We’ve gathered all the main SEO terms to know so you can dive deeper without racing to the search bar to look something up every few sentences. Unless you’re just flipping through an SEO dictionary for fun, we’re willing to bet you’re looking for something specific. Get in touch and let us help find the answers!

Common SEO Terms

301 Redirect – Code meaning “moved permanently,” used to point browsers, spiders, and other user agents 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. You can learn all about image optimization here.

Anchor Text – The non-URL text that is displayed in a hyperlink. Anchor text should imply what type of content the user will find after clicking.

Backlink – See inbound link.

Bounce Rate – The percentage of a given landing page’s visitors who exit without visiting another page or taking a meaningful action on the same site.

Broken Links – Links to pages that 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.

Canonical Tag This is a type of meta tag that tells search engines that a certain URL or version of a page is the primary or best version.Basically, it says, “This URL should be the one to appear in search results.”

Citation – This is any mention of your company or brand online, whether it includes a backlink or not. If it’s not backlinked, it’s also known as an “unlinked mention.”

Clickthrough Rate – This is the percentage of total impressions that resulted in a click to a website. It’s an important KPI for SEOs, paid media experts, email marketing professionals and on and on.

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.

Core Web Vitals – Three metrics that measure site speed and visual stability: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Part of the Page Experience algorithm update, these metrics are important ranking factors and should be part of any technical SEO strategy.

Crawler – An automatic function of some search engines that indexes a page and then visits subsequent pages that the initial page links to. As the cycle continues over time, search engine crawlers (also known as bots, spiders, or user agents) 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.

E-A-T – This SEO term means “Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness”.

Featured Snippet – This is a Google SERP feature classified by a small snippet of text at the top of search results. Learn about tracking and optimizing for featured snippets.

Hreflang – This refers to a set of HTML meta elements (rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) that explain the language and geographical targeting of web pages. Multilingual websites should always include these.

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 in search engine results as part of an SEO marketing campaign.

Keyword Density – The proportion or percentage of keywords to the total number of words in the face copy of a web page. SEOs of the past used to focus on keyword density more than they do today; it’s far less important after Google’s algorithm technologies like BERT and then MUM. 

Keyword Proximity – The relative placement of keywords in prominent areas of a web page, including the distance between keywords in the visible text. Like keyword density, most modern SEOs don’t focus on proximity tactics.

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 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. Also known as “content farm.”

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 is found in HTML page headers. Despite perceived diminishing relevance to search-engine rankings, SEOs post-2022 still find great value in using common meta-tags like “title,” “description,” and “keyword” tags (see below). And don’t forget canonical meta-tags!

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 on a page in order to game search-engine results. Today, this tag’s potential to influence rankings has diminished; it’s widely disregarded by major search engines. (Oneupweb’s SEOs strongly discourage using these tags, as they could tip off your competitors about your keyword strategy.)

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 or added to a page through CMS settings or the backend of a site. It discourages a search engine from indexing 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 non-paid search-engine results. They are calculated solely by an engine’s algorithm and are based on the merits of the listed pages.

Outbound Link – Also known as an external link, this is any link on a web page that points to an external web page (on a different domain).

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 – A page’s numerical rank on a search engine results page, also known simply as rank or ranking. A low position number, such as position 1, is better than a higher one, as it means your page is appearing earlier/higher in search results.

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

Ranking(s) – A page’s numerical rank on a search engine results page, also known as position. A low ranking number, such as position 1, is better than a higher one, as it means your page is appearing earlier/higher in search results.

Redirect – See 301 redirect. There are also other types of URL redirects, such as 302s, but these other types are not covered in this particular SEO glossary of terms.

Results Page – See SERP.

Robot – Also known as a “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, that allows or disallows certain user agents from crawling areas of the site, and that provides other crawling instructions such as XML sitemap location and crawl delay.

Search Engine – A website that allows users to search the web for specific information by entering keywords. The search results returned may include paid or organic listings of websites and sometimes 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 adjustments to copy, design, and structural elements 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 occurs when a visitor arrives at a website after clicking through the search engine results listing.

Search Term – The precise word or phrase(s) entered a search engine by a user. See also query and keyword.

SEM – An abbreviation for “search engine marketing.” See entry for that term.

SEO – An abbreviation for “search engine optimization.” See entry for that term.

SERP – An acronym for “search engine results page.” This is what is displayed after a query is entered into a search engine like Google.

SERP Feature – Any feature of a search engine results page that doesn’t look like a traditional paid or organic search result. SERP features on Google include featured snippets, People Also Ask, the Knowledge Panel, shopping results, featured video results, and many more.

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

Spider – See crawler.

Submission – The process of registering a site with a search engine or web directory. For example, you may submit your website (and XML sitemap) to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. It does not guarantee inclusion or ranking in search engine indexes but can support crawling.

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-based nomenclature (often in a string) that is attached to a blog post, tweet (see hashtag), social bookmark or media file to help categorize content by subject. This may also refer to various meta tags or myriad other things, like hreflang tags.

Title Tag – A form of meta-data used by search engines to categorize web pages by title. Title tags are shown in search engine listings of major search engines like Google and Bing. 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 each 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 web 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 quick, categorized look at every page on a website (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.

More Marketing Terms to Learn

Not satisfied with the extent of this SEO terminology? We have more for you to explore:

SEO Experts to Make It Make Sense

Even a short list of common SEO terms is a lot to take in; applying the techniques is another ball game! Luckily, the content marketing and SEO experts at Oneupweb are dedicated to constantly honing our craft. Put more than two decades of experience and the latest industry standards to work. Contact us today by calling (231) 922-9977 or drop us a line via contact form.

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