The Ultimate List of SEO Terminology

  • Last Updated: 5 September 2018
  • by Charles Travers
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The world of SEO is full of terminology that seems utterly confusing because people talk only in acronyms…and not English at all.

To the outsider it might sound like gibberish, but it’s not.The trick is learning which of the hundreds of different terms are most important to you as a business owner.

We’ve put together this list to explain, in layperson’s terms, exactly what the most important pieces of terminology mean for you in your online marketing efforts.

So, bookmark this page, grab a notepad, and prepare yourself for a quick-fire education in search engine optimisation terminology.

Algorithm

Google Panda
A 2011 update to the Google algorithm that reduced the visibility of sites with low quality (thin) content, or very little content. This update directly affected content farms, specifically article directories and similar sites.

Google Penguin
This 2012 algorithm update from Google penalized sites that bought links from private blog networks (PBNs), but it also directly attacked the PBNs themselves. Hundreds of PBN businesses were shut down overnight.

Sandbox
The Google Sandbox is a separate area of the search engine where it stores brand new websites until they’ve proven that they’re genuine. Opinions vary, but most SEOs agree that a new site will stay in the Google Sandbox for at least 90 days after it goes online for the first time.

Search Engine Algorithm
A set of rules, based on a mathematical formula, designed to solve a specific problem. Google’s algorithm analyses dozens of different factors when deciding whether or not your website is the best source of information for a given range of search queries.

Keywords

Keywords
These are words typed into Google by people looking for information on a given subject. Google then looks for pages that match the keywords entered, and presents the best set of results it can generate.

Keyword Cannibalisation
Google can become confused when it encounters a website that has multiple pages optimised for the same keyword. This then leads to poor results in the SERPs because Google can’t decide which of your pages is the most relevant or the most useful.

Keyword Density
This is the very, very outdated practice of trying to calculate how many times you should include a certain keyword on a web page to get it to rank in Google. No self-respecting SEO has advised on this since 2008 because it’s now viewed as “web spam” by Google.

Keyword Stuffing
There was a time when you could simply stuff your page, Title, Meta Description and Meta Keywords tag full of a variety of keywords that you wanted to rank for. This was common practice in the days of Yahoo and AltaVista because it worked, but Google deeply dislikes sites that use keyword stuffing.

Head/Seed Keywords
A “Head” keyword is the base keyword used to generate long-tail keywords from e.g. finance. These keywords tend to have an extremely high volume of searches each month, but those searches won’t convert into sales or leads as well as long-tail keywords do.

Keyword Research
The process of finding keywords and key phrases which are relevant to your market/niche/vertical, but that also have the right level of search intent. Keyword research tools like KWFinder, SEMrush and Ahrefs are the quickest way to find the best possible keywords for your website.

Long-tail Keyword
These are multiple word key phrases that SEOs focus on because they tend to have a higher buyer intent than phrases with just one or two words. An example of a long-tail keyword is “best financial adviser in Chelsea” – people searching using these types of keywords are close to making a decision on their purchase.

Links

Anchor Text
These are the underlined, clickable words in a link to another website, or when another website links to you. What you should avoid doing is building links to your site that all contain the same words in the anchor text because this will incur a penalty from Google.

Backlinks
A backlink is a link from another website pointing to a specific page on your website – Google views these links as a “vote” for your site. Backlinks can either occur naturally or they can be paid for, or arranged through guest blog post opportunities.

Blog Comment Spam
Leaving a comment on a blog you like is a perfectly acceptable way to build a white hat backlink to your site. Hiring an outsourcer to spam 5,000 blogs with the same repetitive comment is spam, no matter what way you phrase it.

Citation
A citation is simply an online reference to your business name, address or other contact details. A citation doesn’t need to link directly back to your website to be effective for local SEO.

Deep Links
Somewhere around 70% of all inbound links are to the homepage of any website. A deep link is an inbound link that points to an internal page of your site, increasing its authority and potentially allowing it to rank for more keywords.

DoFollow Links
A DoFollow link is one where some of a site’s authority is passed to the page they’re linking to, although this tends to be a tiny amount. These links have a positive impact on how you rank in Google.

External Linking
These are links from your site to other websites that you think your visitors will find useful. Some website owners will insist on adding the NoFollow attribute to all external links, but Google can view that as an unnatural linking pattern.

Guest Blogging
The process of creating an article for another website to publish, with the caveat that they allow you to link back to your website from within the guest blog post. Some SEOs argue that guest blog posts are “paid links” and therefore black hat, but that’s only true if the blog post is published on an unrelated website e.g. you have a real estate business and the guest post is on a gambling site.

Internal Linking
When you create links to other pages on your website, either to enhance the user experience or for SEO purposes. You can use internal linking to boost the ranking of a page on your site by pointing links with keyword-focused anchor text at it.

Link Building
In an ideal world people would link to your website because they love the content/service/product you offer. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so the vast majority of you reading this will need to actively build links to your site. Don’t worry – it’s not as difficult as it sounds – here’s our link building guide to help you along.

Linkbait
You know when you find a resource online that’s so great that you not only bookmark it and share it on social media, but you also tell all of your friends about it? That’s linkbait. It can be something as simple as the most comprehensive, in-depth guide on a subject, or a web-based app like a mortgage calculator. The idea is that you create a resource that other website owners will link to without being asked.

NoFollow Links
Adding the NoFollow attribute to a link tells Google that you don’t’ want to pass any authority to the website you’re linking to. Some website owners avoid getting NoFollow links to their site because they don’t think they’re worth the effort – but we can assure you they are.

Off-Page SEO
Your off-page SEO is all about building links to your site, and what those links say about the content on your site, and where the links come from. Off-page SEO (building links) is one of the single most important factors in terms of ranking your site on the first page of Google for your preferred keywords.

Private Blog Network
A private blog networks (PBN) is a “farm” of websites that were created, using expired domain names, for the sole purpose of selling links to website owners. Buying links from a private blog network is risky, and will incur the wrath of Google when they catch up with you. And they always catch up with PBN links.

Reciprocal Link
A reciprocal link is where Website A links to Website B and then Website B links back to Website A. This was common practice before Google reduced its effectiveness to zero many years ago. You can still use reciprocal links, but it would require Website A linking to Website B, and then Website C linking back to Website A.

Web 2.0 Sites
These were the second generation of web sites, designed to encourage users to create content – Blogger, Typepad, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can be used as part of a backlink building campaign, but not as your only source of links.

Web Directory
This is an online list of websites, usually arranged into specific categories, that you can pay to have your business listed in. A listing in a web directory includes a link back to your website, but not every link from a web directory is worth investing in. Fortunately there are plenty of industry-specific web directories that are still worth getting a link from.

The most popular, and expensive, web directory used by SEOs was the now defunct Yahoo Web Directory. It cost $299 per year, but for a very brief time being listed in the Yahoo Directory would guarantee you ranked on the first page of Google within days.

On-page Optimisation

Above The Fold
The topmost area of any webpage, typically the first 1/3 of the page. Heat map experiments have shown this is where most visitors’ eyes naturally gravitate to. Your most important messaging, adverts, or lead generation elements should be located on this part of the page.

Alt tag
Google can’t read or understand what images “look” like, so you have to add an additional snippet of code to the images on your site to tell them what they mean. Alt tags are also very useful for visitors with visual impairments because their screen reader software can read these tags.

Duplicate Content
This is where the same, or a slightly altered, piece of content exists on different parts of your website. This is often accidental, but some companies do it deliberately in the hope of tricking Google into sending them more traffic. Google, however, will simply ignore all those duplicate pages, and might also demote you in their search rankings.

Heading (Hx tags)
Back in the early days of the Internet, there were limited options available to web developers to create engaging typography. The Heading tags (H1 – H6) allowed web designers to create larger typefaces. An additional benefit was that search engines paid attention to the keywords inside those Hx tags – and they still do today.

Landing Page
A page of content designed with the specific purpose of getting a visitor to complete a required action e.g. sign up for a newsletter. Landing pages are typically used in lead generation campaigns, with either organic traffic or PPC ads used as the traffic source.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
This is a three letter acronym that causes more confusion than it should. Latent Semantic Indexing is simply Google’s way of understanding how the words on a page relate to each other. For example, Google understands that a dog and a hound are the same animal, and that a puppy is a different search term, but they’re all still dogs.

Meta Keywords Tag
This is a Meta tag that hasn’t been used in years because Google no longer counts it as a ranking factor. You shouldn’t invest any time or effort in using this tag on any of your web pages.

Meta Description Tag
These are part of the source code that make up each page of your site, and are displayed under the title of your page in search results. You should try to include keywords relevant to your niche or market in your Meta Description tag – this can be done quite easily with the Yoast plugin for WordPress, for example.

On-Page SEO

These are all the elements of your site that Google analyses when trying to figure out where to rank you. On-page ranking factors will include things like your Title and Meta Description tags, Heading tags (H1,H2, H3), URL optimisation, image optimisation, etc. Or you can just read our on-page optimisation blueprint – it covers everything you need to know.

TF-IDF
Term Frequency Inverse Document Frequency is the most recent attempt by SEOs to understand what keywords you should include on a page and how many times they should be included i.e. it’s an attempt at calculating keyword density. Is it effective? That all depends on how competitive the search term is, but generally speaking your time is better spent focusing on creating engaging content, and not just a random selection of keywords.

Title tag
Although people might disagree, the Title tag is still one of the most important aspects of on-page SEO. You should include your most important or relevant keyword in your Title tag, while also focusing on creating Title tags that entice people to click on them in the search results.

Skyscraper Content
Brian Dean of Backlinko coined this term after he analysed 1 million search results and found that the average word count for a page ranking on the first page of Google is 1,890 words.

He asserts that creating long-form content of at least 1,890 words is a key ranking factor right now, and we agree to a certain extent. The only area we disagree on is that 890 words of relevant, focused, useful content will quite easily outrank 1,890 words of fluff.

Technical SEO

301 Redirect
When you change the name or location of a web page, you need to redirect the visitor to the new page or location. There are a few ways to do this, but the most effective from an SEO point of view is called a 301 redirect, or what is also known as a permanent redirect.

Canonical Tag
Used to let Google know which of the pages on your site it should treat as the master or “key” page, especially if you have several pages on your site that are almost identical to each other. This can happen quite frequently on e-commerce sites.

Cloaking Page
You’ll also hear these referred to as “doorway pages”. The idea is a simple one – present Google with one page, but then anyone visiting your site will see another page. Using doorway or cloaked pages is a quick way to get penalised by Google.

Domain and Page Authority
If you want to know how authoritative a website is in the eyes of Google, then Domain (DA) and Page Authority (PA) are a great way to gauge that. You can examine the authority of any website by simply installing the MozBar and setting up a free Moz account. The higher a sites Domain Authority, the more difficult it will be to outrank.

Domain Name
This is the unique internet address of your website, and Finetunedigital.com is an example of that. There are dozens of different domain extensions, but .com is still the most popular, with country localized versions following a close second e.g. co.uk, .ie, .in, etc.

Google PageRank
PageRank was a once-used rating of the authority of a website, rating it from zero to ten. This rating was also displayed in the Google Toolbar up to 2011 when Google stopped updating it. Some SEOs still talk about PageRank, but a more accurate measurement is Domain Rating (DR), as displayed by sites like Ahrefs.com

Link Sculpting
The process of using NoFollow and DoFollow links to “sculpt” the link profile of a given page. This is a reincarnation of PageRank sculpting, designed to increase the authority of a handful of pages on a site. While this is not a black hat SEO technique, it most definitely is grey hat.

NoIndex
This command simply tells Google and other search engines to ignore a particular page on your site. Why would anyone want to do that? Usually because the page is of no value to external visitors e.g. company policy documents.

MozRank
A proprietary measurement of link and page authority created by the team at Moz.com. While very popular in the past, it has been overtaken by the more popular DR (Domain Rank) measurement used by Ahrefs.

Ranking Factor
A range of criteria and checks deployed by a search engine when they’re deciding where to rank your pages in their SERPs. Nobody knows exactly what Google’s ranking factors are, but what SEOs do know is there are dozens of them to take into account.

Robots.txt
This is a small text file located on your web hosting account that tells search engines how to interact with your site. It can tell search engine spiders to ignore certain pages, or entire categories of pages, for example.

Scraping
Where an SEO uses a tool like Scrapebox, or similar, to automatically harvest tens of thousands of URLs, keywords or other data from a number of different search engines. Scraping is also most commonly used in mass blog comment spam campaigns, so this practice is purely in the domain of grey or black hat SEOs.

Search Console
Part of the Google Webmaster Tools suite, Search Console allows you to track visitor activity on your site over the last 90 days. You can use it to generate reports on clicks, impressions and what keywords each page of your site ranks for in Google.

SERPs
This is an acronym for Search Engines Results Pages, and is used to describe the page of results that appear in Google when you search for a keyword.

SEO
This stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and is an all-encompassing term that covers everything required to optimise a website so that it can attract lots of free organic traffic from Google and other search engines.

SEM
Search Engine Marketing is a type of digital marketing that focuses on generating traffic to websites using only paid traffic, although some people will use SEM interchangeably with SEO.

Sitemap
A specific page on your site, usually in XML format, that contains links to all the different pages on your site that you want included in Google’s index.

Spider
A small computer program which visits your websites, analyzes the content, internal links, external links, and then reports this information back to Google, or Bing, for example.

Unique Visitor
This is a measurement of how many unique individuals visit your site within a given timeframe. So, if the same person visits your website (from the same IP address) 30 times each month, they will still only show up in your search analytics software as a single unique visitor.

URL
Another acronym, this time standing for Uniform Resource Locator. This is another way of saying “web address” e.g. wwww.finetunedigital.com is a URL.

Web Host
A web host stores all the text, images and other media that make up your website. Choosing a fast web host, or dedicated web hosting, is important because the speed your web pages load is now an important ranking factor in Google. This will cost more but the benefits are more than worth it.

Webmaster Tools
This is a suite of free software from Google that allows you to monitor different aspects of visitor activity on your website. Search Console is a key component of Google Webmaster Tools.

Web Spam
In much the same way that email spam clutters up your inbox, web spam is what black hat SEOs do to clutter up the search results pages (SERPs) with sites they’re ranking for customers. Google has an entire team dedicated to fight web spam, so it’s a bad idea to do anything they consider spammy.

Types of SEO

Black Hat SEO
When you use SEO strategies and tactics that Google doesn’t approve of because they’re designed to do nothing more than boost the rankings of a website, even if the site is of very low quality.

Grey Hat SEO
A grey hat SEO will use a mixture of both white hat and the less risky black hat SEO strategies to help you rank in Google. Grey hat SEOs are usually black hat SEOs who haven’t figured out that white hat is less expensive and more effective in the long term.

White Hat SEO
This is when you only ever use on-page and off-page SEO techniques that Google approves of. It’s very rare for a website using 100% white hat SEO to be penalized by Google.

User Experience (UX)

Authority Site
A high quality website that features dozens, hundreds or even thousands of pages of in-depth content on a given subject. TheWirecutter.com was a perfect example of an authority site, and it recently sold to The New York Times for US$20 million.

Bounce Rate
This is a measurement of how “sticky” your site is for visitors. Your bounce rate is calculated as a percentage of how many people visit your site, read one page of content, and then leave. An average page will have a bounce rate of around 70%, which is considered “normal”. Abnormal bounce rates are anything over 80%, although this depends on the market you’re in, and shouldn’t be taken as an absolute.

Conversion Rate Optimisation
The process of increasing the number of visitors to your site who take a preferred action e.g. downloading an app, filling out a form, or ordering a sample. Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) allows you to get more leads/sales from the same level of traffic your website has right now.

CTR
Click Through Rate is a measurement of how many people click on your website listing in Google, on a PPC ad, or on an internal link on your site, versus the number of people who saw the link in the first place.

Summing It up

So what’s your favourite piece of SEO terminology, or is there anything we missed in our roundup?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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