SEO is an industry with plenty of jargon, and more terms are added all the time. If you’re unsure about certain phrases you’ve heard being used, or want a primer before talking to a developer or marketing agency you’ll be working with, this glossary should help.
For each letter of the alphabet, we’ve taken a key term used in SEO and tried to explain it as simply as possible. Do let us know in the comments below if there are other terms you’d like explained, or anything you think we’ve missed.
Search engines can’t read an image and understand what it depicts (at least, not yet). An alt tag is used to provide a text alternative of an image – essentially, an HTML description of what that image shows, which search engines can process and index. Alt text is also used if the graphic can’t be displayed.
If SEO has a dark side, this is it. Had Darth Vader decided to give the rebels a break and try his hand at digital marketing, he would for sure have gone down this route, which encompasses all the practices that go against search engine guidelines – cloaking, negative SEO, using link farms, buying links, etc. Once upon a time it may have been effective. These days, it will eventually get your site penalised.
Earning links is hard, and people are lazy. Hence the genesis of comment spam, whereby bots paste comments in forums or at the end of articles, with a link back to another website. Everyone hates this. Make it stop.
Any content that is identical or very similar to content found on another web page. Search engines can penalise this, if it’s not clear which page should be considered the parent (a canonical tag can be used to indicate this). Duplicate content is often created accidentally; for example, via article tags in WordPress.
Easy one this – an external link is one from another domain to a page on your website. External links remain the single biggest indicator of a page’s authority in the eyes of search engines.
Google’s algorithm includes a freshness score, which helps to ensure that contemporary content ranks higher for search queries relating to trending topics. It’s therefore always a good idea to update your old content periodically.
A term for the search software used by Google to find web pages and index them. Googlebots are also known as spiders, crawlers or bots.
Hyper Text Markup Language: the language of the web, compatible with all browsers and the code that search engines can most easily process and index.
The pages on your website that have been stored as documents in a search engine’s database.
Over-use of a targeted phrase or keyword within an article, so that it reads unnaturally. It can also refer to keywords being added to elements in the menu or footer. The worst example of keyword stuffing is hiding keywords on the page (eg using white text on a white background), so that readers can’t see them but crawlers can. Never do this.
A common term, link building refers to one of the foundations of SEO. For a page to rank high in Google, it will need to have links pointing to it. Link building is the process whereby you get owners of other domains to link to your pages. The focus should always be on quality and relevance rather than volume.
The elements in the <head> section of an HTML page that indicate to search engines what your page is about. This information will not be visible on the page, but is used to display your page on the SERP (see below). The most important meta tags are the title and the description. Both are vital in improving your page’s clickthrough rate from Google.
By default, every link to another domain passes authority through to the page (hence it is known as a followed link). However, a nofollow tag can be applied to a link, to indicate that link equity should not be passed. The link functions as normal, but search engines will not give any SEO credit. Use this when linking to websites you don’t endorse, or for affiliate links.
Off-page and On-page SEO
Off-page SEO refers mainly to building links from external domains to your website’s pages. On-page SEO is optimisation work on your pages, ie improving the meta title and description, increasing the page load speed, using correct heading structure, and so on.
When a search engine actively penalises your website (either by reducing the rank of pages, or removing them from the index altogether) as a result of infringements of their guidelines. Those infringements could include cloaking, unnatural links, or spammy techniques.
To rank high on search engines, quality content is now mandatory. Quality means content that answers a search query effectively and in detail. If visitors from search spend little time on a landing page or hit the back button quickly, that’s a bad sign.
A file that blocks a search engine’s crawlers from accessing that page. Use it to prevent pages on your site with no SEO value from being indexed (eg admin pages). Misapplication of robots.txt can have a serious negative impact on a website’s search traffic.
Search Engine Results Page. The page that’s displayed when you type a query into a search engine and hit enter.
The area of SEO focused on getting a search engine’s crawlers to find your content and index it. XML sitemaps, 301 redirects, schema, page speed improvements and canonical tags all fall under the remit of technical SEO.
The web address of a particular page. For example, the URL of this page is https://business.yell.com/knowledge/seo-glossary-terms-2016
The number of times web users came to your website in a particular period. In Google Analytics, visits are called ‘sessions’, whereas unique visits are called ‘users’.
The very opposite of Black Hat (see above), White Hat comprises best practice as recommended by search engines, and is exactly the kind of SEO that Yoda would do. Follow him you should.
A file that specifies all the URLs on your website that you want to be indexed by search engines. An XML sitemap allows your website to be indexed faster, and ensures that key pages won’t be missed by crawlers.
A useful (and free) SEO plugin for WordPress, which makes it easy to optimise your pages correctly and flags potential errors.
Zombie SEO Techniques
Zombie techniques are those that have been dead for years and are no longer effective. Think link farms, keyword stuffing, cloaking.