This guide to SEO terminology, an SEO Jargon File, if you like, will help you get oriented so that you can begin moving forward with confidence to improve the SEO performance of your website.
Update! We got such fun feedback from this blog post about the deeper meaning of SEO glossary terms that we decided to turn it into a searchable online lexicon of SEO slang, jargon, and buzzwords. If you enjoy this article you might also love the SEO Jargon File — the opinionated glossary of essential SEO vocabulary.
Search Engine Optimization.
This is the name for the collection of activities which, together, help search engines like Google map the queries people make to the content of a relevant web site.
(A website needs SEO like a flower needs the rain, like a plankton needs a whale, like the sailing ship needs a barrel of limes to prevent scurvey. OK, maybe the plankton could manage to get along, without the whale.)
SEO Ave Maria
A desperate last-chance gamble, buying backlinks from shady internet sites and, often as not, paying in ⚠️ $Bitcoin ⚠️.
If you work for a Venture Capital funded startup, don't wait until the product is finished to start thinking about SEO. Just as important to sucess as a mobile-first website design is an SEO-first marketing strategy.
You can throw the Hail Mary pass to win the game when you're down by more than six points, but it likely won't work. Don't buy backlinks that you wouldn't want The Lady of the Lake or your mom to see.
Your website may be more relevant than another, similar website, if it answers a question that somebody asked a search engine whereas the other website doesn't answer the question.
Search engines like Google exist to help people find answers to questions amidst billions of web pages, each a possible answer (most of them the wrong answer). The task of search engine optimization of a website is to help the index understand the answers you offer (content, products, services) and match your pages to the questions people ask when they are looking for something like what you offer.
A mapping of unstructured data (the content on your website) to structured data, so that the correct unstructured data can be quickly found when looking for it.
A "Rolodex", card catalogs in libraries, phone books — all the analogs we have are so old that they don't really work very well even as metaphor, any longer. Indexes are basically invisible to us, now, all digital, hidden away inside our magic screens. Google provides several, often very highly relevant, possible answers to your question in a fraction of a second, from hundreds of thousands of other possible answers, by means of a truly mind-blowing index.
The Index created by The Algorithm. The only index that matters, at the moment, is the Google index, hence The Index.
Search Engine Results Page.
This is a list of web pages that might answer the question that a person asked Google, Bing, or some other specialty index.
Similar to a recipe, an automated process for performing a complex task in a series of steps. The process whereby Google (or hypothetically some other search engine) analyzes a web page to determine its relevance for a given query is sometimes known as "The Algorithm".
The process which creates the Google Index, which truly is, for most web sites most of the time, the only index that matters.
The name of the original Google algorithm for inspecting a web page and assigning it rank in the form of a number from 1 (low) to 10 (high).
For several years, Google allowed anyone to query the PageRank of any given web page. This was discontinued several years ago. The SEO industry now must guess, and devise clever ways to test, to see what The Algorithm thinks about one method of providing structure and content, as compared with another. Fortunately, Google does provide hints, now and then, so there are tea leaves to read, as well. We're not flying totally blind, here.
An HTML convention for describing a web page in the "meta tags" of the header section of an HTML file. You can include a link to a "hero image" to display when the web page is shared on social media platforms and in certain text messaging services like Apple Messages.
An image which is memorable and relevant to your website or page, and which is displayed when you share a link on social media.
When a link is shared on FaceBook or Twitter, the platform scans the "header" of the HTML of the web page, and if the Open Graph "meta tags" are defined, loads a brief description and an image to diplay with the link.
Use of a hero image is important to SEO because it helps the algorighms in our minds understand and index the link to your site in our memories. It's important to undersand the feedback loop between the search engine algorithms and the algorithms in our minds.
A mention of your business by name, especially if your address and phone (NAP) are included in the mention.
The algorithm notices such mentions and values them highly — even if the mention doesn't include a link to your website.
This partly explains why there are uncounted (though perhaps countable) web sites which are little more than an excuse to publish a list of businesses that was scraped from the internet by a web crawler. If you want a glimpse into this dismal corner of the Internet, Google up a few small businesses in your neighborhood and look at the second page of results, which are mostly Yelpholes.
An questionable if not downright dystopian internet business model based on the concept of a black hole, which tries to suck you into it's "platform" with dirty tricks.
These businesses use web crawlers to scrape the Internet and pre-populate a database with incorrect information about your business, so that you are forced to "claim" your "page" at their "index" website to fix your contact information in case anybody finds it there (which does sometimes happen).
They tend to target small, local businesses, like restaurants and repair shops. They tend to avoid big businesses because the foutune 500 have attorneys in-house and regional businesses have attorneys on speed-dial. Grub Hub uses a variation of this strategy as an engine for growth for their "gig economy" business.
This business model constitutes an attack on your control over your web presence and could be considered a form of blackmail.
Weirdly a Google thing called "Google Sites" is based on the Yelphole model. Google Sites could be considered a counter-attack on this business model, because they aim to get the data right, and Google Sites will rank higher in search results than the spam Yelphole sites, thus squeezing off their advertising revenue money supply.
Unfortunately a proper SEO strategy requires making an assessment of this situation and possibly correcting misinfomration by "claiming" these fake pages. This should only be done when absolutely necessary, though. Starving them of attention is the best cure.
Never pay the ransom. Claim the page only if absolutely necessary, and never if you must pay any fee, at all, to do so. The best way to deal with these lowlifes is to bury them with higher-ranking search results, so that your customers don't stumble into their web by accident.
Perhaps a community effort to identify Yelpholes and add them to various DNS Blackhole Lists might help.
There exist many Yelpholes, each a wretched cesspool of scum and villainy.
The Yelphole is an example of a Catch 22.
The content of relevance to SEO consists of anything which can be indexed by The Algorithm, mainly text, but spoken language audio from podcasts and YouTube videos is emerging (circa 2021) as indexable content.
Content is King
The Algorithm at some point in its infancy realized that there's a feedback loop between regular production of content and audience growth for a web site. The Algorithm thinks this is fantastic. The Algorithm thinks Content is King, because the marketplace of our minds, the aggregate human hive mind, continue to reinforce this signal.
This is not good. It has resulted in the waste of untold billions of hours of human lives being wasted, as the Internet raced to the bottom, dispensing with editors and careening wildly to ever greater generation of mountains of low-information-density content.
The Algorithm overvalues fresh, low-information-density content, too highly. This is almost certainly due to a feedback loop between The Algorithm and the algorithms in our heads.
A sardonic expression referring generally to slightly dystopian emergent properties of the mass of human minds being connected in many-to-many communication via the Internet. Also, the sardonic reverse side of the "wisdom of crowds" coin.
The optimists who invented the Internet and build the early web thought it would be great if people could more easily connect. They failed to properly anticpate that psychopaths, charlatans, and authoritarians of various flavors, including some we thought had been defeated in famous wars like the American Civil War and World War II, would also find eachother, unleashing the meme equivlent of the zombie apocolypse.
Wisdom of Crowds
The (overly optimistic) notion that crowds reach, on average, better decisions than individual people or small groups. It's possible this may only be apparently true, a statistical mirage perhaps because most people pull down the average of the individual, thus lowering the threshold for perceived crowd wisdom. The historical record doesn't shine all that favorably on crowds.
Crowds that aren't wise are, by social convention, usually called mobs, so the "wisdom of crowds" crowd are sheltered linguistically from confronting the mountain of historical evidence contravening this hypotheis. Every authoritarian dystopia that hunanity has ever tried was powered by a crowd that was pretty sure it was right about something that it was, in fact, very wrong about.
The "wisdom of crowds" hypothesis also fails to properly account for much of human advancement (at least prior to the discovery of the scientific method) being the apparant result of singular great minds. Socrates, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin weren't multitudes.
Popularized by the 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki, the idea has some merit. Certain carefully constructed experiments also seem to indicate that crowds have the potential to converge on something useful.
In practice, the nature of the minds (trained vs untrained, open vs closed, authoritarian vs liberal, informed vs uninformed), the nature of the task at hand, and the communications mechanisms available, all seem to, sometimes radically, alter the optimium group size for exemplary performance of a task, such as but not limited to reaching a wise decision.
[Editor's Note: I've long suspected that the ideal size for a trivia team is 5 or 6. Agile programming practicitioners believe that pair programming is an ideal organizational structure for writing code, though there is a growing interest in what's been called "mob" programming, where an entire team of five or six people including two or three programmers, a user experience designer, and a domain expert work together to produce the product, all around the same desk.]
A strategy for creating online content which is intended to be easily discoverable by people who are likely to have interest in a given product or service offering.
Subject matter which remains useful to people over a period of years, rather than hours or days, deliverd in some form which is discoverable and indexable by The Algorithm.
Typically this takes the form of articles for online magazines, blog posts, certain discussion forum comments, and may even include posts on social media platforms, such as Twitter (i.e. those which allow posts to be indexed by The Agorithm).
Articles about a football match on a particular day might be very popular the next day, but rapidly decay into irrelevance. Thoughtful, well written, and not too lengthy articles about human psychological motivations, how to perform a particular task in a programming language, or opinion pieces about the music of popular bands, for example, might remain relevant for decades.
This SEO Jargon File (SEO Glossary) is intended to be evergreen content. The principles of search engine optimization tend not to change much. Particulars do change from time to time, such as voice medium (podcasts) becoming indexable content. If we update this glossary as new terms come into popular use, this document could remain relevant to people learning about SEO for years to come.
A type of computer program, typically using artificial intellignce or machine learning techniques, designed to produce many, roughly equivalent, variants for a given natural language text input. This allows the same content to be re-used on several different web sites while appearing to be new, organically generated content, on each site.
If you've ever clicked on a link and got partway through reading the text, and thought, "this is clunky, almost like it was run through a translator app" you may have stumbled upon one of these sites.
Content in the form of blog posts, online magazine articles, discussion forum posts and comments — and soon, podcasts — which is both concerning the topic of SEO and also intended as fodder for The Algorithm.
Meta SEO content often has the primary purpose of boosting visibility of a brand, SEO consultant, or SEO web design company, in The Index. It might or might not appear to also have the distant secondary purpose to inform any potential reader about the ostensible topic, SEO.
That's why so much of the content in the top dozen search results about anything related to SEO appears incomplete, rushed, sloppy, inadequate, deceptive, or simply uninteresting.
Search terms related to SEO are probably among the most competitive in the entire index.￼
The dominance of schlock in these search results might be an indication that The Algorithm struggles to identify quality content over keyword mashups. In other topic areas The Algorithm seems to do a better job, however, so this might merely be an indication of an industry which has largely become distorted.
Has the extreme competitive nature of the SEO market resulted in a race to the bottom?
Marketing practices for SEO services and meta SEO content itself may have become corrupted by devaluing authenticity, integrity, and quality, in favor of a strategy of overwhelming the index by attrition through spamming, content spinning, and the mathematics of back links from bot-managed link farms.
It’s also possible that these dismal strategies aren’t even merely sufficient, but optimal. Perhaps the low quality of marketing content in this field is a harbinger, perfectly honed by extraordinarily intense competition, and this phenomenon will spread and eventually become dominant in all of marketing.
An SEO strategy whereby lots of low-volume search keywords in a market are targetted. In highly competitive markets with well-established top tier players, it can be difficult to get attention by going after the most popular search terms when several players with larger budgets can dominate simply by producing high quality content in volumes that smaller companies don't have the budget to sustain.
Smaller players could try to produce viral content, which is a bit of a crap shoot. Alternatively, they could target lots of search phrases that the established players are ignoring.
This might lead to capturing business directly.
Oddly, a few prominent SEO practitioners and companies seem to have very different ideas about what a "long tail" SEO strategy is. However, the descriptions offered were so complex and muddled that I wasn't able to divine a reasonable second definition. I suspect that those discussions may have been the output product of content spinners, and that there really isn't a strong contender for these alternate approaches to a long tail SEO strategy.
Backlinks / Linkbacks
A link from any other website in the index, to the website in question (your website).
Links from other websites are one of the most important signals to The Algorithm of the relevance of your website. It's most helpful if the pages linking to your site have content and use keywords which are relevant to the topic of your page or website.
The Algorithm values backlinks so highly, however, that there's an entire, highly profitible, industry in creating fake websites (known as "link farms") or spamming links in the open comment sections of Chinese, Russian, and Martian porn sites. Don't buy links back to your site. You might get a little bump in traffic, but it's unlikely to result in more business and it's potentially embarrassing.
SEOtipster can help you develop a more effective web presence.
I'll need to swing back here and make definitions for a handful of other bits of SEO jargon, probably including most of these. Let's try to keep it fun, as well as informative, and order them not alphabetically, but rather as part of an unfolding story and journey of discovery.
The Algorithm, by presenting us with search results that are optimized to get us to click, may re-inforce some algorithms in our minds, while others atrophy.
an HTML element included in the head section of an HTML or XML document which can provide structured meta data about the document by declaring the value of several different attributes
Mobile-first Web Design
the proposition, now widely accepted in the web design community, that the user experience will be best served by designing websites that work well on moble devices
the proposition that marketing plans (and the websites which are among their primary products) should incorporate the need for SEO into the requirements
DNS (Domain Name System)
Spider / Bot / Web Crawler
Computer programs which are designed to look for information on the World Wide Web by following links on web pages, from one to the next.
A system the provides a way for a web server and web browser to establish a secure connection (formerly known as SSL).