The ABCs of SEO – Terms You Should Know
Search engine optimization is complicated stuff, and just like any specialized field, it has its own set of jargon and vocabulary terms. In recent years, SEO has exploded in popularity, meaning more and more people have heard of it. Most of these people have a basic understanding of what it is, but they often lack knowledge about some of the basic concepts and tactics used as part of an SEO strategy. Many times, when people (like me) who work in search marketing talk about SEO, they use terms that they assume are commonly understood. Often, this isn’t the case.
To help bridge the gap, I’ve created a little A to Z list of some essential SEO terms that I hope will come in handy for new search marketing professionals and clients seeking a little more information.
A – Anchor text. This is the text displayed in the clickable portion of a link. Search engines use this text to determine the content and relevancy of the page being linked to. In the SEO world, descriptive anchor text is always better, so you’d want to choose “list of SEO best practices” instead of “click here.” However, it’s also important to be aware of the anchor text used in links pointing to your site. Several inbound links to a single page with keyword-rich anchor text will raise a red flag to the search engines and cause them to examine your site’s backlink profile for spam activity, which could lead to a penalty.
B – Bounce rate. This is an engagement metric used to help determine how your audience is interacting with the content on your site and how valuable your website is to them. A “bounce” happens when a visitor lands on your site and leaves without visiting another page. In other words, they leave from the same page they landed on. Bounce rate is a somewhat amorphous metric because a high rate could mean that the content was irrelevant or it could mean that visitors found what they were looking for immediately and didn’t need to click through to additional pages.
C – Cloaking. Cloaking is an old-school, unethical practice of displaying certain text on a website to users but showing additional, hidden (usually keyword stuffed and spammy) content to search engines. For example, text could be written in the HTML code for search engines then displayed on the site as white text on a white background so users can’t see it. It is a common tactic used by hackers and a major violation of Google’s quality guidelines.
D – Duplicate Content. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Duplicate content is content that is very similar or identical to content found elsewhere on the web or even within your own site. It’s the web version of plagiarism, and if widespread, it can set your site up for a serious search engine penalty, probably related to Panda.
E – Equity. Typically used when discussing links, equity means value. Search engines view links as votes of confidence in a site, so passing “link equity” means letting search engines know you approve of the site you’re linking to and its content.
F – Flash. Content structured inside Adobe Flash is notoriously difficult for search engines to decipher. While they claim to have gotten better at it in recent years, it’s a safe bet that they still don’t understand it. From an SEO perspective, building a website in Flash is a no-no.
G – Guest Blogging. A tried-and-true link building tactic, guest blogging is the practice of reaching out to successful blogs and offering to contribute a post in the hopes of earning a link back to your own website. Matt Cutts recently caused an uproar when he said that guest blogging for SEO was dead. In actuality, he was referring to the act of guest blogging solely for links. Engaging in the practice for brand, authority and community building is still alive and well. However, it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to be successful.
H – Hats. SEO professionals fall into three camps: black hat, gray hat, and white hat. Black hat SEOs are those who participate in activities (such as buying links or cloaking) that clearly violate search engine guidelines. White hat SEOs do things by the book, ensuring that the sites they manage and the tactics they use adhere to quality guidelines and best practices. Gray hat SEOs are somewhere in the middle. They’re mostly good but are likely to use a risky tactic every once in a while.
I – Intent. One of the primary objectives of SEO (and the search engines, for that matter) is understanding searcher intent. If you understand what a searcher is looking for and why they are seeking information, you are better able to produce high-quality content that deserves to be ranked in the top spot.
J – Juice. “Link juice” is another commonly used phrase that refers to the value passed by links from one site to another.
K – Keywords. The words or phrases a searcher types into a search engine. These are the terms that SEO professionals evaluate for search volume and difficulty and attempt to get their websites to rank for. Keywords are a foundational SEO element and while the importance of individual keywords has been the subject of debate lately, having the right words (and related terms) on the page is still crucial to ranking well.
L – Links. Links are the building blocks of the web, and they’re the guide map for search engines. Spiders (or robots) use links to travel from one page on the web to the next and to discover new content. The collection of inbound links to a site makes up its backlink profile, something the search engines evaluate and weigh heavily in their algorithms. Having links from high-quality, authoritative sites to your website can give your organic visibility and traffic a huge boost.
M – Meta Data. Meta data is a set of tags found within the’
section of the HTML code on a webpage. There are three distinct tags: meta title, meta description, and meta keywords. The meta title appears at the top of the browser window and is still a prime place for targeted keywords. The meta description is roughly 155 characters of descriptive text about the page itself. While it is not a search engine ranking factor, a good meta description can help improve the click-through rate to your website. The meta keywords tag was once used to tell search engines about the targeted keywords within a webpage. It was so abused by spammers that it is no longer a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm and, as such, is no longer widely used.
N – Not Provided. The bane of every professional SEO’s existence. In September 2013, Google made all of its searches secure, meaning that keyword data would no longer be passed to site owners. The percentage of not provided keywords has steadily been growing, with many sites approaching 100%. One of the primary methods for tracking the success of an SEO campaign was reporting on keywords sending traffic to specific landing pages. With the rise of not provided, tracking success has become increasingly difficult.
O – On-page and Off-page. On-page optimization refers to SEO tactics employed directly on your website, such as content optimization, meta data optimization and image alt text optimization. Off-site optimization refers to tactics used outside of your website, such as link building and ethical guest posting.
P – Pogo-sticking. A phenomenon that occurs when a user clicks through to your website from the search results, then immediately returns to results page to find content that better satisfies their query. A high rate of pogo-sticking can send negative signals to the search engines about the value and quality of your site.
Q – Query. A query is what is typed into a search engine. This can be exactly the same as a keyword phrase, or it can be a variation of a keyword or a longer, more complex question, such as “Where can I order Chinese food in Atlanta?” This is the type of query that Google has gotten better at understanding through its Hummingbird algorithm.
R – Redirects. A redirect sends users and search engines from one URL to another. One of the most commonly used redirects is the 301 redirect, which signals that a URL has been permanently moved. When redesigning a website, it is crucial that you correctly map and implement 301 redirects from old URLs to new URLs in order to maintain the website’s ranking power.
S – Sitemap. Simply put, sitemaps are lists of the pages on your website. There are two primary types associated with SEO: HTML sitemaps, which are commonly found in the footer of a site and are used to help visitors navigate through content, and XML sitemaps, which help the search engines find all of your content.
T – Title Tag. Commonly used to refer to the meta title of a page. See meta data.
U – Universal Results. This is the phrase used to refer to the collective results that could appear in the search engine results pages, including organic results, images, videos, Knowledge Graph data, and local results.
V – Value. The importance and usefulness of your website and its content. Search engines seek to reward websites that provide value to their users.
W – Webmaster Tools. A free program from Google that provides site owners with additional information on website health and performance. For more in-depth info, take a look at my Webmaster Tools overview.
X – Xenu Link Sleuth. A tried-and-true SEO tool that provides a list of all the links on any given website. It is particularly useful for creating a 301 redirect plan during a redesign.
Y – Yahoo and Bing. Obviously, these are the two other major search engines. Yahoo is owned by Bing, which supplies its search results.
Z – Zeal. SEOs have to be passionate about what they do and willing to experiment. This field requires a lot of trial and error, and you should be ready to take chances!