Everyone knows that SEO has a bit of a bad rep’ for being one of the ‘dark arts’ of online marketing, and with SEO terminology like ‘blackhat’ and ‘spiders’ being bandied around you could easily think SEO is more about Harry Potter than digital marketing. In short, when it comes to SEO terminology, there’s a fair bit of jargon. And even though a quick Google search for ‘SEO terms and definitions’ will deliver a whole lotta useful resources, a lot of them are written by tech sites or a filled with corporate speak. So we’ve popped together our own definitive guide to SEO terms (sans jargon and techy language) written for business owners who want to be in-the-know – whether that’s to start DIYing SEO, or simply to hold your agencies, staff, or freelancers to account.
Let’s start with the obvious one. SEO stands for search engine optimisation, and it kind of has two meanings. Firstly, its the process optimising a website to make it easier for search engines to discover and interpret – so when you do SEO, you’re trying to get website content to appear higher in search engine results pages for specific searches. Secondly, it’s a name given to people who do this as a profession – they’re often called SEOs.
Organic traffic refers to website traffic that has come from search engines naturally – that is people who have browsed the organic search results and clicked through to your site. Organic traffic does not include Google Ads (formerly, Google Adwords) traffic.
Ever heard someone say the ‘search index’ or ‘my page hasn’t been indexed yet’. There’s an absolutely enormous amount of content on the web, so to make it accessible it needs to be organised. Every search engine creates its own index using ‘web crawlers’ – a program that automatically browses the web and stores information about the pages it visits. Kind of like how big books have an index at the back to make content discovery easier.
Easy now, put down the bug spray. We don’t mean actual spiders. Google’s ‘web crawlers’ – remember, a program that automatically browses the web and stores information about the pages it visits – are often referred to as Google spiders, or Googlebots
Search engines need to deliver the most relevant and useful results in a fraction of a second, and to do that automatically they need to use mathematical systems to sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in the search index. These mathematical systems are known as the search algorithm. Each search engine has its own algorithm, but most people optimise for Google’s as its the biggest and most popular search engine.
SERPs stands for search engine results pages. And yep, it’s what it says on the tin. The pages of results you see after searching for something.
HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. Sounds fancy (and a bit complicated) but it’s really just a standardized system for customising the way content appears on website pages.
Page title tag
Page title tag (AKA page title or just title tag) is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page – basically, telling search engines what the page is all about. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the blue clickable headline, and they also appear in page tabs on your internet browser.
A meta description follows the page title tag. It’s another HTML element that supports the page title tag and providing a summary of what the page is all about. Typically, meta descriptions appear in search engines results pages (SERPs) when content in the description matches or closely relates the search intent.
H1 is an HTML element (a header tag) that generally specifies the title content of the page or post – it’s usually the largest font on the page and stands out. There are other header tags in HTML too: H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6 which are used to organise content on the page – they tell search engines content hierarchy. Typically, the H1 is the largest and H6 is the smallest.
Image alt tags
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the thing is? Search engines can’t interpret images in the same way people can. So images are given alt tags (AKA alt descriptions or alt attributes) to tell search engines what the image is all about – they provide context. Alt tags are also used by screen readers for the visually impaired – making your images accessible to those who can’t see them, too.
Keywords are a word or phrase that people enter into search engines to discover content. Understanding what keywords people use to discover content helps us optimise our content to align with the search intent of those keywords. Let’s say someone is searching for ‘organic fruit shop in Carlton’, well if your business is an organic produce store in Carlton then these keywords? They’re relevant to you.
A backlink is pretty much what it says on the tin – a link from another website back to your website.
Inbound link? Same thing as a backlink. Links from other websites that direct customers and search engines to your web page.
An internal link is a link that connects pages within your website. A link from the navigation menu to a page would be considered an internal link, as would a link in content or a button directing users to another page on your website. Internal links are a really important component of website content structure, as they guide web crawlers to pages within your website.
Duplicate content refers to substantial chunks of identical or very similar content that appear on the internet in more than one place. Considered problematic for SEO, duplicate content often doesn’t appear in search results because search engines avoid including identical content in search results (because it would make for a pretty repetitive search results page, and a poor user experience).
Standard organic results
This is the simplest form of search results. On a standard organic results page, 10 web pages are listed out with just the page title, description, and URL.
For some search queries, Google shows a block of images. And, there is always the option for users to switch to image results in the search navigation. To appear here, images need to be original and high quality, and the file name, alt tags, and descriptions need to be optimised for the desired keywords.
Local search results: Google Maps with places
When search queries include a location or the phrase ‘near me’, Google typically shows a Google Maps result with three places listed, and a button to view more places. Google My Business needs to be set up in order to appear here.
Local Knowledge Graph box
Google generally displays the local knowledge box for branded search queries, where the brand has Google My Business configured. The Local Knowledge Graph box appears on the right side of organic listings and includes photos, map location, address, phone number, website, opening, and closing timings, reviews and ratings. Depending on the type of business other information may appear like popular times to visit, booking buttons, questions and answers.
Rich Snippets appear when the site operators have included structured data markup to their HTML, which allows search engines to better understand what information is contained on each web page.
Essentially an enhanced version of a standard organic search listing, Rich Snippets are designed to give users a better idea of what’s on the web page before they click. There are a number of different types of Rich Snippet types including article, local business, music, recipe, review, television and movie, and video.
Featured Snippets are one of the most sought after listing types as they take up a large amount of ‘real estate’ on the search results page, are rich in information, and receive high click-through rates. But, they only appear sometimes.
The featured snippet is extracted programmatically from your webpage, so it has a dependency on extremely high-quality content that addresses the search query in the most relevant way. It is possible to appear in the feature snipped and in the standard organic results – yep, twice in one search results page.
Keyword research is a crucially important part of SEO, and pretty much where it all begins. When people are ‘doing keyword research’ they’re looking at the monthly search volumes for specific search terms, as well as finding out other insights like whether the keyword has high competition or lots of results in search engines.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of loading up a web page with keywords to try and influence Google search results. It’s an outdated practice and is essentially over-optimising content by adding too many keywords. It’s not considered an effective, as these days search engines often penalise sites that are guilty of keyword stuffing.
Keyword cannibalisation happens when a website has multiple pages optimised for the same keyword – usually because the website content structure has become unwieldy. When more than one page features content with the same keyword focus it is difficult for search engines to understand which one they should use in search results, so often they rank neither.
A landing page is the web page that people arrive on first, or enter your website via. Not limited to just the homepage, any discoverable page on your website can be a landing page. When website are optimised for search engines, a number of content pages may become high-traffic landing pages.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Sounds fancy, but its really not that complicated. Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI, is part of the way search engines understand our content – because they don’t consume content like humans (with context, language processing, and language association). For example, we know we’re talking about ‘jewellery’ if we’re using words like ‘rings’, ‘necklace’, ‘silver’, ‘diamond’ but search engines rely on keywords to know what content is about. This is where LSI comes in, to help search engines decipher language and classify topics based on synonyms and related terms.
Link building is the SEO practice of getting other websites to link back to your website (a backlink) with the goal of proving to search engines that your content and website is relevant. Because if someone is willing to link to it from their site, that must mean it’s good. Right? Often, the more closely related the referring website the stronger the backlink will be.
A sitemap is a list of pages within a website. It’s helpful to search engines in the same way a regular map is helpful for travellers trying to find their next destination – it shows the way. For SEO purposes, it’s usually an XML sitemap. Generally, sitemaps are submitted to search engines via the Google Search Console, so Google spiders can have the map in advance of crawling the website.
Robots.txt is a file that’s located at the root of your site that tells search engines which pages you don’t want web crawlers to access and index. Generally, robots.txt is used to reduce the chance your server to be overwhelmed by Google’s crawler or to waste ‘crawl budget’ crawling unimportant or similar pages on your site.
So we know search engines have web crawlers to help discover and index content, and crawl budget is the number of URLs web crawlers can and want to crawl each day. This is not so much of an issue for small sites that can easily and quickly be crawled, but definitely a consideration for larger sites who might want to consider what pages should be crawled and when.
If Blackhat SEO was a school kid? Basically, the kid that sits at the back of the class ignoring the teacher and setting things on fire with the bunsen burner. Yeesh. In SEO terms, black hat is blatantly disobeying search engine guidelines and employing aggressive, spammy tactics that are in no way human-centred.
Whitehat SEO, on the other hand, is playing the rules, observing search engine guidelines and focussing on a human-centred approach to content creation and website optimisation.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (previously, Google Webmaster Tools) is a free service that allows website owners to monitor and maintain their website’s presence in Google Search Results. Basically the control tower for SEO.