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SEO glossary – demystifying the language of the geeks

SEO glossary – demystifying the language of the geeks

If you've ever wondered what 301'ing that 404 to 200 the page meant, or what someone meant when they said they SEO'd that SMM to leverage Digg better, you're not alone.  The new language of the Internet and the professionals who help keep everything moving and found can be confusing. To help you in your next meeting, just take along this handy guide.

301 – permanent redirect. This takes all requests for a page and sends them to a different page – usually on your site.  This technique is often used when redesigning a site where pages are renamed and moved. It helps people following old links find what they are looking for, and helps your site keep the value of incoming links.

404 – page not found. This error is delivered to any agent, like your browser or ‘Googlebot’, when a page that does not exist is accessed (or not as the case would be).

200 – OK. This is the server message delivered to any agent, like Firefox or a search engine ‘spider’, when attempting to access a page that is available and fine.

Algorithm – This is the formula which calculates the weighting of over 200 individual elements in order to arrive at the position a particular page will be rated at for any particular term.  This formula is responsible for delivering the ‘SERPs’ you observe as a result of entering a query in to a search engine like Yahoo. 

Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN/Live all run their own algorithms which weight different factors differently. This is why each engine may deliver different results for the same search.

Alt Attribute/Tag – this element, called properly an attribute but commonly referred to as a tag, is what is often hidden but associated with an image.  These words are placed in the code on a page inside quote marks and looks like this: <img src=”jumping-bean.jpg” alt=”Jumping Beans on a paper”> Used by screen readers to understand what the image a user cannot see is, this element is used to help Google Image Search also understand what the image is about.

Ask – Formerly “Ask Jeeves”, Ask is one of only four search engines who have their own 'index' and 'spider' the web. Ask offers search results in a traditional format, surrounded by paid results, with the additional benefit of a site preview.  This site page preview can be accessed using the binoculars icon next to the search result (when available).

Black Hat SEO – This form of SEO is more associated but also indicated someone who breaks the Google Webmaster rules.  While these rules are fairly common sense and mostly fair, they can also be restrictive. Black Hat SEO can also involve hacking, link spamming, scraping & repurposing as well as hidden text, hidden links and related somewhat alternative forms of promoting a website in the search listings.

Cache – This most commonly refers to the scraped website content contained in a search engines 'index'.  This content is available for viewing by searchers as well as being used by the search engines themselves for pre-search query processing.

Cloaking – Both a 'black hat' and 'white' hat technique, this refers to the practice of delivering different content depending on whether the visitor is a person or a 'spider'.  This also refers to the practice of replacing image, flash or other unindexable content with indexable text which is hidden from users (who would see the same text twice then).  Cloaking is allowed when it is replacing the unindexable with indexable text provided it mirrors the unindexable copy exactly.

Google – One of four search engines running their own 'algorithms' and 'index'. This search engine runs the highest volume of search queries through its servers and feeds search results through to other search engines such as AOL.  Google feeds its paid search results through to Ask.

Googlebot – The 'spider' from Google, this program is most famous in 'SEO' and whether it visits a site with what frequency and how deep is one of the jobs at the core of 'SEO'. The purpose of this 'spider' is to visit a  site, scrape the content and dump that content in to a database called the 'index'.  Unless this 'spider' visits a website,
it will not be included in the 'index'.

HTML – HyperText Markup Language.  This is the code that is used to build a webpage, which is then interpreted by your browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome.  This special language is also what a 'spider' sees and puts in to the 'index'.  Certain parts of this code can block 'spiders' from a site as well as create 'cloaked' pages and other actions. It is the wizard behind the curtain in Oz.

Index – The index is the database of content scraped from websites held by each search engine.  In order to ensure search results are served in a timely fashion, these databases have a certain amount of pre-processing done on them.  There are billions of pages stored in search engine databases.

Keyword – This is a word or phrase which is of value and importance on a page due to the subject of the page.  Keywords would not include such words as “the”, “or”, “and”, “but” and other so-called “stop” words.  These words are often excluded when searches are performed. Keywords can be anything which encapsulates the theme of a page in a few words.  There is also a keywords 'meta tag' called 'meta keywords'.

Landing Page – This is the page of a website that a user is directed to as the result of a search query on a 'SERP' and may not be the front page of the site.  It is the most relevant page to the query. This term is also used in paid search to refer to the page an advert directs a user to upon clicking the advert.

Link – This is a reference out to another page or site.  It usually has words or an image associated with it.  The 'algorithm' uses the text associated with a link to help it understand and rank webpages.

Link Bait – This term is used to refer to any web content created specifically to provoke other users in to adding a 'link' on their site back to the content.

Live – The renamed search engine from Microsoft.  It used to be MSN.

Meta Description – Not visible on page, this is a code element what is often used by a search engine to populate the paragraph section of a result.  While this can be over-ridden by more relevant on-page text or Open Directory Project text it is usually used by a search engine to describe the content of a webpage.

Meta Keywords – Another invisible element, this is usually a list of target words that a page wishes to be ranked for.  Vanessa Fox once said that this is still looked at by Google but it is generally accepted that it is unlikely to be used for ranking.

Meta Tags – This is often the way ‘title’, description and keywords are collectively referred to though ‘title’ is not a meta tag.

Page Rank – Named after Larry Page one of the founders of Google, this refers to a score out of 10 that a webpage and website has based on a formula which weights and ranks various elements.  It is not indicative of ‘SERP’ rank, but is an indicator of strength.

Robots.txt – This is a plain text file that contains certain instructions that 'spiders' look at and follow.  May contain information about a sitemap which is a file containing information on all pages of a site, disallow or allow certain 'spiders' or other information.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing. This often refers to both organic optimisation (SEO) and paid search  together as a discipline.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. Often referred to as organic or natural search, this is the practice of making changes to the webpage, hosting, server and other factors to help a page rank better for a specific set of words.

SERP – Search Engine Result Page. This refers to the page that is delivered by a search engine in response to a word, or words, being entered and searched for.

SMM – Social Media Marketing. This is the act of marketing through social media and works closely with 'SEO' to ensure best benefit and gain is made from the efforts made through this medium

Spider – A program also known as a robot, bot or crawler which is sent out by search engines whose main duty is to follow leads to pages on the web, scrape the content of those pages and save it in the database.

Title – This is part of the code of a website which is not seen on page but is visible in the 'SERP' as the main, larger font title of the entry and  is seen as the browser title as well.  It is important as part of the marketing message each page delivers and as such must be concise, targeted and keyword rich.

URL – Uniform Resource Locator.  Generally this specifies the location of a website and is also referred to as a web address.

White Hat SEO – This term is used to refer to practitioners who specifically practice a type of SEO that involves only techniques specifically approved by search engines.  In this case, Google rules are used and generalised to all search engines.  This term is also often used in order to discredit other search practitioners. 

In general, most practitioners utilise what is referred to as 'grey hat SEO' which involves only good techniques but sometimes skirts the edges of the rules slightly without taking serious risks.

Judith Lewis is a director at Seshet Consulting, specialising in SEO, SMM and Usability.  She has been working in search online since 1996 and is a regular speaker at various marketing, social media, affiliate and search industry events.

To read from Judith Lewis, search director, journalist, SEO Chick & chocolate fanatic working in SEO and SEM Search Engine Optimising and Marketing, visit:

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