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Simple Glossary of SEO Terms

Alt text: Also "alternative text". An HTML attribute that's used to describe an image for Google and other search engines. Search engines don't have the ability to "see" and recognize images (photos, videos, clipart, etc.) the way people do. By including alt text in the HTML, search engines can interpret that alt text and "understand" what the image is. Providing good alt text is an SEO ranking factor.

Backlink: Also "inbound link". A link pointing to your website from another website. Three major criteria for backlinks are quantity, quality, and relevancy. In this context, quantity refers to the sheer number of backlinks pointing to your site, quality refers to the "quality" or "importance" of the page or site providing the backlink, and relevancy refers to how relevant that page or site is to your page or site. Backlinks should be manually-placed, permanent, and a mix of "dofollow" and "nofollow" links. Backlinks can play a big role in your site's SEO.

Black hat: SEO techniques that violate Google’s guidelines and can result in penalties for your site. Google and others (including search engines and other types of sites) have rules prohibiting SEO techniques intended to "trick" or "fool" them into ranking you higher. Examples include "keyword stuffing", "content cloaking", "content scraping", "mirror sites", and many more.

Blog: A blog can be your entire website or a section of your site where you post original articles on a reasonably regular basis (once per month can be plenty). Posting regularly can help get your site crawled more frequently by Google and other search engines for increased SEO benefit. And sharing your posts on a site such as Facebook can help increase Facebook followers, awareness for your business, and visitors to your site ... all of which is good for your SEO and your business.

Citation: Also “business listing”, "local business listing", or “local citation”. An online reference (such as Facebook, Google My Business, LinkedIn, Yelp, etc.) that includes the name, address, and phone (NAP) of your business. The more such citations your business has, the better for your SEO.

Click-through-rate: Also "CTR". The number of clicks, calls, and other desired actions compared to the number of pay-per-click (PPC) ad impressions. Helps you measure and improve the quality and performance of your PPC advertising.

Heading tag: An HTML element used to designate various levels of titles and headings (h1 through h6) on a webpage. Using heading tags is an SEO ranking factor that helps Google understand the intended hierarchy and organization of your site's content, as well as showing Google that you're providing that structure for the benefit of your site's visitors.

HTML: Hypertext Markup Language. The primary programming language used to create web pages. Most software that's used for the development and design of websites creates the corresponding HTML.

Image compression: Making image file sizes smaller so they load faster, while retaining appropriate image quality. Typically more important for photographs than for clipart and other types of images, as photos are frequently taken at high resolutions that can result in very large files sizes. Because page load speed is such an important SEO ranking factor, keeping image file sizes relatively small is a must.

Here's an example of image compression for SEO:

baseball glove holding baseball next to baseball bat on outfield grass of empty baseball field

Uncompressed: 116KB

baseball glove holding baseball next to baseball bat on outfield grass of empty baseball field

Compressed: 17.6KB


These are two versions of the same photograph. Each measures 450 pixels wide by 300 pixels high. The picture on the left is uncompressed, and its file size is 116 kilobytes (116 thousand bytes, or 116KB). The picture on the right is carefully compressed, with a greatly reduced file size of 17.6KB. They look virtually identical, don't they? The human eye sees the compressed version as being completely acceptable. Use compressed images for faster page load speeds, improving your site's ranking.

(Note: Please don't confuse (1) file size, (2) image size, and (3) image quality. Image compression is used to reduce an image's file size (measured in bytes), not its physical size (measured in pixels, inches, etc.). And in this context, image quality refers to whether the compressed version looks good enough to please the human viewer, even if technically it might not be quite as impressive and flawless as its uncompressed version.)

Internal link: Any link on your site that point to another location or page on your site. "Broken" internal links can harm your SEO efforts, so you want to test all of them to be certain they're working as they should.

Local query: A search query in which the searcher is looking for something in a nearby location, such as “coffee shop near me” or “auto repair san francisco.” As you might surmise, these types of queries - and their results - are especially important for a local business.

Long-tail keyword: Longer search queries, typically containing three to four words or more. There's actually a bit of an art to constructing ─ and anticipating ─ good search queries. Many people tend to use either too few or too many words in their queries. If, for example, you're searching for a motor vehicle repair shop in San Francisco, you might use something like "find an auto repair shop in San Francisco". However, for a search like this there's no need to include words like "find", "an", "shop", or "in", and there's no need to capitalize the "S" and "F" in "San Francisco". And it doesn't matter whether you use "auto", "automobile", "car", "vehicle", etc. Any reasonably synonymous word works just as well. So keep it simple with something like: "car repair san francisco". If you prefer finding a place closer to your location, modify the "coffee shop" example shown above under Local query to "car repair near me". And as you might imagine, if your business is auto repair, these  and more  long-tail keyword variations can be important for the content and SEO of your site.

Meta description: An HTML element (tag) that describe the contents of a web page. Google can display this in search result snippets to provide people with additional information about a site or page.

Mobile-first indexing: Google crawls and indexes your site’s pages based on their mobile version rather than their desktop version. This is yet another reason why your site's mobile version is so important for SEO.

Organic: Unpaid placement in search results, as opposed to paid advertising such as Google Ads. This is where good SEO really shines and why it's essential.

Outbound link: Any link pointing to another website from your website. Google rewards you for including outbound links on your site, as doing so demonstrates that you're open to sharing other resources and more information with your site's visitors.

Page speed: How fast a web page loads. Page load speed is an important SEO ranking factor.

Query: Also "search query" or "search term". Words entered into a search box.

Ranking: Search results sequenced by their relevance to the query.

Relevance: How well a search result matches what the searcher is looking for.

Responsive design: A website that adapts to the screen size of whatever device it’s being viewed on, from desktop displays to handheld smartphones.

Rich snippet: A snippet is the title and description preview that Google and other search engines show of URLs on its results page. A “rich” snippet is an enhanced version of a standard snippet.

Scraped content: Taking content from a website you don’t own and republishing it on your own site without permission. This practice is unethical and can even be considered plagiaristic, depending upon the source of the content, how ─ and for what purpose ─ the scraped content is being used, and whether ─ if necessary ─ appropriate credit is being given. Using scraped content can be very harmful to your site's SEO and ranking.

SERP: “search engine results pages”. The pages that appear as results for a search. By default, most web browsers display ten organic results per page, plus other items such as local listings and pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

Sitemap: A list of URLs on your site that search engines can use to discover and index your site’s content. Some website design software automatically creates a sitemap for your site.

SSL certificate: A “Secure Socket Layer” encrypts data passed between the web server (where your site resides) and the searcher's browser. Having an SSL certificate is an important SEO ranking factor. And if you have an e-commerce site, it means your customers' information is protected.

Thin content: Content that provides little-to-no value for the visitor. Google doesn't penalize you for having this on your site, but you're not rewarded for it, either. Which means, of course, that it does nothing to help your site's ranking.

Thumbnail: A smaller version of a larger image, with a smaller, faster-loading file size. If your site has a number of relatively large images, and you want to provide smaller "previews" of them, use thumbnails as the previews. Your site loads faster, which ─ all other things being relatively equal ─ is always good for your SEO.

For example, let's say you're describing a beautiful, colorful picture of delicious, nutritious, healthful foods in a location that's not convenient or appropriate for displaying the full-size image. If your site's visitor wants the richer, fuller, more immersive experience of the larger photo, she can simply click on the smaller thumbnail version:

(phone users: for best results, turn phone sideways)


Clicking on the thumbnail brings up a full-size image that's 950x352 pixels, compressed to 44.6KB, while the thumbnail version of the same picture is only 237x133 pixels, compressed to just 12.8KB.

The SEO advantage of using thumbnails is that if you have larger images on your site and want to provide smaller previews of them, you're not loading the larger images twice: once at full-size and once that you simply resize for the smaller preview (keep in mind that "resizing" an image is not the same as "compressing" it). The larger version and the thumbnail are two separate files, each designed for its own intended purpose.

Title tag: An HTML element that specifies the title of a webpage. Each page on your site should have a unique title tag that provides page-specific information, written in accordance with Google's guidelines. Title tags are important SEO ranking factors.

White hat: SEO practices that comply with Google’s quality guidelines.

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