Philip Westfall, October 18, 2017
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a broad topic that can be very intimidating for beginners.
Without a strong understanding of SEO basics and terminology, it will be difficult to figure what you should be doing to start seeing results.
Here are simple definitions for 20 of the most important SEO terms you need to understand before you get started.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the rankings of a web page (or website) in a search engine, such as Google. Proper SEO allows a website to maximize its visibility in a search engine result page (SERP), resulting in “free” or “organic” traffic.
Keywords are the words searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries”. When they are short and cover very large topics, they are referred to as broad keywords. The longer and more specific phrases are called long-tail keywords. By adding targeted keywords throughout your content, you can send relevancy signals to search engines about a given query.
A web page's title tag is the most important on-page ranking signal. It summarizes the content found on the page. A title tag should include target keywords that are relevant to the specific page. Title tags appear in different places, including: browser tabs, search engine results pages and external sites (e.g., Facebook).
Meta descriptions, while not directly tied to search engine rankings, play an important role in improving the click-through-rate within a SERP. These descriptions, typically under 160 characters, help describe what is on a specific page. They appear underneath the Title Tag and URL in a rich snippet as shown below.
Heading tags are the titles and subtitles found within a web page. They rank in importance from <h1> to <h6>. The most important tag is the H1 tag, and the least important is H6. There should only be one H1 tag per page and it should be used on the most important and relevant title.
Alt text (alternative text) is placed within the HTML code to describe an image. The initial purpose for alt text is accessibility. Visually impaired individuals who use screen readers will read the alt text to better understand what the image is about. Alt text also shows up when an image doesn’t load on a page and it assists crawlers to index images properly. Here's a quick example.
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator), also known as ‘web address’, determines the location of a resource on the internet. This could be a web page, image file, video or anything else hosted on a server. A URL replaces the IP address (numerical label assigned to devices connected to a Network) that computers use to communicate with servers. The chosen words, as well as their order, play an important part in SEO because they give crawlers a good indication of the importance and the content of a web page.
Robots.txt is a simple text file that gives instructions about what pages to crawl and what pages to ignore. You can find your robots.txt file by adding /robots.txt to your root domain (www.example.com/robots.txt). Robots.txt files require a user-agent (types of web-crawling software) and directions (e.g., allow, disallow, crawl-delays).
Indexing is the process that search engines go through when they discover a new or updated page on the internet. After crawling, data is sorted and stored to facilitate information retrieval. If a page is not “indexed” within a search engine, there is no chance for it to rank. You can use search engine operators such as ‘site:’ to determine how many pages of a website are currently indexed. (ie: site:www.example.com)
SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page. These are the pages that searchers are directed to after entering a query. SERP’s typically show a combination of organic results and SERP features. SERP features are the non-traditional organic results on a SERP. These include ads (e.g.,Google AdWords), rich snippets (like product ratings), featured snippets, knowledge graphs, image results and others. SERP features have shown to improve CTR and improve organic rankings. Proper markup (including Schema Markup) can improve chances of getting a SERP feature.
A Sitemap is an XML file that lists all the URLs for a website. It allows the site owners to include additional information about each URL, such as: how often it’s updated, when was the last update, and the importance of the pages. Sitemaps are not mandatory but they do provide search engines with details about how to interpret and potentially better rank web pages. You can view your sitemap.xml file by adding /sitemap.xml to your root domain (www.example.com/sitemap.xml)
Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. SEO best practices suggests having relevant and natural flowing text that gives search engines and site visitors information about the linked page. Generic text like ‘here’ and ‘more’ should be avoided as they don’t provide relevant information about the link. ‘Keyword stuffing’ your anchor text should also be avoided. This is when anchor text is overly optimized for target keywords and no longer feels natural to a human reading the page.
Internal and inbound links are two types of hyperlinks that vary based upon where they are linking to and from. Internal links stay within the same website or domain. Inbound links, also know as “external links” or “backlinks” come from external websites or domains. Both internal and external links help for SEO. It’s important to note that backlinks are still considered as the most important off-page ranking signal.
Link equity, also known as link juice, refers to the ‘value’ that is transferred through a link. Essentially, it is the idea that URLs (web pages) can acquire authority through the inbound links that point to them. The higher the authority of the links, the more value that is passed. This concept also demonstrates how quality is much more important than quality. In reality, very poor quality links (ie: SPAM) pointing to your site can actually hurt your SEO. You should ask to have these links removed or disavow them.
Both individual web pages and entire domains (websites) can acquire authority through inbound links. The concept of Domain Authority (DA) is a “search engine ranking score, developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.” When acquiring inbound links, it’s important to look at both Page and Domain authority. A link from a website's homepage is worth much more than an unpopular blog post!
When linking to an resource online (web page), you can decide if you want to pass link equity or not. By adding a “nofollow” attribute to a link, you are telling search engines to not pass any link equity to the target page. This can be used in various scenarios such as when naming competitors, in comments to avoid SPAM or on paid links.
When links pointing to your site are of very low quality (e.g., SPAM), it’s recommend that you reach out and ask to have the links removed. If unsuccessful, you can add the URL or entire domain to a disavow text file. This file is uploaded to search engines to tell them that you don’t want to consider inbound links from the specified source. Disavowing backlinks is only recommended for advanced SEOs with previous technical knowledge, as adding the wrong domains to a disavow file can severely damage rankings.
A Canonical link element allows website owners to determine a preferred version of a web page to display in search engines and to avoid duplicate content issues. The concept is simple: if you have multiple versions of the same content, you pick one “canonical” version and point the search engines at that. This can be helpful to ensure inbound links get attributed to a single page and don’t get diluted to multiple versions of the same page.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. This redirect sends site visitors and web crawlers to a different web page than the original one requested. Typically, 301 redirects are used to associate common web conventions (http://, https://, www., etc.) with one URL to maximize domain authority. They are also used to avoid broken links and maintain authority when renaming a page or domain.
Schema markup is a type of code that helps search engines provide additional information about the content on a website. There are hundreds of “schemas” (types), each associated with a different set of properties. Commonly used schemas include: events, products, reviews, locations, creative works (books, movies) and embedded objects. Adding schema markup will increase the chances of getting SERP features such as rich snippets.
Now that you’ve got an understanding of important SEO terms, what’s next?
If you think I missed any important SEO terms, let me know in the comments!
Join our monthly newsletter for helpful tips on SEO, Web design, and more!