Glossary of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Terms

  • Published
  • May 7, 2014
Cover image for search engine optimization glossary
A beginner’s guide to SEO terminology definitions and best practice recommendations

New to the world of SEO? Came across terminology you’re not familiar with while reading articles from the Local Search Tips blog series? Here is a helpful resource guide for SEO beginners such as yourself!

Let’s start by defining the term Search Engine Optimization:


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing the position of a website or webpage in search results for specific keyword phrases, and is dependent on changing particular on-page or off-page SEO components.

The act of optimizing a site or page based on current best practices and search engines’ guidelines has changed quite a bit over the years. Not sure what strategies are still acceptable and which ones are now considered to be “black hat” SEO tactics? Here is a glossary of common search engine optimization terms. Definitions, best practice recommendations and tagged top-level SEO categories are included for each. More terms will be continuously added to this page, so stay tuned!

Browse by alphabet:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Jump to top-level SEO topic:

A

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Above the Fold

  • Definition – Content that’s displayed “above the fold” is positioned in the upper half of a webpage, and is visible to users without scrolling down.
  • Best practice recommendation – Structure page layout so it’s not “top-heavy” with too much ad-space above the fold. Instead, opt for displaying quality content higher on any given webpage where possible.
  • TaggedContent, Site Structure

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B

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Black Hat SEO

  • Definition – Search engine optimization techniques are generally classified as “white hat” (if they follow search engines’ guidelines and best practices) or “black hat” (if they’re employed intentionally to be deceptive or manipulative).
  • Best practice recommendation – If you haven’t already done so, review Bing‘s or Google‘s design, content, technical and quality guidelines for webmasters. Double-check that your website abides by all rules and best practices.

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C

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Content (Quality Content)

  • Definition – Today, Google and other major search providers are getting more and more strict in terms of penalizing websites with low-quality content. In fact, Google first launched their Panda algorithm update in February 2011 to punish such sites. Suffering from a content-related algorithmic search engine penalty? You likely violated search guidelines because your site content is: 1) untrustworthy or irrelevant; 2) not written for users, and providing little substantial value compared to other pages in search results; 3) full of spelling, stylistic or factual errors; 4) not edited well, but sloppily or hastily produced; 5) duplicate, overlapping or redundant; 6) not written based on original information, reporting, research or analysis; 7) not written by an expert or enthusiast, but by someone with shallow knowledge of the topic, etc.
  • Best practice recommendation – Only house quality content on your website, and Google or Bing will naturally reward you for it with improved search engine rankings!

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D

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Doorway Pages

  • Definition – Also known as “gateway” or “landing” pages, doorways are low-quality webpages that are created primarily to manipulate search engine results. The concept? Try to spike organic search traffic by creating many different pages, resulting in higher rankings for a larger number of keyword queries.
  • Best practice recommendation – There’s nothing wrong with creating multiple webpages to help boost search visibility. But pages should only be created if they provide additional value to visitors looking for information. Webpages with little unique content are classified as doorways, considered to be deceptive, and as such should not exist.
  • TaggedBlack Hat SEO, Content, Links

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Duplicate Content

  • Definition – Blocks of text that are either completely matching, or substantially similar to content on other webpages. This includes pages within your own website, or copied from other sites. It also applies to both on-page content that’s visible to users, as well as descriptive text used to describe on-page SEO elements. If employed deliberately or maliciously, it is considered a major violation of search engines’ guidelines.
  • Best practice recommendation – Ensure all content displayed on the front-end and all text featured in on-page SEO elements are distinctly unique, not duplicated in any way.
  • TaggedBlack Hat SEO, Content, On-Page SEO

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F

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Fresh Content

  • Definition – Content that’s newly published is considered “fresh” (as opposed to “stale” content on a website where the text never changes). In order for search engines to provide users with the most relevant and time-sensitive search results, content freshness is considered an important search ranking factor in today’s SEO era.
  • Best practice recommendation – Consider creating a website section devoted to posting new, fresh content that’s regularly updated, such as a blog section or a news page.
  • TaggedContent

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H

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Heading Tags

  • Definition – Ranging in order of importance from most important (the <h1> tag) to least important (<h6> tags), these tags are used to identify and define which text on a webpage are headings or subheadings of an HTML document. They are still considered important search engine ranking factors today.
  • Best practice recommendation – Every HTML document should have one (and only one!) <h1> heading. I recommend marking other subheadings appropriately with <h2> or <h3> tags, etc. But keep in mind only the <h1> must be present on any given webpage. However, you should never include a heading tag without including all other headings that are higher in priority (e.g. listing <h3> tags without having any <h2> tags on the same page).
  • TaggedContent, On-Page SEO
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Hidden Text & Links

  • Definition – Also known as cloaking, hiding text or links is considered to be a deceptive and manipulative search engine ranking tactic that violates search engines’ guidelines. Text or links are hidden from users, but visible to search engines and machines. This includes displaying text that’s: 1) the same (or similar) colour as the background; 2) hidden behind an image; 3) positioned off-screen via CSS; or 4) has a font-size set to 0. It also applies to hiding links by linking only one small character, such as a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph.
  • Best practice recommendation – Analyze every page to check for possible hidden text or links. Look for text or links that might not be easily viewable by visitors of your site, but exist solely for search engines.
  • TaggedBlack Hat SEO, Content, Links

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I

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Image Alt Attributes

  • Definition – One of several attributes found in the <img> tag, it specifies the alternate text for an image. For example, if the image cannot be displayed and the user is unable to view it for some reason (whether due to a slow connection, an error in the src attribute, or if a screen reader is used), the alt attribute will provide the necessary information for describing the image.
  • Best practice recommendationAlt attributes should contain text that best describes the image information, and as such should be written for users. They should not be spammed with keywords for SEO purposes. If the corresponding image is linked, then the alt attribute should explain the link destination.
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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Image Tags

  • Definition – For an image to be displayed on a webpage, it must be linked in the HTML document via the <img> tag.
  • Best practice recommendation – For search engine optimization purposes, all <img> tags in an HTML document should contain a defined alt attribute.
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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K

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Keyword Usage

  • Definition – During the classic SEO era, optimizing a webpage or website was all about proper keyword placement… whether in on-page SEO elements, in link anchor text, or throughout page content. Now? Search engines are coming down hard on websites that seem to be doing too much, or “over optimizing” if you will. So while adding keywords to those page elements used to work in the good ol’ days, doing so today might be perceived as spammy, deceptive, and manipulative.
  • Best practice recommendation – Generally speaking, always write text for users and not filled with keywords for SEO purposes. This includes on-page content that’s displayed to users, plus back-end text used to describe various SEO elements.
  • TaggedContent, Links, On-Page SEO

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L

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Links (Link Schemes)

  • Definition – Today, Google and other major search providers are getting more and more strict in terms of penalizing websites that participate in link schemes. In fact, Google first launched their Penguin algorithm update in April 2012 to punish such sites. Suffering from a link-related algorithmic search engine penalty? You likely violated search guidelines by employing the following link building tactics: 1) buying or selling links that impact search rankings; 2) linking to/from untrustworthy link sources, including known spammy link networks; 3) unnaturally going after keyword-rich anchor text links; 4) participating in large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns; 5) getting involved with excessive link exchanges, including numerous counts of reciprocal linking; 6) creating inbound links via user-generated spam sources, etc.
  • Best practice recommendation – Don’t associate with low-quality link networks or participate in suspicious link building activities, and Google or Bing will naturally reward you for it with improved search engine rankings!

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M

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Meta Description Tags

  • Definition – A type of <meta> tag that’s no longer considered an important search engine ranking factor, but should still be part of any modern-day SEO strategy because it’s essential in helping to convert user impressions into clicks. Similar to the “lead” paragraph of a print article, the meta description appears in search results as a concise summary of the main focus for that webpage (i.e. the who, the what, the where, and the why).
  • Best practice recommendation – Meta descriptions should be approximately 155 characters in length, and written naturally for users instead of keyword spammed for SEO purposes.
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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Meta Keywords Tags

  • Definition – A type of <meta> tag, originally created as a way to list the keywords of an HTML document as metadata information. At one point, certain search engines (e.g. Infoseek and AltaVista) supported its use and factored it into their ranking equation. However, it soon became prime real estate for keyword stuffing. As a result, major search providers no longer acknowledge its presence.
  • Best practice recommendation – Don’t use it, and don’t include it in your HTML document. It doesn’t help with rankings. Spamming it might do you more harm than good. Not to mention you would be publically declaring your target keywords to your competition!
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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Meta Tags

  • Definition – The function of the <meta> tag is strictly informative. Not meant for display on the front-end to users, it provides structured “metadata” about an HTML document used to describe the content, author, last modified date, plus other summary information about a webpage for browsers and search engines.
  • Best practice recommendation – For search engine optimization purposes, every HTML document should have a meta description tag, but not a meta keywords tag. You can also exclude a webpage from being indexed in search engine results by including a meta noindex tag.
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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O

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On-Page SEO

  • Definition – As defined above, search engine optimization is the process of optimizing the position of a website or webpage based on changing various on-page or off-page SEO elements. On-page factors are aspects of any given webpage that, when changed, will impact search engine rankings. For example, strategic keyword placements in the <title> tag, URL, page content or image alt attributes of a webpage would help boost its visibility in search engine results.
  • Best practice recommendation – Anyone attempting to optimize a webpage in today’s SEO era needs to take search guidelines into consideration. Right now, search engines are getting much more strict in their treatment of black hat SEO websites. There’s a very fine line between properly optimizing a webpage based on best practices, and over-optimizing it. My advice? Avoid spamming on-page SEO elements with keywords in an unnatural way wherever possible.

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S

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Search Engines (Search Engine Penalties)

  • Definition – SEO strategies are generally employed as attempts to improve webpage positions in search results. The end goal is to be found on Google, Bing or other major search engines. However, achieving this would be much harder if your site is suffering from an algorithmic search engine penalty (e.g. Google’s Panda penalty on websites with low-quality content, or Google’s Penguin penalty on websites connected to link spam networks). And if you’re hit with a manual penalty that’s purposely placed on your site, and your site alone? Good luck trying to get anyone to find you in search results!
  • Best practice recommendation – Do your best to keep your website healthy, and be sure to follow every search engine guideline. Avoid the temptations of employing black hat SEO tactics, posting poor-quality content and participating in link schemes or risk being slapped with algorithmic or manual search engine penalties. You’ll know if you’re suffering from an algorithmic penalty if there’s a dampening effect applied to your search rankings (i.e. if you’re consistently ranking several pages back in search engine results instead of where you should be ranking). And if you’re suffering from a manual webspam action, your webpages would be indexed in search, but likely ranking at the very last (or close to last) pages of search results.

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Search Engine Indexation

  • Definition – In order for webpages to show up in search results, they must first be discovered by a search provider’s “web crawler,” then filed away in the search engine’s index. Any webpage that has been crawled by search engine spiders will be part of the search index.
  • Best practice recommendation – You can check whether a website or webpage is indexed by looking for the name or URL, then seeing if it shows up in search results. If yes, then great, it’s been indexed! If not, and this is a brand new site? Then you’ll need to manually submit the site URL to Google or Bing for indexing. What about if it’s a newly published page? Don’t worry, search spiders will naturally get around to crawling and discovering it. Simply sit back, relax and wait a few days. However, if things start looking suspicious you might want to investigate further to see if you’re accidentally blocking search robots from finding your website. I recommend consulting with your web developer.
  • TaggedSearch Engines

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Search Engine Rankings

  • Definition – Healthy rankings in search results is what every website owner strives for. Ideally, you want your webpages to rank within the first 5 pages of search engine results for your target keyword terms. But keep this in mind: you can’t achieve decent ranking positions if you go after extremely competitive keywords. Also, your site must be free of manual of algorithmic search engine penalties.
  • Best practice recommendation – Follow these steps to check a webpage’s health status in search results (keep in mind this will only provide you with a relative idea of how well your page is performing in search, so don’t worry about specific ranking positions!). First, check to see if the page has been indexed by searching for the name or URL. Then check to see where it’s ranking by searching for the primary target keyword. If it shows up near the top within the first 5 pages, then fantastic! Everything’s normal. If it doesn’t come up after 10+ pages, one of two things might be happening: 1) you’re targeting a keyword that’s much too competitive; or 2) that webpage is suffering from an algorithmic penalty. And if you can’t find it until you get to the last few pages of search results? Chances are you’re suffering from a manual penalty.
  • TaggedSearch Engines

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Site Structure

  • Definition – For a website to truly achieve optimal visibility in search engine results, you’ll have to take site structure and page layout into account. Things like placement of content above the fold, or links within the body instead of in the footer or sidebars are all part of search engines’ ranking equations.
  • Best practice recommendation – A well optimized website should have a clean site architecture with a top-down hierarchy structure. It should be performing at optimal page speeds. Content should be featured prominently at the top of the webpage. Links should be easily crawlable by search spiders, and kept to a minimum of no more than approximately 100 per page.

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T

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Title Tags

  • Definition – One of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings, the <title> tag is a short, snappy snippet of text that appears in search results and defines the title of an HTML document.
  • Best practice recommendation – SEO titles should be approximately 65 characters in length, and must be present in every webpage. Only one is allowed per HTML document.
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO

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U

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URL Structure

  • Definition – A uniform resource locator (URL) serves as the “web address” of any given webpage. Punch it into the address bar of a web browser and it’ll point you to the appropriate location for that page on the World Wide Web.
  • Best practice recommendation – For SEO purposes, a site’s URL structure should be kept as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically, perhaps based on a top-down hierarchy structure. Always opt for URLs that contain readable words separated by hyphens for users, instead of unintelligible ID numbers. Static URLs that aren’t dynamically created are best. And believe it or not, well-written URLs containing relevant keyword phrases could positively impact search engine rankings!
  • TaggedOn-Page SEO, Site Structure

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Karina Shum


Search Marketing Expert at FS Local


Here at FS Local, Karina is the go-to person on all topics pertaining to search marketing, and is the resident WordPress expert. She supports buying handmade and enjoys befriending fellow local artisans at the Toronto Bead Fair, Creativ Festival, and One of a Kind Show. Her current love? The colourful jellybean houses of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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