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Common SEO Terms Defined and Explained

Search Engine Optimization is the practice of organically increasing your website’s position in the search engine’s results pages, thereby increasing traffic to your website and business from the search engines and increasing your visibility. While the SEO language isn’t as technical as it is in web design or programming, some of the terms can have you scratching your head as you dive into the field.

Here are a few of the common SEO terms defined and explained to give you a head start:

Common Search Engine Optimization terms

Alt image tags: The alt image tag provides the “alternative text” for an image. Since search engines can’t read images and graphics, you should always provide text that describes the image and incorporate keywords when possible. The alternative text will show up if the image can’t be displayed or for users who use screen readers (i.e. visually impaired users).

Anchor text: This is the clickable text in a hyperlink. Marketers typically use keywords that describe the linked page as their anchor text, which can help in ranking higher in the SERPS. Be wary of having the exact same anchor text linking back to your site on all back links. It doesn’t look organic and Google is growing suspicious.

Internal links: These are links from one page on a site to another page on the same site. The opposite is an “external link” which involves linking to a page on another website. Both types of links are important for SEO.

Longtail keywords: A longtail keyword is a search phrase that consists of 2 or more words. Usually, the longer the keyword phrase the more specific the information that the searcher is looking for. In the past it was easier to rank for a longtail keyword because there was less competition.

Keyword density: Keyword density is a measure of how many times a specific keyword appears on a page in relation to the number of words on the page. If the keyword density is a high percentage, it can be a warning sign to Google that the page is low quality or spam.

Meta tags: Meta tags are words that appear in the head HTML code for a webpage, but don’t appear on the page itself. They tell search engines specific information about that page. The most common meta tags are for description of the page, keywords, and author.

Organic traffic: The free traffic you get naturally from search engines and other portals is referred to as organic traffic. The opposite is paid traffic, such as PPC, Google Adwords or other forms of online advertising.

Robots.txt File: The robots.txt file is used by webmasters to give instructions to the web robots about their websites, generally telling the search engines which pages they’re allowed to crawl and index. Keep in mind that the robots file is publicly available so anyone can see what sections of your site you don’t want the engines to see. For a more detailed look at robot.txt files, check out

SERPS: This stands for “search engine results pages”. These are the pages of results users see after they type a search phrase into Google or another search engine directory. For anyone with a business online, your goal is to be as high up in the SERPS as possible for any keywords or phrases associated with your business.

Sitemap: A roadmap to your site that’s accessible by crawlers and visitors. Generally built in XML, it’s a simple page that details the pages in your site, their importance, and the last time they were updated. Sitemaps improve your site’s SEO by ensuring that all the pages you want to be found by the search engines are found. If you’re using WordPress, Yoast includes a sitemap generator in their SEO plugin. If you’re not using WordPress, check out which will generate a sitemap for you that you can then upload to your web host.

Spider: Also referred to as a “crawler” or “robot”, spiders are software programs that the search engines use for locating and indexing all the pages and websites on the internet. Spiders follow links from one page to another and will revisit sites, indexing new pages as it goes.

Title tags: These are the words that appear in the tab or bar at the very top of your web browser as well as the title of the information that’s returned in the SERP. They are the “title” of the page that a user will see when they look at the top of their browser. For branding purposes, be sure to use your company name. For SEO and usability purposes, be sure to include relevant information for each page, i.e. About Us | Acme Company This will make it easier for users to find the right page and not bounce off in search of the information they’re looking for.

These are just the basic terms and definitions to help you get started in search engine optimization. For a great in depth glossary, be sure to check out the SEOBook Search Engine Marketing Glossary article that dives deeper.

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