Jargon Buster

The internet, the information superhighway, the world wide web, cyberspace, the net, the web, the global village, the wibbly wobbly web, or if you're Peter Kay, "tinternet"… Call it what you will, the internet and everything around it is full of jargon. Granted, a little bit of jargon here and there is sometimes necessary but one of the biggest hurdles to cross in the journey to de-mystifying the internet is getting to grips with what things mean. Some bits of web-related jargon are fairly self-explanatory; other bits aren't which is why I've decided to produce my very own Jargon – Plain English Dictionary.

A B C D E F G H IJ KL M N O PQ R S T UV WXYZ

A
Alt Image Text
The "Alt" bit is an abbreviation for alternative. This is the descriptive text which should accompany every image on your site. Now when I say it will accompany the image, that doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be seen! Alt image text is part of the code which tells the browser which image to display and it has two purposes; the first being to replace image if, for whatever reason, it can't be displayed. The second reason is so that it can be read by users who cannot see the image. There are two types of user who will find this text useful; people with a visual impairment and spiders (not of the 8-legged variety – see entry for spiders below). There are computer speech programmes which can read out websites to visually impaired users, so when it comes across an image, if there is no alt image text, it would read out the code for the image which generally wouldn't make much sense, where as if there is alt image text, it will read that instead.
Anchor Text
Anchor text is a word or short phrase that a link to another page/website is anchored to. There is good anchor text and there is bad anchor text. Some examples of bad anchor text, although they are commonly used on the internet, are "click here", "find out more", "read on" etc. These phrases are bad because they don't tell the user anything about the page they about to be directed to – however, users are usually intelligent enough to work that out from the other information that surrounds the link. Whilst users can understand the context of a "click here" link, search engine spiders would only see the anchor text, and would think the page that it is linking is all about clicking here. Writing effective anchor text is as simple as altering how you write your sentences, e.g.:
Effective web design could help your small business, click here to find out more. = Bad anchor text.
Find out more about how effective web design could help your small business. = Good anchor text.
B
Bandwidth
Bandwidth is a measurement that simply describes the amount of traffic which can flow between your website and users on the internet at one time. A website like the BBC's will be visited by millions of people every day and they have lots of interactive content (such as video streaming, podcasts, watch online live etc.), so they need to have massive bandwidth capabilities. The easiest way to think about bandwidth is as a road. If it's rush hour and there is only one lane open on a motorway, traffic is going to get backed up in a jam and things will only move really slowly. But if five lanes were available on the motorway, then the traffic will flow freely. But also remember, there's no need to invest in a five-lane motorway if you're only expecting levels of traffic that a single-lane A road could handle!
N.B. Bandwidth for websites for your home broadband is different from bandwidth for websites.
Bookmarks
Bookmarks (also referred to as "Favourites") are a way for internet users to save quick links within their browser to sites that they use frequently. Bookmarks will either appear in a list within a drop-down menu, or on a toolbar which is always visible.
Browser
A browser is a piece of software that retrieves and displays web pages on the computer, allowing users to browse the internet. Common browsers are Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Windows Internet Explorer and Opera.
C
Cache
Cache is a folder on your computer that stores copies of websites you visit. The next time you visit the website, images and other media can be loaded from the cache, rather than downloaded from the website again, meaning that they load more quickly. Cache ultimately does speed things up when you're browsing the internet, but it can sometimes mean you don't see the most recent version of a website.
Content Management
Content management is fairly self explanatory – it is a process whereby you can manage the content of your own website. When a website is designed, more often than not, there will be a master design template from which all the pages are created. Content management software allows you to open up each individual page on your website and add to, edit, or delete the text and images which aren't part of the master template, just as if you were editing a word processing document. This essentially allows you to manage the content of each page without having to learn any code and without worrying about accidentally altering the page design. A good piece of software for doing this is Adobe Contribute CS4.
Copy
Copy is more of a publishing/marketing term than an internet term. Copy is basically the written text-based content of a page. Some people call it "blurb" or simply "text", but I call it copy.
CSS
CSS is an initialism for Cascading Style Sheet. It is a style sheet language which defines the look/formatting of a website, such as the layout, font, size, colours etc. CSS was introduced primarily to allow the separation of the content and presentation elements of a website. This separation is important as it reduces the amount of code used in each webpage allowing the actual content to be more prominent to spiders.
D
Domain Name
A domain name is the address that defines your site on the internet. For example the domain name for this website is www.mackaywebdesign.co.uk
Download
Download is the transfer of electronic information of any kind (data, files, software, MP3s, photos) where you are the person receiving the file. For example, you can download files or a software update from the internet on to your computer or you could download photos from your digital camera on to your computer etc.
E
Ecommerce
E-commerce is simply commercial activity which takes place electronically over the internet.
Email
Email is the system through which you can send messages electronically.
Email Cloaking
Email cloaking is a technique whereby a word or short phrase is displayed as a link in lieu of an email address, but when the link is clicked, it automatically opens up a new message within the users email client addressed to the correct email address. This prevents email addresses from appearing within the code of the website itself, thus stops spam bots from harvesting email addresses.
F
FAQ
FAQ is an initialism for Frequently Asked Questions. FAQ pages on websites are quite often utilised as a way to list answers to common questions about a product or service.
Favicon
A favicon is small icon that is associated with a website. Some browsers display favicons in their address bars, but more commonly they appear beside entries bookmark/favourites lists.
Favourites
Favourites (also known as "Bookmarks") are a way for internet users to save quick links within their browser to their favourite sites that they use frequently. Favourites will either appear in a list within a drop-down menu, or on a toolbar which is always visible.
FTP
FTP is an initialism for File Transfer Protocol. FTP is a standard network protocol (i.e. set of rules that computers use to "talk" to each other) which is used to transfer files over a computer network, particularly when maintaining websites.
G
Go Live
Go live is a very exciting stage in the progress of your site. Going live is when your website is uploaded to the internet ready to be viewed by the general public!
H
HTML
HTML is an initialism for Hypertext Mark-up Language. This was the predominant code used in web pages in the 1990s and although it is still widely used today, it is gradually beginning to be replaced by XHTML.
HTTP
You'll notice in the address bar of your browser, a web address starts with http:// The HTTP but is an initialisation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is a protocol (i.e. set of rules that computers use to "talk" to each other) which is used by applications (such as web browsers) to retrieving inter-linked resources, such as web pages. HTTP led to the establishment of the World Wide Web.
IJ
Inbound Links
An inbound link is a link from an external website (i.e. a website that doesn't belong to you) that directs people to your website. These are great for your website's SEO, especially if the site that is linking to you is related to yours (e.g. A governing body such as the British and International Federation of Festivals website linking to the Ayrshire Music Festival's website is a very good inbound link.)
IP Address
An IP address (Internet Protocol Address) is a numerical identification and logical address that is assigned to every device that connects to the internet.
Java
Java is another type of programming language which can be used to create special effects on websites, such as animations and interactive buttons and menus.
KL
Keywords
Keywords are the important words and phrases which are most relevant to the overall content of your site. These words and phrases should match logical internet search terms people would use to find your site. Copy on your website should be written in such a way that you utilise keywords and phrases as much as possible without sounding forced; e.g. take the statement "Rhapsody play at weddings and champagne receptions." – although true, it doesn't contain the word "music" or the phrases "string quartet" or "music for weddings" which are the important keywords and phrases for my string quartet. However, if we alter the statement to read "Rhapsody String Quartet provide music for weddings and background music for champagne receptions.", it essentially says the same thing to the reader, but this second version contains one instance of "string quartet" and two instances of "music", and one of those instances is in the context of the key phrase "music for weddings".
Link
Links are the bread and butter of the internet. If links didn't exist the internet simply wouldn't work in the way it does! A link can be text or an image, and when you click on it the link will direct you to a new web page within the site you are already on, or will direct you to another website entirely. A basic text link would traditionally be shown in underlined blue text, but they can be styled with any colour and/or text decoration depending the website's design. There are further explanations on this page regarding inbound links and outbound links.
Link Farm
A link farm is directory-style website which has the sole purpose of listing links to thousands of unrelated sites. At one point inbound links were the easiest way to climb the search engine rankings, and so people started creating link farms as an easy way of charging people for multiple inbound links that would supposedly increase their search engine rankings. However, this is now considered very bad SEO practice and the vast majority of search engines now recognise link farms and remove them from their search results, and in some cases, will penalise websites that link to/utilise them.
M
Mac
Mac refers to an "Apple" branded computer, as opposed to a PC. In recent years there's been some very funny advertising which has divided the computer-using world into two very different types of people and I'd like to clarify that I'm a Mac, not a PC!
Meta Data/Meta Tags
Meta data is information that appears within the code of your website, but which isn't visible on your actual web page. Meta data covers many different things, and each separate piece of information is placed in a meta tag. These meta tags provide information to browsers about what type of file a web page is, and give search engines descriptions of what is contained in each page, what the important keywords are and they can also be used to validate ownership of a site in order to gain detailed analysis on how people are using your site.
N
Navigation
Navigation on the road involves a map (paper or GPS-based!) that helps you get from point A to point B. Navigation in a website is the menu (usually located at the top or the side of the page) that allows users to move through your website from one page to another. The menu should be clear and concise, grouping relevant sub-topics together, and should be consistent in look and placement on every page of your website.
O
Offline
Being "offline" means that you are not connected to the internet. The way I work, I design and build sites "offline" whilst I am working on the early stages of a new site, then when the site is ready to be seen by the client for feedback/approval, I upload the pages to the internet so they can be viewed by the client "online".
Online
Being "online" means that you are connected to the internet.
Operating System
An operating system (sometimes shortened to OS or O/S) is the program which runs your entire computer. The operating system has many functions which include: managing the computer's processing, memory and storage, communicating with other devices (e.g. mouse, printer, scanner, modem etc.) providing the basis for running application software (e.g. iTunes, iWork, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, internet browsers etc.) and acting as the interface through which you use your computer. With Macs the latest operating systems in current use are Mac OS X v10.6 "Snow Leopard", Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard", and the slightly older Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger". With PCs the operating systems are generally a version of Microsoft Windows, with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 being the ones in current use. Other operating systems include UNIX and Linux.
Outbound Links
Outbound links are links that direct people to web pages which aren't part of your own site. Although generally it is best to encourage visitors to stay on your website for as long as possible, it is occasionally appropriate to provide links to external sites that are relevant to your own; e.g. Ferry Row B&B's website links to websites that provide tourist information about the local area.
PQ
PC
PC in its most literal sense is an initialism for "Personal Computer" and thus covers any home or office computer used by an individual – be it a desktop, a laptop, regardless of its operating system. In common usage however, PC refers to any computer which is windows-based.
Pixel
Pixel is a digital imaging term which is short for "picture element". A pixel is an individual unit of information which makes up a digital image. This unit may be a square or a dot, and when lots of pixels are arranged together on a grid, the rows and columns of individual pixels are displayed so closely together that they appear to the naked eye as a single image.
R
Refresh/Reload
Refresh or Reload is a command used within a browser to load up the page that you are viewing again. You would use this if you thought that a page hadn't loaded completely, or if you wanted to be sure that you are seeing the most recent version of the page and not the version from your browser's cache.
S
Search Engine
A search engine is a website that acts as a directory or index of other websites. They generally enable the user to type in words or questions and it returns the websites which it deems to be the most popular and/or relevant based on its complex algorithms. The most popular search engines are Google, Yahoo!, Bing (formerly MSN) and AskJeeves.
SEO (abbrev. Search Engine Optimisation)
The purpose of SEO is essentially to optimise your website so that it will rank highly in search engine results pages for your keywords and key phrases. The most important thing to know about Search Engine Optimisation is that it is not an exact science. Many companies will tell you (very convincingly) that they can get your website to the top of Google's search engine results in 24 hours; whilst they may well do that, I would be very surprised if they used best practice SEO techniques over link farms in order to "achieve" their results! Bad SEO is a like a crash diet – it may get results quickly, but in the longer term, it's not good for you. Think of good SEO like a healthy diet for your website; you've got to have the right balance of content and keywords, meta tags, title tags, good anchor text, relevant content relating to a specific subject, with in-bound links coming only from websites that are relevant to your business. Whilst good SEO may take a bit longer to yield results, it will ultimately achieve results. But the best bit is, SEO happens naturally as part of the process of coding of your website so you don't need to worry about it – that's what I'm here for!
SERP(s)
SERP is an acronym for Search Engine Results Page. A typical SERP will feature up to ten organic search results that match your query, alongside sponsored links that companies have paid for.
Site Map
A site map is a page on a website which shows a detailed list of all the pages on a website, with links directly to each page. This is particularly helpful on large sites where there is an extensive and/or complex menu structure. A basic code version of a site map (usually written in XML) is often uploaded to a site (but isn't visible to users) so that it can be submitted to search engines as a way of helping spiders to quickly find and index all its pages.
Spambots
Spambots are a specific type of web crawler that harvest email addresses which haven't been cloaked. The results of their searches are presumably then sold on and used by email spammers.
Spiders
Spiders (also known as web crawlers, robots, bots, automated indexers, ants etc.) are highly sophisticated and intelligent computer programs which "crawl" the web, harvesting information from websites. The most common type of spiders are search engine spiders, which are used by search engine companies such as google, yahoo and bing to scour the internet automatically and populate their databases to so that their search result information is the most up to date. No-one is really certain what information a search engine spider gathers, as the information they collect is then used in the algorithms that decide the order of the results in a search; these algorithms are a closely guarded secret so as to prevent websites from dishonestly improving their search rankings on in appropriate search terms (e.g. on a search for their competitor's company name).
T
Tag
Tags are an important part of HTML and XHTML code. Tags assign attributes to each of the elements of a web page, defining whether the text is a section, a heading, a sub heading, a paragraph, an image or a link etc.
Title Tags
A Title Tag is the unique bit of text that appears along the top left of your internet browser screen when looking at a website. Look at the top of your browser now and you will see the text "Mackay Web Design: Turning web jargon into plain English!" – that's the title tag for this page. This is one of the main things that we know search engine spiders definitely harvest from websites; therefore it is important have a unique title tag for each page. Title tags should be keyword rich (i.e. there's no point in having "Welcome to our website: Homepage" because that could relate pretty much every website on the internet) but equally they should make sense to humans because title tags act as the link text that appears in search engine results. It's best to keep title tags between 60–70 characters in length (including spaces).
UV
Upload
Uploading is the transfer of electronic information of any kind (data, files, software, MP3s, photos) where you are the person sending the file. For example, you can upload music from your computer on to your MP3 player, or you could upload photographs onto a blog or social networking site to share with your friends etc.
URL
URL is an initialism for Uniform Resource Locator. It is essentially the full address of a unique web page or file on the internet. The most common URLs which you would come across when browsing online would usually have the prefix http:// or https:// (For example, the URL for this page is http://www.mackaywebdesign.co.uk/jargonbuster.htm) – but there are other prefixes out there. For example, the URL for the file which contains the code for this page on the server is ftp://ftp.mackaywebdesign.co.uk/www/jargonbuster.htm and you can even have URLs locally on your computer e.g. C:\Users\[your name]\My Documents would be a common place for a default documents folder on a PC.
WXYZ
W3C
W3C is an initialism for the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C describe themselves as the organisation who "develop interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential". They set guidelines for "best practice" when it comes to coding websites and provide tools for web designers to validate their websites to make sure they come up to scratch!
Web Crawlers
Web Crawlers (also known as spiders, robots, bots, automated indexers, ants etc.) are highly sophisticated and intelligent computer programs which "crawl" the web, harvesting information from websites. The most common type of web crawler are search engine spiders, which are used by search engine companies such as google, yahoo and bing to scour the internet automatically and populate their databases to so that their search result information is the most up to date. No-one is really certain what information a search engine spider gathers, as the information they collect is then used in the algorithms that decide the order of the results in a search; these algorithms are a closely guarded secret so as to prevent websites from dishonestly improving their search rankings on in appropriate search terms (e.g. on a search for their competitor's company name).
Web Host
A Web host is a company that hosts websites on servers on behalf of clients who pay to use their services. They are responsible for maintaining servers and providing 24/7/365 connectivity to the web so that your site is always available. They can also host extras services associated with websites such as email. The company which I use to host the vast majority of websites is Easyspace.
Web Space
Web space is simply the size of space on a server that you are allocated by your web host. The more web space you have, the more information you can have on your website.
XHTML
XHTML is an initialism for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language. The W3C recommend the use of codes belonging to the XHTML family as being the next step in the evolution of the internet. All websites designed by Mackay Web Design are designed using XHTML and external CSS.
XML
XML is an initialism for Extensible Markup Language. It is usually used in conjunction with XHTML or HTML and allows you to create a database of information without having to build an actual database, and as such is commonly used in programs both online and offline.