The Small Business Owner’s Guide to “Speaking SEO”

SEO can be a very powerful tool for small businesses, one that I believe should be the foundation for any online marketing efforts,  but the SEO industry can be a challenging one for any business owner or marketer that is new to it.

SEO Dictionary
photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

On top of false claims, scams, and misinformation that are unfortunately part of the market place, the barrier of confusing “industry jargon” can sometimes make it difficult  for  even experienced SEOs to communicate with each other.

This list of commonly used SEO terms will hopefully help those that are not immersed in the SEO world to make sense of what they are reading or hearing from SEO consultants.

Knowledge of these terms may also help you to vet the SEO “expert” that you are considering using.

Although the rest of the terms appear alphabetically, SEO seemed like the obvious first term to define.

SEO Index

SEO: Stands for “Search Engine Optimization”


Algorithm: Mathematical formula used by search engines to determine search engine page results. It is rumored that Google’s algorithm weighs more than 200 factors when returning search results.

Alt. Text: is a text attribute attached to an image – it explains to the search engines what that image is depicting.


Back links: are links pointing to your site from another website. If it is from a quality website, it can have a significant impact on your SEO. The goal of a Link Building strategy is to develop back links.

Black Hat SEO: SEO tactics that do not align with Search Engine Quality guidelines. Black Hat SEO strategies involve short-cuts to achieve a high search engine ranking. These results, if achieved, are generally short-lived and can result in penalties or even removal from the search engines.


Citations: Listings in various business directories and local search sites have become known as “citations (i.e. merchant circle, yellow pages, yelp). Citations can help with Local Search, and may help with traditional SEO as well.


htags: or headings are the bold Headlines and sub-headlines that divide and organize the text. There are 6 (h1 – h6) sizes of heading recognized by search engines, with h1 being the biggest and most significant.


Interior Links: are links that connect to another part of the same website.


Keywords: are the terms or phrases that searchers will use to try to find your website. They will be related to your name, industry, location, products or services, or the problem that you solve for them. Each webpage should have a unique keyword or phrase.


Landing Pages: is a term that has multiple meanings in the SEO, marketing and web design world. I prefer to think of a landing page as a page that is designed for a specific visitor, and that is not part of the website’s navigation. The page could be built around a specific offering, a targeted location, or as a page designed to get the visitor to do something (i.e. sign up for a newsletter).

HubSpot, and others, use “landing page” to refer specifically to a page that is designed to have the visitor follow through on a call to action.

Others refer to a landing page as any page that a visitor “lands” on.

Make sure that you and your SEO are talking about the same type of “landing page”.

Link Building: is an “off-page” SEO strategy. Quality links, linking to your website from another website, is still one of the most powerful SEO influencers.

Local Search: also known as Local SEO, and geo-targeted search. The increasing importance of Local Search has created confusion in SEO discussions.

The search engines, recognizing that most search has a local intent, include a list of “local search results” on the search results pages.

Although there is some overlap with traditional SEO, setting up local search really is a separate strategy that involves registering with the search engines, setting up citations, and getting local reviews and recommendations.

Local Search Results: search results that are included in the “Local” section of the search engine results page. SERPs for broad industry terms often include up to 7 “local” results.

Long-tail Keywords: are keywords that are more specific and usually searched less often within a given industry. Because of this, they can be easier to rank for than the broad terms, but they will not draw as much traffic as a broad term might.

Being able to create pages around some of the many long-tail keywords in your industry is one of the arguments for blogging and one of the reasons behind the rise of “content” marketing.


META Description tags: do not appear on your website, but are a part of your website’s code. Although no longer very relevant to SEO, they are still generally included in packages, discussions, and software.

META Description tags are still important in that they are usually a business’s first opportunity to directly market to a visitor. They usually appear as the 2nd and 3rd lines on a search engine results page listing.

SEO Compas
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via photopin cc

If you do not establish a META Description tag, the search engines will just pull content from your site to include as those lines of text.


Natural Search Results: see “Organic Search Results”.


“Off-page” SEO: Consists of elements that will influence the perceived authority of a website or page. The website owner or designer have less control over the off-page elements of SEO.

Off-page SEO is currently undergoing significant changes in response to Google’s Panda and Penguin updates that started in 2012 and continue today.

Off-page elements include the size and age of your website, the number of QUALITY back links that point at your website, and increasingly, your social signals, among other factors.

“On-page” SEO: Consists of the SEO strategies that you can apply directly to your website. For the most part, the on-page components are used to let the search engines and visitors know what that page is about.

On-page SEO usually includes keywords, title tags, page URLs, META description tags, headings or htags, content, content mark-up strategies (i.e. bullets or italics), alt. text, interior linking, and site maps.

When you are talking about SEO with a website build, or a one-off SEO project, it will be on-page SEO that is being performed.

On-page SEO can be performed at anytime, but ideally it is completed before a website is designed and built – it should guide the planning of the website architecture.

Organic Search Results: are the natural search engine results that are produced through SEO – as opposed to Pay Per Click ads and the “local” listings.


Panda Update: is an ongoing effort to update Google’s algorithm to identify and reduce the search engine rankings for low-quality sites.

Penguin Update:  is an ongoing effort to update Google’s algorithm to identify “black hat” SEO tactics, or strategies that go beyond Google’s quality guidelines.

PPC: stand for Pay Per Click advertising (also sometimes known as SEM or search engine marketing).  The first few listings (usually 3) on a search engine results page, and the listings along the right hand-side of the page, are PPC ads. Those organizations have set up an ad account and budget to “bid” to be included on the search engine results pages in response to specified keywords when they are searched.

The advertiser pays each time the ad is clicked.


Search Engine: A program that tracks and indexes web pages, then delivers those web pages in response to a users query. Examples: Google and Bing are search engines.

Search Engine Optimization: The process of optimizing a web page so that it is properly indexed and recognized as an authority by the search engines, and may therefore appear on the search engine results pages for appropriate searches. It is typically divided into 2 components: “on-page” SEO, and “off-page” SEO.

Search Engine Submission: the process of submitting a website to the search engines to be indexed. Although this practice is not really necessary any longer – the search engines have become very effective at finding and indexing web pages, it is possible that it could speed up the process.

Search Engine Submission may be included in your SEO package, but should not cost extra. It is free, easy to do, and of questionable value.

SEM: acronym for Search Engine Marketing. This term can be confusing because it has multiple meanings in the SEO world.

I prefer the more general meaning which refers to all “search” related marketing strategies: SEO, Local Search, and PPC.

It is sometimes used as synonym for PPC.

SERP: acronym for Search Engine Results Page.

site map: in general, a site map is a web page that outlines the structure of a website – the pages that make up the website and how they are connected. A site map should be included on a website to help search engines and visitors navigate your website.

Social Signals: are an “off-page” SEO strategy. They are one of the newer and least understood changes to Google’s algorithm. These are measurements of your influence in the social media world.

It is generally agreed that these do not include data such as the number of friends or followers you have on a particular platform, but instead will be affected by the number of  +1’s, re-tweets, or shares your content gets. It is also assumed that, like back links, it will be the quality of the +1’s, re-tweets, or shares that are received – meaning that a +1 from known influencers will carry more weight than one from a source with little credibility.

Will Google +1’s become more important than other social signals? Something to consider . . .

Social Signals will likely continue to become more important in the future.


Title Tags: are your best opportunity to tell the search engines what your page is about. They are not usually visually part of your website, but instead appear in the code, and should include the keywords or phrase for that page.

Traditional SEO: See “Search Engine Optimization”.


URL: stands for “Uniform Resource Locator” – it is the address of the webpage. The URL is a very important element in on-page SEO and should be built around the keyword for that page.


White Hat SEO: SEO strategies that follow the search engine guidelines.

Hope you find this list helpful. There are other terms that could be added, but at almost 1800 words, I felt that these were the most important.

If there are terms that you feel should have been included, or others that you disagree with, either their inclusion or definition, please feel free to comment below.

Thanks for reading.

Brent Carnduff
I am an Search Engine Marketing specialist and speaker, former teacher and basketball coach, married with 2 children (Daniel & Ashley), a wanna be author, avid reader, an out of shape cyclist, and a Canadian ex-pat. I hope to add a voice of reason, understanding, and professionalism to the SEO industry. I blog at
Brent Carnduff
Brent Carnduff

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