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Search Engine Optimization Glossary - definitions of common SEO terms

Note: Updates to this glossary: Search Engine Optimization Glossary

Looking for a definition of a particular Search Engine Optimization related term? The following glossary is my own collection of definitions. If you have any feedback on this glossary (e.g. additions, edits) please contact me at

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ALT Text/Attribute:
Text attached to an image to allow search engine spiders to extract textual information from an image. Achieved by using the ALT attribute of the <IMG> tag. Example: <IMG SRC="cow.jpeg" ALT="A picture of a cow"/>

Anchor text:
Text specified for a hyperlink e.g. anchor text for SEO Glossary is 'SEO Glossary'. It is very extremely important what anchor text appears in links pointing to your web site e.g. if your web site is about cake recipes the anchor text 'Delicious Cake Recipes' will help your rankings more than the anchor text 'Donkeys like Carrots'.

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An unethical SEO practice. It involves a different version of a web page being presented to each search engine spider. Each different version of the web page is optimized for the search engine spider it is presented to (i.e. exploiting its weaknesses). For example the Yahoo spider will be presented with a web page optimized for the Yahoo spider. You can be penalized heavily by the search engines for doing it, so don't do it.

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A directory is a web site that contains a categorized listing of links from around the web. For more information read my article Directories and their importance for search engine rankings.

The most important of all directories. This is because when you get your web site listed in DMOZ, it is not only listed there but in all other directories that use DMOZ's database. It is a human-edited directory and all editors are volunteers. It can take some time to get listed in DMOZ so patience is the key.

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Ethical SEO:
The opposite to Unethical SEO. It is SEO executed without resorting to underhand or illegal activities that may cause your web site to get blacklisted by the search engines. Stay on the ethical side of the fence!

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Gateway Page:
An unethical SEO practice. A web page optimized for certain keyphrase/s with the specific purpose of leading you to another page i.e. they offer nothing of value in themselves. Can be penalised by the search engines for this practice, so don't do it.

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Inbound Links:
Links to your web site from outside web sites (i.e. a web sites under a different domain name). The more of these the better, obviously for traffic reasons, but also because the help build link popularity (read my article Link Popularity, the make or break element for Search Engine Rankings)

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A group of keywords. For example: two keywords 'cake' and 'recipes' grouped together make up the keyphrase 'cake recipes'.

A word with particular importance to the theme of a site. For example if a web site provides information about Formula 1 racing then important keywords would be 'Ferrari', 'Monaco', 'Schumacher' etc...

Keyword Analysis:
The process of analysing a subject area or web site with the goal of identifying keywords that best describe the subject area/web site. A factor in the analysis is discovering keywords that match or resemble keywords that people use when performing real-world searches on search engines. The ideal result of the analysis is a list of keywords that if incorporated correctly into a web site will increase probablity of traffic to the web site.

Keyword Optimization:
The overall name given to the process of performing keyword analysis and incorporating the discovered keywords/keyphrases into the web site.

Keyword Spamming:
The process of stuffing a web page with keywords not related to the theme of the web site or in a high amount as an attempt to influence/trick the search engines. Keywords can be stuffed into many areas of a web page e.g. TITLE tag, META tags, ALT text, TITLE text

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Link Farm:
An unethical SEO practice. A web site created with the sole purpose of linking to other sites. This is seen by the search engines as a blatant attempt to influence link popularity. If a link farm points to your web site you have nothing to worry about but if you link to a link farm your web site can be removed from a search engine's index i.e. banned.

Link Popularity:
The popularity of your web site in the eyes of the search engine, based on the quality and quantity of links to and from your web site. For more information read my link popularity article.

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META Tags:
META tags are special tags included at the top of a HTML page. Their purpose is to provide extra information about the web page i.e. metadata. The most influential tags for search engine ranking are the Keywords tag and the Description tag. For more information read my article META tags explained and how to use them for ranking.

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Natural Links:
Links pointing to a web site created because someone found the web site useful and decided to link to it i.e. linked to it naturally. These types of link are very powerful in the link popularity stakes as they identify a web site that is worth linking to and therefore has a better chance of being a quality resource of information. To increase your chances of earning natural links make sure your web site has a lot of quality content that is better than the competition. Also provide linking information on your web site to make it easier to link to i.e. provide actual HTML to use when linking.

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Off-page Elements:
The opposite of on-page elements. Elements that are outside the direct control of the web site developer and are influential in determining search engine ranking. Examples of off-page elements are links pointing to a web site and anchor text in links pointing to web site. However web site developers still have some degree of control over these elements for example directory submissions. Search engines are relying more and more on these elements when determining ranking because they are more resistant to spamming/abuse. For more information read my link popularity article.

On-page Elements:
The opposite of off-page elements. Elements that are within direct control of the web site developer and are influential in determining search engine ranking. Examples of on-page elements are META tags, page text, title tag text, site link structure etc... These elements are prone to keyword spamming and other similar forms of abuse so the search engines do not look to them as much as off-page elements when determining ranking. For more information read my link popularity article.

One-way Links:
Links to a web site that are not reciprocated i.e. no link exists to the web site that is doing the linking. These type of links are powerful in building link popularity. For more information read my link popularity article.

Outbound Links:
Links within a web site that are pointing to outside sites. Do not affect link popularity but care must be taken not to link to a web site that may get you banned e.g. linking to a link farm is a no-no.

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An antiquated ranking system created by Google which is given far more hype and attention than it deserves. If you install the Google toolbar in your browser you can view the PageRank of any web page you visit by viewing the PageRank meter. It measures the 'popularity' of a web site in the eyes on Google. It is based on a 'democratic voting' mechanism whereby web sites linking to a site cast a 'vote' for the site i.e. add to the PageRank meter. The more PageRank the linking site has, the more PageRank the linked-to site receives. It is true that is does influence web site ranking i.e. the higher your PageRank the better ranking you will have, but there are other factors that affect ranking to a higher degree e.g. optimized anchor text, theme of the linking site.

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The position within search engine results that a web site reaches for a particular search phrase. For example at time of writing this web site achieves a ranking of 1 with the Google search engine for the search phrase 'xsd viewer'.

Reciprocal Links:
A reciprocal link occurs when a web site links to a site and in turn the linked-to site links back to the linking site i.e. the link is reciprocated by both parties. These types of links are normally created as a result of communication between two web site owners who both agree to link to each others sites. They are artificial in nature compared to natural links. They are created mainly to drive traffic to a web site rather than to add to a site's link popularity. For more information read my link popularity article.

Another name for spider.

A special text file placed at the root of a web site's structure. It contains rules that a search engine spider must obey when indexing a web site. You can specify what pages to index or what search engine spiders are allowed to index the web site e.g. you can specify that Google's spider is allowed but not Yahoo's spider. Useful to stop a web site from being indexed by accident if it is still under construction of if you want certain areas of the web site to be hidden from the spider.

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Search Engine:
A database of information retrieved from indexing web pages from all over the web. A user can use a search engine's interface to search their database of information and find links to web sites that provide information relevant to their search criteria. The majority of search engines have their own piece of software called a 'search engine spider' that visits web pages on the Web and extracts the required information it needs to allow its search engine to function.

Search Engine Optimization:
The process of modifying a web site's content, structure and link popularity to maximise the chances of a higher ranking within search engine results. It is basically optimizing a web site to make it more important in the eyes of a search engine.

Ancronym for Search Engine Result PageS

Ancronym for Search Engine Optimization

Site Map:
A special page on a web site that contains a tree-like representation of the link structure of the site. It allows a search engine spider to index all the most important pages of the site with ease because it can access them all from one page. A link to the site map should be clearly accessible/indexable from the home page at least.

A spider is a special piece of software that is sent out by a search engine to index a web site's pages for inclusion in a search engine's database of information. Spiders work by parsing the HTML on a site, extracting relevant information and following any links that are contained on the page to continue the parsing process. It is important that your web site is indexable by a spider otherwise it may not visit some pages. A common method used to ensure that it indexes all the most important web pages is to include a site map on your site.

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The TITLE tag is used to specify what text appears at the top of a browser window when visiting a web page. It also appears as the link text when your web site appears in search engine results. It can influence rankings a great deal so spend time ensuring that the right text is in it (i.e. include keywords/keyphrases relevant to the web page). For more information read my title tag optimization article.

TITLE Text/Attribute:
Text that be attached to any HTML tag and appears when the mouse is positioned over the relevant tag content. It can influence search engine ranking if used correctly. It works on a similar principle to the ALT Text/Attribute. Example:
<A HREF="" TITLE="website example">A Website</a>
The text 'website example appears when the mouse pointer is positioned over the link text - like this: A Website.

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Unethical SEO:
The opposite to Ethical SEO. It involves employing underhand or illegal activites to increase search engine ranking. They are many unethical seo practices including cloaking, gateway pages, keyword spamming

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