Talking about websites with anyone inevitably leads to a breakdown of communication when one party starts throwing terms around like DNS, TLS, and CMS (not to mention the double whammy of the acronym). The web world is a complex one, and while the goal is to make your finished website intuitive for the user, the path and technologies that exist behind the scenes can be full of confusing and convoluted terminology.
This article exists to shed some light on some of the more common terms that are thrown around for business and non-profit websites, letting you educate yourself to be better prepared when the time comes to create, recreate, or improve your website. It’s also useful for business owners to be more aware of these concepts so they can better evaluate the value of their current online marketing strategy, and discuss with providers to make the site perform better for potential customers.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this content please feel free to contact us, we’d be happy to help! Is there a term that we missed that causes confusion for you? Let us know!
DNS – Domain Name System
If you were to pretend that your domain (ie www.domain.com) is Grand Central Station, then DNS records would be the train routes that connect your domain to other services like web hosting, email, FTP, and more. DNS records are what help make your website live to the world, and what allows you to send and receive email at email@example.com. Adding DNS records also allows a web administrator to verify domain ownership for services like Google Analytics and Microsoft Exchange, and to help secure email with SPF records. I realize that I threw in another half dozen confusing terms, and for that I apologize.
DNS records are typically created and edited at the domain registrar level, or the place where you purchased your domain – but that authority can be transferred by changing the domain’s nameservers to another host (name servers are kind of like the station manager that tells DNS how to find their destination). Some examples of DNS records are A records, which point website traffic, MX records, which point email traffic, and TXT records, which are used for a multitude of functions such as domain and service verification.
I realize that anyone who knows a lot about domain management and DNS might consider this an imperfect analogy, but I think it works pretty well as a visualization to how the system works!
CMS – Content Management System
A CMS is an application or group of applications for creating and managing digital content. Typically a CMS will allow administrators to create, edit, and manage content from a back-end interface, then “publish” that content to the web. They have systems in place for managing image and video, text and web code, settings and configurations, and extensions such as plugins that can enhance the features or functionality of the site. Here at Ultra Graphics we design and build exclusively in WordPress, which is a CMS that started out as a blogging tool, then evolved into a full website-building system – and has proven itself to be a tool that allows for faster website creation with an almost unlimited potential for customization and design. Alternative CMS providers for websites are Drupal, Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Everyone has probably heard this acronym at some point. SEO is an article in itself, but to put it simply, it is the techniques and practices that are used on and off a website to improve the ranking in search results for the desired keywords. The algorithms that are employed by search engines to determine a website’s relevancy, value, and ranking are essentially hidden from us, but there are lots of clues and other bits of information that help guide us in the right direction. Google’s goal has been and will always be to get the user the most relevant results for their search intent, so as long as you’re trying to build and maintain your website to best serve your customers, you’re already on the right track. Google also mentioned that the top two ranking factors for a website are content (valuable, useful, rich) and backlinks (links to your site from related/authoritative sites).
How can you optimize a page? First step is to determine what keywords you want to optimize FOR. If you own a bike shop and want people searching for “bikes for sale in Billings” to find you, those are the keywords you want to focus on. Your content, your links (both internal and backlinks), your images, and your structure should all serve to give that searcher the best, most useful, most comprehensive experience when they click to your page. If Google agrees, then it will rank your page above your competitors for that keyword and you’ll move up in the results.
There are also more technical on-site SEO practices that help search engines like Google determine the focus and organization of the content. Things like title tags (appear in the HTML of the site, and are what shows up on your browser tab), heading tags (html tags within the content that separate and organize sections of content), link text (the actual text that is clicked when a user clicks on a link), and image alt tags (descriptive text to describe what the image is). These should be used on your landing pages and high traffic pages to make sure the content is relevant to the keywords.
Dynamic content is the kind that is created, added to, and expanded on a regular basis. Many people typically equate dynamic content with a blog, a series of posts/articles that are written individually but add to a larger, organized collection. However, dynamic content doesn’t have to be a blog (In fact, many people don’t even like the word blog – it conjures images of basement-dwelling teenagers). Dynamic content can be news feeds, catalogs of products, or just about anything – it’s any kind of content that changes regularly. When you create dynamic content, the newest additions don’t necessarily replace the older, they add to it – giving you a more content-rich website.
Static content is the yin to dynamic content’s yang. It can sometimes also be referred to as “evergreen content”, or content that changes very little. Many website pages can be a combination of static and dynamic content, such as a home page with content that doesn’t change often, but it’s got a blog post feed that automatically updates every time a new post is published. Pages like an “about” page, or a “contact” page can be considered static content because once it’s written, the changes to it are usually infrequent. It is still important to make sure a static page is optimized for your target keywords though.
Cache is the practice of temporarily storing and reusing website data (content and images) for repeat visitors. Typically the first time you visit a website the content, images, styles, and anything else are downloaded to your browser from the website’s server. If caching is in place, then the browser stores all that website data so that the next time you visit, it loads much faster because it doesn’t have to pull from the server again.
There are multiple types of caching, but the two most prevalent are browser-side caching and server-side caching. Browser caching is what is explained above, you visit a website and your browser saves all that data for future visits. Browser caching can be adjusted by the website developer by using control headers, which are bits of code that tell the browser what to cache and for how long. For example, a developer can set jpgs to be saved in a browser’s cache for a month before expiring, and set html and css to expire after 8 hours. Once that expiration date is reached, the browser purges the cache and pulls new information from the website’s server.
Server-side cache is typically used in environments where there is some server-side processing of code that needs to happen before the data is shown to the visitor such as PHP (which can take more time). There are some WordPress plugins that take already-processed content that has been converted to HTML (that loads quicker), and serve that to the user instead of making their browser do the work each time. Essentially the content is cached before the browser even gets involved. Just like browser caching, you can set an expiration date and other parameters that purge the cache, like every 6 hours, or after publishing a blog post.
SSL/TLS – Security Certificates
Much of the web we visit daily is insecure. When you visit a website via an insecure connection (http without the “s”), if you provide any financial, health, or otherwise personal information it could potentially be intercepted by someone listening in between your browser and the website’s server. For many sites, this isn’t a big deal because they don’t collect that kind of info anyway, and you’re not in any real danger browsing around. Sites that have TLS certificates installed create a secure and encrypted connection between your browser and the website, meaning the transfer of data is much more difficult to be intercepted (plus you get that nice visual of a green padlock in the URL bar and the https).
If your site IS going to collect any kind of personal or private information, you need to have a TLS security certificate. If you plan to collect, process, or store credit card information it needs to be done through a PCI compliant server, which has an intensely strict series of regulations for security and privacy. Same goes for any personal medical information that would fall under the umbrella of HIPPA.
Luckily, TLS certificates are getting easier to come by, and you can even score one for free from a non-profit company called Let’s Encrypt – backed by big companies such as Mozilla (makers of Firefox browser), Facebook, and Automattic (makers of WordPress). For credit card processing, lot’s of companies can help handle the higher security demand, such as Stripe and Paypal.
Responsive design is the concept that a website should adapt to the user’s device, whether that be a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. The layout should change, reflow, and adjust itself depending on the width of the screen. This means using percentage based widths, fluid and/or column-based design, and media queries (styling code that only triggers at certain screen widths). Having a responsive website means that no matter the device, the site offers the same experience to everyone.
In addition to responsive design, the concept of “mobile-first” development is becoming more and more popular, and is defined by building websites with an emphasis on the mobile experience first, then working outward toward larger devices. The benefit of mobile-first design is not only tailoring the experience to smartphone and tablet users, but trying to make sure that assets like images are optimized for mobile users, making them load faster. The current theme Ultra Graphics uses as a base for all websites is a mobile-first theme called TwentySeventeen.
Bounce rate is determined by the percentage of website users that visit a website landing page then back out or exit immediately (ie. “bouncing out”). It can be used as a metric to measure the quality of a landing page, or the relevancy of a page in regards to a search engine result. For example, if a page loads extremely slow, or doesn’t answer the user’s questions, or has a ton of ads that disrupt the experience and causes the user to leave quickly, it might have a high bounce rate.
However, bounce rate should be taken with a grain of salt, because believe it or not some bounces can be good! Take for example, if someone visits your home page from a search result with the express purpose of finding your phone number. If you have your number on your landing page somewhere clearly visible, the visitor might copy it, then back out right away. In some cases this might count as a bounce, but it was also solving the user’s question quickly and efficiently.
Some things you can deduce when looking at bounce rate:
- If your landing page has a long-form blog post or article and you’re seeing a high bounce rate, maybe your content isn’t enticing them to stay and read.
- If your landing page has lots of content and sublinks that encourage users to keep exploring your site, and it has a high bounce rate, maybe there are issues with user experience or content that need addressed.
- If your landing page has a high bounce rate when writing about a specific topic, maybe the content is optimized for the wrong keywords and aren’t relevant to the searcher.
Conversions in the web / SEO / SEM world are defined as a desired interaction from a person as a result of your marketing message. Conversions can be valued by dollar amount (ie a sale or purchase), or conversions can be leads (fills out a quote, contact, campaign landing page form, etc…). For example, if your website funnels visitors to a quote form and someone fills out a quote, that’s a conversion. If a customer clicks on a “buy now” link in a facebook ad or post and purchases the item, that’s a conversion. If you create a campaign to get more likes or reviews on your google listing and someone responds, that’s a conversion.
That’s of the end of this list. What other website terms are out there that cause confusion, let us know and we’ll write another list! As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions.