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[FAQ] Information: Web Glossary

Glossary of common Web Terms and Abbreviations.


A small program, often written in Java, which usually runs in a web browser, as part of a web page. It is possible that the use of such a program may cause spiders and robots to stop indexing a page.


Common Gateway Interface - a standard interface between web server software and other programs running on the same machine.

CGI Program

Strictly, any program which handles its input and output data according to the CGI standard. In practice, CGI programs are used to handle forms and database queries on web pages, and to produce non-static web page content.


A computer, program or process which makes requests for information from another computer, program or process. Web browsers are client programs. Search engine spiders are (or can be said to behave as) clients.

Click Through

The process of clicking on a link in a search engine output page to visit an indexed site. This is an important link in the process of receiving visitors to a site via search engines. Good ranking may be useless if visitors do not click on the link which leads to the indexed site. The secret here is to provide a good descriptive title and an accurate and interesting description.


The HTML tags are used to hide text from browsers. Some search engines ignore text between these symbols but others index such text as if the comment tags were not there. Comments are often used to hide javascript code from non-compliant browsers, and sometimes (notably on Excite) to provide invisible keywords to some search engines.


The typography, composition, content links of a website; what the user interfaces with on their monitor; the look and feel of a website; the sum of all elements of a website is generally considered content.

Dead Link

An internet link which doesn't lead to a page or site, probably because the server is down or the page has moved or no longer exists. Most search engines have techniques for removing such pages from their listings automatically, but as the internet continues to increase in size, it becomes more and more difficult for a search engine to check all the pages in the index regularly. Reporting of dead links helps to keep the indexes clean and accurate, and this can usually be done by submitting the dead link to the search engine.


Descriptive text associated with a web page and displayed, usually with the page title and URL, when the page appears in a list of pages generated by a search engine or directory as a result of a query. Some search engines take this description from the DESCRIPTION Meta tag - others generate their own from the text in the page. Directories often use text provided at registration.


A server or a collection of servers dedicated to indexing internet web pages and returning lists of pages which match particular queries. Directories (also known as Indexes) are normally compiled manually, by user submission and often involve an editorial selection and/or categorization process.


A sub-set of internet addresses. Domains are hierarchical, and lower-level domains often refer to particular web sites within a top-level domain. The most significant part of the address comes at the end - typical top-level domains are .com, .edu, .gov, .org (which sub-divide addresses into areas of use). There are also various geographic top-level domains (e.g. .nz, .ca, .fr, .ro etc.) referring to particular countries.

Dynamic Content

Information on web pages which changes or is changed automatically, e.g. based on database content or user information. Sometimes it's possible to spot that this technique is being used, e.g. if the URL ends with .asp, .cfm, .cgi or .shtml. It is possible to serve dynamic content using standard (normally static) .htm or .html type pages, though. Search engines will currently index dynamic content in a similar fashion to static content, although they will not usually index URLs which contain the ? character. 


An HTML technique for combining two or more separate HTML documents within a single web browser screen. Compound interacting documents can be created to make a more effective web page presented in multiple windows or sub-windows. A framed web site often causes great problems for search engines, and may not be indexed correctly.

Gateway Page

A web page submitted to a search engine (spyder) to give the relevance-algorithm of that particular spyder the data it needs, in the format that it needs it, in order to place a site at the proper level of relevance for the topic(s) in question. (This determination of topical relevance is called "placement".)

Also known as bridge pages, doorway page, entry pages or portal pages.


Many search engines give extra weight and importance to the text found inside HTML heading sections. It is generally considered good advice to use headings when designing web pages and to place keywords inside headings.


In the context of visitors to web pages, a hit (or site hit) is a single access request made to the server for either a text file or a graphic. If, for example, a web page contains ten buttons constructed from separate images, a single visit from someone using a web browser with graphics switched on (a "page view") will involve eleven hits on the server. (Often the accesses will not get as far as your server because the page will have been cached by a local internet service provider).

In the context of a search engine query, a hit is a measure of the number of web pages matching a query returned by a search engine or directory.


HyperText Markup Language - the (main) language used to write web pages.


A computer programming language whose programs can run on a number of different types of computer and/or operating system. Used extensively to produce applets for web pages.


An simple interpreted computer language used for small programming tasks within HTML web pages. The scripts are normally interpreted (or run) on the client computer by the web browser. Some search engines have been known to index these scripts, presumably erroneously.

Meta Tag

A construct placed in the HTML header of a web page, providing information which is not visible to browsers. The most common meta tags (and those most relevant to search engines) are KEYWORDS and DESCRIPTION. The KEYWORDS tag allows the author to emphasize the importance of certain words and phrases used within the page. Some search engines will respond to this information - others will ignore it. The DESCRIPTION tag allows the author to control the text of the summary displayed when the page appears in the results of a search. Some search engines will ignore this information.


Changes made to a web page to improve the positioning of that page with one or more search engines. A means of helping potential customers or visitors to find a web site. Optimization may involve design/layout changes, new text for the title-tags, meta-tags, alt- attributes, headings, and changes to the first 200-250 words of the main text. A large image map at the top of a page should be moved further down the page. Frames should be avoided (unless navigational links are also provided within the frames).

Portal Site

A generic term for any site which provides an entry point to the internet for a significant number of users.


The process of ordering web sites or web pages by a search engine or a directory so that the most relevant sites appear first in the search results for a particular query. Software can be used to determine how a URL is positioned for a particular search engine when using a particular search phrase.


A word, a phrase or a group of words, possibly combined with other syntax used to pass instructions to a search engine or a directory in order to locate web pages.


The URL of the web page from which a visitor came. The server's referrer log file will indicate this. If a visitor came directly from a search engine listing, the query used to find the page will usually be encoded in the referer URL, making it easy to see which keywords are bringing visitors. The referer information can also be accessed as document.referrer within JavaScript or via the HTTP_REFERER environment variable (accessible from scripting languages).


Any browser program which follows hypertext links and accesses web pages but is not directly under human control. Examples are the search engine spiders, the "harvesting" programs which extract e-mail addresses and other data from web pages and various intelligent web searching programs.

Search Engine

The software that searches an index and returns matches. Search engine is often used synonymously with spider and index, although these are separate components that work with the engine.


A computer, program or process which responds to requests for information from a client. On the internet, all web pages are held on servers. This includes those parts of the search engines and directories which are accessible from the internet.


Spam is generally used to refer to the sending of unsolicited bulk electronic mail.


That part of a search engine which surfs the web, storing the URLs and indexing the keywords and text of each page it finds. Please refer to the Search Engine Watch SpiderSpotting Chart for details of individual spiders. See also Robot.


Server Side Includes. Used (for example) to add dynamically generated content to a web page.


The words located at the very top of a browser window between the browser software icon and the minimize, maximize and close tags. Titles are registered with search engines in the indexing process and are useful to search tools.


The visitors to a web page or web site. Also refers to the number of visitors, hits, accesses etc. over a given period.


Universal Resource Locator. An address which can specify any internet resource uniquely. The beginning of the address indicates the type of resource - e.g. http: for web pages, ftp: for file transfers, telnet: for computer login sessions or mailto: for e-mail addresses.


World Wide Web


Extensible Markup Language. A new language which promises more efficient data delivery over the web. XML does nothing itself - it must be implemented using 'parser' software or XSL.