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A wall of post it notes containing different pieces of web design terminology on each

Sep 2022 Geek Web Design

Web Design jargon (explained in plain english)

One of the things we like to pride ourselves on here at Rare Form is the fact that we do our best to talk to our clients in plain English. Not every agency is quite so obliging, and to be fair, even we let a bit of jargon slip in every now and again. The trouble is that certain terminology is part of the everyday language of what we do, so of course some is going to slip by. And we totally understand why anyone else in this industry (or any other) would let jargon into their conversations as if it were common parlance.

However, if you are not familiar with it, there is a wealth of what sounds like gobbledygook when it comes to talking about web design and SEO. Here is a selection of the terms it is most useful to know.

Accessibility 

Accessibility refers to how well a website can be used by people with disabilities. Usually, we think of disabilities as physical, but on the web, the most significant disabilities are sensory or cognitive. Visually impaired visitors may be using screen readers. Hearing impaired visitors will be disadvantaged when it comes to any content reliant on sound. Colour blindness can severely hamper what someone actually sees on a page. Websites that require users to remember passwords and other information, or focus on a task (eg. form filling) for an extended period, may alienate users with cognitive disabilities (which can include autism, dyslexia, and memory loss, amongst others).  

Back End

The back end of a website is the part hidden from the view of the site’s audience. Think of the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain controlling everything. The Back End usually looks nothing like the website that regular visitors see, but contains all the controls for how the website runs and displays content.  

Backlink

Backlinks are links from other sites back to your own. Backlinks usually have a measurable impact on your site’s search rankings, depending on which site is linking back to yours.. Having backlinks from high-ranking sites can greatly improve your search engine results, especially if those links use keywords in their anchor text. Lower ranking sites can help too, though it takes more of them to make the same difference to your ranking.  Backlinks from poor-quality sites can actually harm your ranking as these tend to be seen as attempting to game the system by creating links that Google considers ’spammy’.

Bounce Rate

When a user comes to your site from a search listing result, they can either do something on your site or leave immediately (usually going back to the search listings for another option).  The act of leaving your site without having engaged in any way (like clicking on something) is termed a Bounce. Any website’s Bounce Rate is the percentage of people who leave without performing any kind of further action. Usually, this can be a fairly good indication of the quality of the navigation on a website.  It can also be a red flag for poor content or SEO. For example, if a visitor lands on your site and the content is not engaging, then it’s highly likely they will leave and seek out a more impressive offering. Likewise, if they land on your site from a set of search results for a specific term that your site does not actually appear to cover adequately, they may well decide to not waste time looking around but simply investigate another result from their search instead.

Call To Action

A Call To Action (usually abbreviated as CTA) is an element on a webpage that prompts visitors to do something. Usually, it takes the form of a button with some form of instruction or directive (buy now, download, click here), though it can also be a line of text, an image, or indeed anything else that can accommodate a link.

The action you want visitors to take could be anything from simply visiting another page on your site to downloading a resource of some kind, registering interest for an event, or even joining an online community.

CTAs are important in site design because they increase engagement and lower Bounce Rates.

Content Management System

In terms of web design, a Content Management System (usually abbreviated as CMS) is a way of running a website where users can manage the content (text, media, product info, etc) of their website without the need to have any knowledge of any web technologies like HTML, CSS, etc.   The content is managed via a set of tools in the website’s Back End that the site’s owners can access by logging in with an administrator’s account.

Content Management Systems are as numerous as they are esoteric, though there are a few names that may be recognisable to the layman – Drupal, Magento, and of course WordPress (the VHS of CMSs on account of it being so ubiquitous)

Cookies

Cookies are small text files that are stored on a user’s computer. They’re designed to contain a modest amount of data relating to a particular client and website, which can be read by the web server or the user’s computer. 

Usually, the data is fairly benign and enables the server to deliver a more tailored experience to the user by remembering details from a previous visit. This can include a login, preferences selected on the site, or even remembering if you left something in your shopping basket on e-commerce sites.  It can also be used for analytics purposes, i.e. building a picture of how well the site is performing, by tracking visitors’ progress through the site and noting behaviour.

They can also be used to track your online behaviour, principally which sites you have been to that uses cookies, and for this reason, are a possible privacy concern  – which is why almost any site that uses them is required to seek your consent.

Domain

The domain is what most of us consider to be the address of a website. For example: rareformnewmedia.com, speedtest.net, ox.ac.uk, wikipedia.org – these are all domains. 

The actual addresses of the servers that run these sites are numerical (because that’s what computers best understand) and look more like 91.198.174.192. That’s great for computers, but not so much for humans who are better at remembering words, so we have domain names to solve the problem. When you type in a web address like www.moomin.com, the first thing your browser does is to send a query to a DNS server (DNS – Domain Name System). The DNS server looks up the domain name and returns the numerical address associated with it, which enables your browser to connect to the correct server on the internet.  So the Domain name itself is not a hard address, but a pointer toward the numerical address that the computers understand.

This means that as well as being easier for humans to use, it also means that website servers can be changed without affecting the ‘name’ of the site, as all that is needed is to simply point the domain name at the new server address.

Front End 

The front end of a website is what regular visitors see when they visit it. Much like the impressive disembodied head of The Great and Powerful Oz, it is what is made visible to visitors, regardless of what is behind it.

Hosting

Web hosting is a service that allows organisations and individuals to put a website or web page onto the Internet. A web host, or web hosting service provider, is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for the website or web page to be viewed on the Internet. Websites are hosted on dedicated computers called servers which can be accessed by the internet.

iFrame 

Short for Inline Frame. An iframe is used to display content on a web page which actually resides on a different site entirely. A good example of this is when you see a Google map embedded on a website’s contact page, or a YouTube video in the middle of someone’s blog post.  The map and the video are not actually on the site you see them on, but are being displayed as if they were.

Landing Page 

Strictly speaking, a landing page is simply the page where a visitor first enters (or “lands on”) a website. So if you were to search Google for “Obfuscated contact information” and clicked on our blog post for Top 5 things you should have on any website, then that article would be your landing page for our site.

But more often than not, people tend to refer to Landing Pages as a page specifically designed for visitors to land on, usually from a particular link used in a marketing campaign. And frequently with the intention of getting your visitor to take a specific action. For example, a gym may have a membership drive where they offer three months free on a year’s signup. Adverts in the campaign would send traffic to a special landing page that explains the offer and makes it easy to sign up.

Payment Gateway

If you have an e-commerce site, or anything on your site that requires taking payment, then a Payment Gateway is what you will use to process the payment.  It is a service that authorises the transfer of funds from customers’ financial institutions to sellers without direct delivery of either bank or credit card account information. Payment gateways include PayPal, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Ali Pay and Amazon Pay.

Plug-In 

Plug-ins are pieces of third-party code that extend the capabilities of a website. They’re most often used in conjunction with a CMS (especially WordPress) to add functionality not offered by the core system – for example, WooCommerce is a plug-in for WordPress that enables a site to process e-commerce. With more bespoke platforms, plug-ins can be a way to extend the functionality of a website without having to redo the core coding of the site. 

Responsive Web Design

Responsive design is an approach to web page creation that aims to ensure that pages render well on all devices regardless of screen size. So if you look at a website on a laptop and a smartphone, and it displays on each as if it was designed for that device, then it has been designed responsively.

What happens is the page responds to the width of the screen or browser window it is being displayed on and resizes and rearranges elements accordingly.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is used as a catch-all term for anything pertaining to how your site behaves in search results (most notably Google).  Originally, the term related to how visible a site was to search engines and how well it could be indexed, but has now come to include any techniques for improving the ranking for a page or site within search results for a given term. 

URL

A URL (short for Uniform Resource Locator) is the name for the address of anything on the web. It could be for

The make-up of a URL will tend to be PROTOCOL – DOMAIN NAME – PATH. So taking the example of NASA’s page on the moon landing, the URL is 

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html

  • The Protocol is https:// which means a secure web page (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) which tells the user’s browser what kind of resource is being fetched. In this case it is a web page. Browsers today will tend to find the protocol automatically, meaning it does not need to be typed in when entering a URL manually.
  • The Domain Name is www.nasa.gov, which tells the browser what server the resource is on
  • The path is /mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html, which tells the browser how to find that resource on the server

Sometimes there is extra information on the end of a URL in the form of a QUERY.  Thus will follow a question mark, and is the browser’s way of talking to a database on the server. Try searching for anything on Google, the URL for the page of results you get will start with “google.com/search?q=“. Sometimes the query is necessary for the information you want, as in the case of a Google search. Sometimes it is purely for the server itself to record where traffic has come from – try searching google for any kind of product and click on a link for a site that sells it. You’ll see that the URL is most likely long and convoluted, but if you were to select everything from the question mark onward and delete it, what remains of the URL would send you to exactly the same page.

Usability 

Usability refers to how easy it is for your visitors to use your site in its intended manner. It is a simple concept with wide-ranging implications. 

At its simplest, it deals with elements of the site like navigation, content, images, and any interactive elements and ensures they are intuitive, easy to use, and functioning the way they were intended. Accessibility is also an important consideration as some disabilities may have a direct impact on the usability of a site – for example, the navigation may be designed well for users to find what they need, but if it is displayed in red on green that someone with deuteranomaly would have extreme difficulty using it.

UX 

This is short for User eXperience, and deals with ant aspect of the user’s interaction with your site or app.  Not to be confused with UI (User Interface) design, (an important component of UX), which deals with giving the users the tools to interact with a site well. UX goes beyond this and takes into account how the site behaves in relation to the user – for example will it offer to autofill forms where it is able to? Consider UX as the equivalent of a customer satisfaction score in using your site or app.

Viewport

The viewport is the user’s visible area of a web page. It varies with the device and will be significantly smaller on a smartphone than on a desktop computer display.

Before we had tablets and smartphones, web pages were designed only for computer screens, and it was common for web pages to have a static design and a fixed size.  Now that web pages are displayed on a variety of devices with different-sized screens, the concept of viewport is an important factor in responsive design.

It is also worth noting that the viewport is not simply the screen size. With the advent of pixel-dense displays such as Apple’s Retina display on iPhones and iPads where more pixels are crammed into each inch of the display, the actual screen dimensions in pixels are much larger than the viewport size.  For example, an iPhone13 mini has a screen with a resolution of 1080 x 2340, but the viewport is actually just 390 x 844. Think of the resolution as how richly detailed images and video will appear, but the viewport is how text and web page elements behave as that is more related to the physical size of the screen. If you design for a device’s resolution rather than its viewport, everything becomes too small to see, like shrinking a 27-inch monitor view onto a 6-inch screen.

A great resource that we use for finding the viewport sizes of various devices is yesviz.com.

Web Standards 

These are specifications recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help avoid chaos on the web. They are not standards in the sense that they must be adhered to, rather they are guidelines for best practices in website design. They deal with the code that web services are built on, (primarily HTML, CSS, and scripting languages), as well as video and image formats, accessibility issues, mobile web best practices, and even internationalisation of content.  If you want to dive deeper, the best place to start is W3C’s own resource page on the subject.

Posted by: Chris Hands

Sep 16, 2022

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