The Ultimate Web Terms Glossary
Being a team of digital natives, it’s not uncommon for it to sound like we’re speaking a completely different language during a typical day around the office. Digital designers, web developers, digital marketers, developers and programmers speak and think in this language every day, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you aren’t a long-time friend of the web. CMS, UX, SEO, CSS, SVG, PWA, PHP – acronyms are being thrown in left and right, mixed in with developer speak, design lingo, web terms, internet slang…
Whether you’re trying to put together a website yourself, briefing your web developer or trying to troubleshoot what has gone wrong with an existing site, getting a project up and running can often be daunting and a little confusing. There’s nothing worse than sitting on an online chat to your hosting provider in the middle of the night trying to get your site back up and running with no clue in the world how to explain your problem. In a digital world where it feels like a new programming language is being invented every day and old ways are becoming obsolete at the speed of light, it can help to have a bit of background knowledge about how the whole thing works together!
If you’re a webophobe, technophobe or both, we’ve put together the ultimate glossary to put you in the know to make it easier to start and finish your next project.
A domain, or domain name, is your website address. Just like your physical address, it’s just an address on the internet that specifies where your browser should go to look for information. Some people confuse their domain with their website.
Think of the domain as your home address. It’s an easy way for people to find your house. Then think of your website as the house itself, contents and all. The domain is just a simple way for people to be able to find you.
When you register a domain name on the internet (and pay the registration fees), you are buying the right to use that domain name for a year (or whatever term is specified).
A URL is different from a domain in that it contains the ‘hypertext transfer protocol’ (HTTP), which basically tells the browser that you’re using a domain name instead of an IP address. HTTP is the underlying protocol that allows users to exchange information. If ‘test.com’ is your domain, ‘https://www.test.com’ might be your website URL.
You might also find HTTPS as a prefix to some web URLs, instead of HTTP. This just means that you have a secure connection to the server and no other computers can listen in on the conversation! Look out for this when entering personal details on any website, it is designated by a green ‘lock’ symbol in the address bar of your browser.
Put simply, your web server is a big computer that exists just to host and run websites. The more powerful the computer, the more powerful the server. The server exists to fulfil requests from clients – it stores, processes and delivers web pages to users. When you type in a URL, your browser requests a webpage from the server. So it’s like your browser is making a phone call, through the line which is HTTP, to reach the web server of that website. The server relays the information back to your browser which displays the information in HTML and CSS.
Understanding the role of your hosting provider is a hugely important part of running your own website. A hosting provider provides space on their server to host your website so that other computers can access it live. Generally, hosting providers charge a fee for the service which is charged either monthly or annually – plans differ in the level of support they provide, security features, speed etc. Plans can range from limited and low-cost to high-level business plans. As a general rule, you get what you pay for with hosting plans.
The back-end relates to how the site works, updates and changes. It’s basically everything the user can’t see from the front-end. Back-end development is essential for any dynamic site that includes features that need to change often and update regularly, e.g. blogs, news sites and aggregate websites. The back-end consists of databases and servers – all things concerned with security, structure and the manner in which content is organised. A database is required to store all information such as user profiles, images, posts, text, and keep them categorised in a way that makes sense for the site. Back-end developers work with programming languages like PHP, Java, Python and Ruby.
Websites with blogs are considered dynamic sites since their content is constantly changing and updating. A dynamic site requires a database to work properly. All information such as user profiles, images uploaded, or blog posts, are stored in a website’s database. Web developers work with programming languages like PHP or .Net, which are different from front-end languages since they need to work with something the database understands. The code they write communicates with the server and then tells the browser what to use from the database.
HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. It’s an essential language for developers to use in order to specify content for a web page. It consists of tags and attributes that tell the browser what content the web page contains. Having basic knowledge of HTML is extremely handy if you have anything to do with entering content into a site. Things like images and text are all specified with HTML.
Think of HTML as the skeleton/backbone and CSS as the looks. CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets, the most common way of setting a look and feel of a website. While HTML tells the browser what goes on the page, CSS will tell the browser how it should be presented, for example: colours, fonts, layout and more.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Since the rise of the Internet and the complete saturation of web pages on the world wide web, it has become more and more important to optimise your web page for search results. This simply means, getting your website found through search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. However, Google is the main search engine to target, being the world’s most popular search engine by a long run. A range of procedures can be executed to make sure you are following best SEO practices. Whilst site ranking factors are solely up to Google, who are free to change their algorithm at any time, it is important to follow basic optimisation exercises when building and updating your website – allowing your business to be found. SEO generally refers to the entire practice on and off-site actions that will lead to a higher or more targeted ranking on a Google web page.
Computer code is written for a variety of purposes, from web pages to computer desktop software to app development. Each purpose is associated with a different programming language. In order to write in a language that the program can understand, developers need to write code.
A web developer works to write in a variety of programming languages of different functions in order to create digital products. A web developer will either write code in programming languages designed for the purpose of the front-end or back-end of a website (see Front-End & Back-End). A web developer who has the expertise to take a project and see it through from conception to completion can also be called a full-stack developer, someone who is well-versed in all the layers of computer or web software/product development.
The repository, when speaking about a website repository, is a location where all the data is kept, maintained and organised. These files will be hosted on a server which has a physical location, but anyone given administration access can download information and modify it. The files will contain specific databases, files or documents which compile to create a website.
Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS refers to an online system in which end-users can create, change and edit website content through the use of an editor that doesn’t require HTML knowledge. These systems are often built by developers and used as a program so that non-developers can edit their content more easily. If a website did not make use of a CMS for content editing, any changes to text, images, or other content would have to be made through editing the code for a particular web page. WordPress is one of the world’s leading CMS for its ease of use and compatibility with other tools such as plugins to create better user experiences with limited coding knowledge.