Good communication is important in any project, but it’s essential in web design. The challenge is that web design is deceptively simple on the surface, but still contains many hidden technical details - details that it’s your responsibility as a client to know.
Your web developer will mention many specialized terms that may sound foreign to you, but they're mentioning them for a reason. They are important indications of how well your website functions and will affect how it performs. So it’s in your best interest to learn what those terms mean.
To that end, we've compiled a list of web design terms that every client should know. If you have any questions about some of the topics covered here, feel free to reach out to us with your questions, or comment below!
A permanent redirect from one URL to another. Usually used to redirect users from an old web page to a new web page. 301 Redirects help maintain continuity of User Experience for existing users of your website and also let's search engines know that the value they previously placed on the old page should be transferred to the new page.
An error message displayed when a web page cannot be found. These types of error pages can be customized for branding purposes. These errors often occur when a page has been (often accidentally) deleted, or from typos in a link to an existing page. 404 Errors can be frustrating for users, especially when the user has already emotionally committed to consuming the content they expected to find there.
Designing your product or service environment for people with physical or mental disabilities or limitations. Accessibility is a common oversight among web developers who are not considering the entire potential audience of a website. Why make your User Experience more difficult for a potential customer or client when you don't have to?
ADA; American Disabilities Act
ADA refers to the American Disabilities Act of 1990, which is a civil rights law that states that websites and other digital media must be accessible to people with disabilities.
ALT Tag; Alternative Descriptive Text
An abbreviated term for “Alternative Descriptive Text.” Attached to image tags and is important for making websites ADA and AODA compliance as well as for SEO ranking.
AODA; Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
AODA refers to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2012, which is a civil rights law that states that websites and other digital media must be accessible to people with disabilities.
API; Application Programming Interface
API is short for “Application Programming Interface.” An API is simply a framework for how different software applications can talk to each other, by setting common rules for how to create, read, update, and delete data between two systems.
How much data can be transferred over a connection at a given time. If you think of data over the internet as water, bandwidth would be the size of your pipe.
Bounce Rate is the percentage at which users leave your site from the entrance page without interacting with it or consuming more content. You can think of Bounce Rate like knocking on the wrong person's door. The higher this percentage, the more people are reaching your website and realizing it does not contain content that appeals to them. Search engines use a website's Bounce Rate as one of many factors that affect a website's reputation (and search result rankings thusly) so it's important to actively monitor this statistic!
The point(s) where a website will adjust to accommodate the size of a specific browser window or a device's screen to ensure the best viewing experience. Breakpoints are a key component of Responsive Web Design. Breakpoints are essentially rules or boundaries that define at what points a website plans to alter its appearance to make the best possible use of the available screen space.
A Cache contains data temporarily stored on your computer to help improve site loading speed. A user’s computer caches your website’s data the first time they visit, which helps it load faster the next time the user views the same page because your Web Browser doesn't have to download as much content from the internet to complete that same webpage.
Any text or image on the website that prompts or requests a visitor to perform a specific action. CTAs are different from regular website functionality (like links and navigation) in that the CTA has a specific and narrow marketing purpose. CTAs are checkpoints in a user's experience of your website that allow you to measure how effective your content is at helping prospects proceed through your marketing funnel.
CDN; Content Delivery Network
Short for “Content Delivery Network,” a CDN is a network of servers (often located all around the world) that store content for websites closer to the user so that data doesn't have to travel as far across the internet to arrive at the user's Web Browser. CDNs are useful for making improving a website's loading speed so that your website's users can experience your content without the internet slowing them down.
CMS; Content Management System
Maintaining a large website often necessitates the use of a Content Management System, or "CMS". A CMS is a software application that is used to edit the content of your website (ex. Wordpress, MODX) and often helps bridge the technical skills gap between experienced web developers and inexperienced business managers that want to be involved in the ongoing maintenance of the website's content.
Cookies are chunks of data saved by your Web Browser that help websites to serve a customized experience to your users. Cookies identify you to a website if you've visited it before and help you analyze how customers and prospects interact with your website across several visits (i.e. which pages they visit and how often).
A marketing term for when a user takes a desirable action, such as filling out a form, downloading a brochure, making a purchase, or clicking on a link to a different web page. Conversion is especially important for eCommerce websites, where measuring how effective a page is at "converting" users into customers is an incredibly important metric.
Crawling, Crawlers, Search Bots
When a search engine sends a Search Bot to your website to learn more about the content on your website (to include your website in potential search results) it is called "Crawling". A Search Bot will scan your website for new or missing pages and log or “index” that information in a database, which will be used by the search engine to send users to your site if they are looking for content that exists on your website. If your website isn't configured properly to handle Search Bots and Crawling in general, then you may be making it difficult for Search Engines to recommend your website to potential customers.
CSS; Cascading Style Sheets
CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets.” CSS is a set of style rules that tell a Web Browser how to display your website, including fonts; colours; boxes and shapes; images; and in some cases transitions between different styles. Well-maintained CSS files help your web developer to maintain a consistent aesthetic for all pages across your website.
A Domain Name is the name of your website as it appears on the internet. It is also commonly referred to as being your website's location on the internet. If the internet was a map, then your Domain Name would be the name of your city on that map.
DNS Settings; Domain Name System Settings
DNS Settings are the rules that define how your Domain Name operates and can define things like Sub-Domains (ex. subdomain.keddy.ca), Email Services (ex. [email protected]), and more. In their purest form, DNS Settings tell the internet which parts of a Domain Name point where (like pointing your Domain Name to your Web Hosting so visitors can see your website, for example).
Much like a Web Hosting company provides the Web Hosting of your website, a Domain Registrar keeps a record of your Domain Name Registration, so the rest of the Internet knows only you can use your Domain Name.
A Favicon, short for "favourite icon", is an icon that appears in a Web Browser when a user visits your webpage or saves it to their bookmarks. If a user saves your website to their home screen on a mobile device, then your Favicon is used as the visual representation of your website on their home screen (so it's a great opportunity to introduce a clean stylish form of your company's branding so you stand out!)
FTP; File Transfer Protocol
FTP stands for “File Transfer Protocol,” and is a common way for Web Developers to upload files to a server that hosts your website.
Your website's Home Page is often the first page visitors see when they arrive at your website. When a user types your Domain Name into their Web Browser, this is most often the page that they'll see - it's their first impression of your business, so it has to make an impact!
HTML; Hypertext Markup Language
HTTP; Hypertext Transfer Protocol; HTTPS
HTTP, or “Hypertext Transfer Protocol”, is the protocol that defines how web browsers and websites communicate, and how data is sent and received between your browser and the website you’re trying to reach. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP and is used to protect confidential information. In recent years, Search Engines like Google have placed an increased emphasis on websites that use HTTPS, in an effort to make the internet a safer place for everyone.
Meta tags store information about your website in a very structured way so that Search Engines understand the context of a web page (i.e. what is this page about, who made it, etc). Meta tags are very important for SEO and overall user experience because Search Engines use meta tags to categorize and display information about websites.
This refers to the menus that visitors use to get around your website. Having a difficult to use Navigation structure means that users who might otherwise consume more of your website's content often leave instead. The more content a user consumes, the higher the likelihood that they might convert into a paying customer!
The amount of time it takes to load all the content on your web page. Having a slow page speed could make it difficult for Search Engines to rank your website high in SERPs.
Most websites aren't created from scratch. A Page Template is a great way to start from a pre-designed layout of content, styles, and functional elements that you can customize into a more unique experience for your website's users without starting from scratch.
Plugins, or sometimes called "Extras", are add-on components that extend the features of a CMS that allow you to increase the functionality of your website in a specific way. Some plugins allow you to manage SEO, while others might focus specifically on processing payments from customers, or handling the right-sizing of images throughout your entire website. Plugins, when used in the proper context can add a lot of useful functionality. Don't go plugin crazy though, because in many cases each plugin you install has the potential to slow down the performance of your overall website.
Sometimes when you make changes to your DNS Settings, it takes time for those changes to reach the entire Internet. This is referred to as Propagation. Since DNS Settings are Cached throughout the Internet, it can often take 24-48 hours for every server storing DNS Settings for your website to update to any changes you may make.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design is a concept of web design that identifies a method of design where a website is styled differently for different devices and screen sizes. Websites that are designed well with Responsive Web Design in mind always look their best on any device, whereas website with poor Responsive Web Design often have design flaws like images that get cut off in the wrong place, text that continues off-screen, and other poor design choices that make a website less appealing to users visiting your website.
SDML; Structured Data Markup Language; Schema Markup
SDML, or "Structured Data Markup Language", is one of a few standards of Schema Markup that developers insert into websites so that Search Engines can provide more detailed and custom information in their search results. You've probably seen Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS) that contain different types of content, laid out differently than standard search results. These may include things like results in Question/Answer format, a carousel of local businesses or products for sale, or even live scores from tonight's hockey game. These are all examples of the kind of data Search Engines can deliver because of how different websites use SDML.
SEO; Search Engine Optimization
SEO, or "Search Engine Optimization", is the act of modifying or changing your website, it's content and structure so that it might rank higher in Search Engine results. While engaging in SEO does not guarantee that your website will rank higher, it often removes a lot of the issues in the design of your website that prevents Search Engines from understanding when your website is a valuable resource to return to searchers.
SERPs; Search Engine Results Pages
SERPS, or “Search Engine Results Pages”, are the pages that display search results when the user of a Search Engine types in a specific search query. When speaking about SEO, developers also use the term SERPs to refer to your website's ranking in search results.
A sitemap is a directory of all the public pages on a website. Sitemaps are often used to communicate to a Search Engine an entire listing of all possible pages contained on a website so that Search Engines know where to look for your website's content.
URL; Uniform Resource Locator
URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locator” and is the address that specifies a website’s location on the Internet. A URL contains a protocol (ex. "http://", "https://", "ftp://", ...) a domain name (ex. "keddy.ca", "patrickicasas.com", ...) and the location of the file on the server (ex. "/blog/clients-guide-to-web-design-terminology/") .
UX; User Experience
User Experience, or "UX" for short, encompasses all interactions a user has with your website or app’s interface. A positive UX design means that a website is designed in a way that is easy for users to understand, navigate, and interact with. Poor UX design can hinder your website's ability to generate customer traffic to your business.
A Web Browser (or just Browser for short) is a software program used to “browse” the Internet. Popular Web Browsers include Mozilla's Firefox (Mozilla), Chrome (Google), Safari (Apple), and Edge (Microsoft).
Different Web Browsers have different features and functionality, and no, these companies don't always agree on how web browsers should work. For this reason, there are often design concepts that need to be implemented in very specific ways for them to function properly across all major Web Browsers.
Web Hosting refers to the service a company provides, to serve your website to all users that wish to see it. A Web Hosting company will store your website on their web server so that when a user visits your Domain Name, your website is available to be viewed. Web Hosting is commonly confused with Domain Name Registration, which is the registration of your ownership of the rights to use a specific Domain Name. Web Hosting on the other hand is where your website is located. Think of your Web Hosting as a specific street on the internet, and your Domain Name as the road sign that identifies that street.
A web server is a computer connected to the Internet that runs software to allow users to access your website through a browser or mobile device. If you choose to engage the services of a Web Hosting company, your website will be "hosted" on their Web Server. This is incredibly common, as the cost of purchasing and maintaining a Web Server presents two major challenges for smaller businesses: cost, and a lack of technical expertise.