Have you hired or are you thinking of hiring a web designer to build a website for your business? If so, you’ll soon discover that they like to communicate using “geek speak”. Naturally it makes perfect sense to them, but if you don’t have a background in IT or web design, you’ll get lost pretty quickly. Confusion can then lead to mistrust, which is difficult to overcome in a business relationship.
As a client-facing agency, we know how important it is to be clear and approachable when discussing a website project with a business owner. We have to choose our words carefully and if we end up getting too technical, we should be able to smooth the wrinkles on our client’s forehead. Inspired by a recent project, we’ve put together a short glossary of common terms that may come up in communications with your web designer. If you are a web designer yourself, feel free to use the following explanations with your clients.
In the context of web design, analytics usually refers to Google Analytics, which is a free tool provided by Google that allows you to track what visitors are doing on your website. (What are they clicking on? What search terms did they use to find your site? How long are they staying on the site?) It’s easy to set up if you already have an email account with Google, and then it’s just a matter of adding the tracking code to your site and keeping up with the reports.
Tracking visitor behavior in Google Analytics helps you understand how your website is performing right now and how it has been performing over time. You can even create specific goals and benchmarks to make sure you’re getting the desired results from the investment you’ve made in the website. It’s a good idea to go over the reports regularly with your web designer to figure out what’s working and what could be improved.
You’ve probably heard phrases like a “cache of weapons” or a “cache of treasure”. Well, in Internet terms, a “cache” is a store of website files. When you visit a website, your browser (Google Chrome, Internet Explore, Firefox, etc.) will store a copy of the site’s files for a limited period of time (e.g. 24 hours) so that the site will load faster the next time you visit. Caching is also available on the server level with your hosting provider, and in WordPress with special plugins.
By enabling caching on your website, you can reduce the time it takes for your site to load. This increases the chances that visitors will stay on your site and convert to customers. On the other hand, caching can prevent you from seeing changes that your web designer made on your website. In this case you would need to clear your browser history or ask your web designer to manually flush the cache on the server.
Call to action
As the name implies, a call to action is an element on a website (or an email newsletter) that asks a visitor to take action. It can take many forms, such as a large button, a signup box, or a banner.
Every website wants the visitor to do something: download a free ebook, buy a product, sign up for a newsletter, fill out an inquiry form, etc. The trick is to present the call to action in a polite but persuasive way. You should make it clear to the visitor what you want them to do, how to do it, what they will get out of it, and what they will lose by not taking action. Consult with your web designer to determine the best type and placement for your call to action.
CMS stands for “Content Management System”. This is a fancy word for the interface between you and the back end of your website. A CMS allows you to manage your site using things like modules, plugins, and themes, which is a lot easier than writing lines of code. Popular CMS’s include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. You will also find a CMS built into Shopify and Squarespace.
It’s possible and sometimes advisable to build websites without a CMS, but that means that you have to touch the code every time you want to make a change. And unless you’re a web developer, you don’t really have any reason to mess with code. As a business owner, you need to focus on–you guessed it–running your business, whether it’s an accounting firm, a blog, or an online store. We use WordPress for all our clients’ sites because of its power and flexibility.
Conversion can mean a lot of different things depending on the type of business you have, but in general it means turning potential customers into actual customers. So if you have an online store, a conversion would involve a visitor purchasing an item. If you’re trying to grow your email list, a conversion would mean someone entered their email address in your signup box.
Most websites just sit there on the Internet. People visit them, but they don’t take any action. You want your website to convert. Ideally you should address your conversion goals at the beginning of the website project. That way your web designer can build your site in such a way that it maximizes the chance that visitors will take the desired action. You can track conversions using Google Analytics or another tool, and then tweak the website accordingly.
A domain name is the Internet’s version of your street address. In order to put your website online, you need both hosting (space for your website) and a domain name (the address people will use to reach your site). Many hosting providers also sell domain names, but you don’t have to get them at the same place. For instance, we often buy domain names for our clients from GoDaddy, while hosting their website on Flywheel.
While a domain name is essential for your website, it’s not enough to just pick any name. You should select a domain name that is easy to remember and contains the name of your business. If your preferred domain name is already registered, consider alternate versions with abbreviations, keywords, or a different suffix (instead of .com, try .co or .net).
Ecommerce is short for “electronic commerce”. It refers to any commercial transactions carried out on the Internet. For example, Amazon.com is one of the largest ecommerce stores in the world. You can buy anything from clothing to books without having to set foot in a physical store.
While physical stores are still very important, more people are buying products online. On the other hand, ecommerce is not right for every business, so it’s important for you to examine your current customer base to see if they would actually use an online store. Also do some research on your target audience (the new customers you want to attract) to determine if they like to shop online. Don’t take the leap into ecommerce unless you have the infrastructure in place to support online transactions (e.g. SSL, shipping, inventory management, coordination with in-store sales, payment methods, etc.).
Hosting is where your website lives on the Internet. If your website is like a house or apartment, hosting is like the property that it sits on. In this case, you’re buying property on a server, which is a machine that stores data (like the files and images of your website) and “serves” it to people and other machines requesting that data. Virtual property on a server can be cheap or expensive, secure or insecure, and near or far from your customers.
Just like the quality of the house or neighborhood you live in, the quality of your hosting matters. Sure, you can go with cheap, low-quality hosting, but you’d better not care much about your website, because it will get burglarized (hacked) and it will take a long time for it to reach your customers (the website will load slowly). For hosting WordPress websites, we recommend Flywheel, WP Engine, or SiteGround.
You can “migrate” content such as pages and blog posts from one website to another. You can also migrate an entire website from one hosting provider to another.
Migration of content is necessary if you are building a new website but don’t want to recreate all the content from the old site. It saves time and money to migrate the content, usually by exporting it from the old site and importing it to the new site. In terms of hosting, you generally don’t want to migrate an entire website unless it is necessary to improve site performance and security.
“Mobile friendly” is a real buzzword in web design these days. But what does it actually mean? Despite the name, a mobile-friendly site does not work well on mobile devices. Instead of adapting to the device like a responsive site, it simply shrinks to fit the smaller screen. So your site may look fine on a desktop computer, but it will be very difficult to use on a smartphone. Your customers will likely have to magnify the tiny menu and links in order to find what they’re looking for.
Your web designer has probably told you that you need a mobile-friendly site. And you might have requested one as well. That’s true, but what you really need is a responsive site, which will actually rearrange its content for maximum usability, not just squash it down to fit.
Though “optimization” is a general term, we included it because clients don’t always understand what it means. Whenever you optimize something, you’re making it better–your site will load faster with “optimized” images (compressed file sizes), it will be more visible to search engines with SEO, more user-friendly on mobile with responsive design, more likely to convert leads with calls-to-action and clever copy, etc.
Optimization is a continual process. Websites are not static because the Internet is not static–it is always evolving, placing new demands on your online presence. Your web designer should already be staying abreast of these trends to ensure that your website performs well on any new devices that come out and meets the latest standards in design and security. If you don’t optimize your site, your competitors will optimize theirs, drawing away your customers, and hackers will take advantage of any vulnerabilities. It’s not a happy scenario.
Performance is another misunderstood term. It refers to the speed and reliability of your website. The quality of your hosting, coupled with the quality of the actual site design, determines how well your site will perform. A high-performance website will load quickly, experience little downtime, stay safe from hackers, handle traffic well, and overall meet the demands of the user.
You may not care if your website loads slowly on mobile, goes down sometimes, or doesn’t always send a confirmation email after someone submits a form, but your visitors DO care. People expect to get what they want, when they want it, how they want it. They’re not interested in waiting more than a few seconds for your site to load, coming back later after maintenance, or filling out a form again. They will leave your site and go to your competitor’s site, which performs much better.
This term is self-explanatory, yet it represents an important (and extremely neglected) area of website ownership. Website security refers to any safeguards on the server itself or the website which will block hacking attempts, scan and remove malicious programs, authenticate users, and secure the connection between your website and your customers’ devices.
If it’s a no-brainer to have a security system at your physical place of business, why wouldn’t you enforce security measures to protect your virtual place of business (aka your website)? It’s common for owners of small websites that don’t receive much traffic or require frequent content updates to think that they don’t need a lot of fancy security. On the contrary, hackers prefer such sites because these are the most vulnerable. Whether you have a blog or an online store, you should seriously consider investing in a security system for your website.
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. If your website is optimized for search engines, it will show up higher in the search results when people enter keywords related to your business. You can optimize your site by making sure each page or blog post contains keywords for your industry and location. You should also connect your site to Google Webmaster Tools so that it is indexed correctly by Google.
There are many components to SEO, but they are all designed to make your website more visible to search engines and thus to your potential customers who are searching for services like yours. For example, if you’re a local business offering tax services, you want your website to be one of the first to show up in the search results for your area.
A server is a machine which stores the files and images of your website and “serves” it to people and computers requesting that data. Hosting companies (like GoDaddy, BlueHost, SiteGround, etc.) sell space on servers. You can buy a large or small space depending on the size of your site. You can also choose whether to share the space with other websites or have your own dedicated space.
As we discussed in the section on hosting, the quality of your server matters. There are many kinds of servers designed to meet different requirements. They can be cheap or expensive, secure or insecure, fast or slow. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming, but a good rule of thumb is “you get what you pay for”. If you want to host your website in a fast, secure, spacious environment, you’re going to have to invest some money. We recommend Flywheel, WP Engine, or SiteGround to our clients.
We won’t waste your time by defining “speed”, but we will explain what it means specifically for websites. When someone accesses your website, your server has to send your website to the person’s computer or mobile device. They will use a “browser” (such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Safari) to view the website. Also, if they click a link to go to a new page, the server will have to send additional information to your visitor’s device to display that page.
From the description above you can see that it takes time for your server to communicate with the visitor’s device in order to load your website. A fast website will load in under 4 seconds. If your site takes longer than 4 seconds to load, there is the possibility that visitors will not wait and will leave your site. This can be as many as 25% on mobile devices.
SSL stands for “Secure Socket Layer”. In simplest terms, it creates a secure connection between you and the customer, like a private phone line, so that hackers cannot access the information being passed. It also prevents hackers from pretending to be you and accepting personal information from your customers on your behalf. You can usually buy an SSL certificate from your hosting provider, though some, such as Flywheel, are now partnering with Let’s Encrypt to offer basic SSL for free.
If you’re selling products directly on your website, or collecting any sensitive information from your customers, you need an SSL. When you purchase an SSL certificate and install it on your website, it puts a little green padlock next to your website address. It’s similar to having an ADT or CPI sign outside your business, indicating that you have a security system. With an SSL in place, your customers can rest assured that no one will steal their credit card numbers, phone numbers, or other private data. That trust is invaluable for the reputation of your business, which would struggle to recover from an identity theft scandal.
“Responsive” is another web design buzzword. A responsive website is one that responds (or adapts) to the device someone is using to view it. For example, you will see a website in a three-column layout on a desktop computer screen, but if you switch to your smartphone, you will notice that the elements of the website are now stacked in a single column. Also, you will probably see the navigation change from a horizontal menu to a little icon that expands vertically when clicked.
You don’t have any control over the device your customers use to view your website. Suppose you have an awesome desktop version, but your customers do most of their surfing on mobile devices. With a responsive site design, you have the peace of mind that your customers will have a great experience on your website no matter what device they use.
Hopefully this glossary answered many of your questions. We would like to keep the list up to date, so please let us know in the comments if we’ve left out any terms that cause confusion for you or your clients. Also, if you need assistance implementing any of the suggestions above, don’t hesitate to reach out.