Taking the Mystery Out of Common Web Terms

“Don't gloss over the glossary. Let us simplify key web development terminology.”
Anna Montgomery

Ever had that awkward moment when you think you mishear a word, so you ask someone to repeat themselves, but after a few rounds of repetition, you realize you just have no idea what they’re talking about? 🙋‍♀️ This is the challenge of insider language—it makes things efficient, but only if you actually know the key terminology.

Throughout our web projects, you’ll hear our team using a number of words and phrases to describe technical details and processes. Some of these may be new to you, so we’ve put together some simple definitions to take some of the mystery out of the web world.



Site Map

A document that shows a hierarchical blueprint of a website’s pages and content. It’s like a cheat sheet for the labyrinthine connections between different pages. This is usually one of the first steps in a website redesign, as it is important to know what content is needed on a website before design begins. With a thorough site map, we can prevent any blank or unnecessary pages, which ultimately saves time and resources.



An outline used to plan a site’s structure and functionality. That might sound a lot like a site map, but whereas that is focused on core content, a wireframe is focused on its presentation. We build wireframes in a collaborative concepting tool called Freehand. Using sketch-like elements, we create a visual outline that guides the design and content based on the site map. In a wireframe, each place that will eventually have written content is filled with Lorem Ipsum (or dummy) text.



Static design of a web page or application that features many of its final design elements but is not functional. A mockup is not as polished as a live page and typically includes some placeholder data, but it does move you out of the “okay, use your imagination” stage of web development. What you see is pretty close to what you’ll get.


Development (“Dev”) Site

A private version of a website, sometimes called a staging site, used for testing website changes before making them live. When building a new website, the developer will build a dev site where you can see and interact with the newly designed site before it goes live.


Content Roadmap

An outline of content needed for a website after finalizing the sitemap. This includes text, images, videos, testimonials, and other types of content. This part is like a grocery list your web developer will give you—some elements are things you’ll chase down and provide, and other things will be handled by the development team.


Soft Launch

A common strategy of releasing a product ahead of its scheduled launch with little or no marketing push. Unlike full launches, soft launches are usually planned as “rehearsals” for a full launch, and let developers simulate real-world interactions with their product. For a website, this means exploring every page on as many different devices as possible to make sure there aren’t any problems.


Hard Launch

The formal official launch of a market-ready product that has no bugs.





The name of the website that people type into a browser to visit it. For example, our domain is weareamenable.com. It would be cooler if people called it a “lair” instead of a “domain,” but we don’t think this change will happen any time soon.



The web servers where your website files are housed, served, and maintained. A web server is a computer running web server software connected to the internet that allows visitors to access a website through an Internet-connected web browser or mobile device. This one can be tricky to understand because we often think of the internet as just being “out there” in the ether somewhere, but everything you see is physically stored somewhere in the same way that you can store a limited number of photos or songs on your phone.



The company used to register your domain name. Some examples include GoDaddy or Network Solutions. Think of this kind of like a car salesman. The dealer didn’t literally make your Subaru, but they facilitate the exchange.


Domain Name Servers (DNS)

The Internet’s version of a phone book, controlling your domain name’s website and email settings. When a user visits your website address, the DNS settings control which server to point them to. If we want to get real old school, it’s probably more accurate to think of this like the phone operators you see in old movies.


WordPress Content Management System (CMS)

A software system that is used to edit the content on your website. This allows you to log in to the “back end” of your website to edit the text and images. A CMS is designed to simplify the publication of website content, without requiring technical knowledge of code. It’s like how you can upload a pic to instagram without knowing all the technical details of what’s happening behind the scenes.


Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate

A standard security protocol necessary for establishing encrypted communication between a web browser and a website. When a site has an SSL certificate, HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) appears in the URL and the site displays as “secure.” The details of the certificate can be viewed by clicking on the lock symbol which appears next to the URL in the browser bar.

That definition might feel like a word salad, so just think of this like a home security system—nobody’s breaking in or stealing your data without you knowing.




Data Protection Laws

While California and a few other states have data protection laws, the biggest reason for including this on your site is your global audience. The GDPR (termly.io/resources/articles/what-is-gdpr) is a European data protection law that gives individuals more control over their personal information. This policy has forced companies and individuals to reframe how they think about data privacy. While the policy originally seemed irrelevant for individual sites or small businesses, in 2022, under this policy a private site was fined under the GDPR for using Google Fonts. We’ve taken the precaution of not using Google Fonts on any sites we design, but this decision has raised a significant number of legal questions with web development because it was a low profile, low-risk site that was targeted in the lawsuit. Termly has a good article with a general explanation about this: termly.io/resources/articles/why-you-need-a-privacy-policy They also have a generator to put together policies—see it here.



A small text file that includes an anonymous unique identifier and visit information that is sent to a browser from a website and stored on a visitor’s computer hard drive. This data can provide information about who visits the website, how often they visit, what parts of the site they visit the most and their browsing preferences. That sounds scarier than it is, but this is why you “mysteriously” get ads about things you’ve been reading about.


Privacy Policies

A statement or legal document that discloses all of the ways a party gathers, uses, discloses, and manages a customer or client’s data. These are critical to have, especially in light of how information is sold and used.




Call to Action (CTA)

Specific text, image, banner or button that uses action-oriented language to urge a visitor on a website to act. CTAs are designed to move a visitor from one page to the next and persuade them to take an expected, predetermined action. (e.g. Download a Whitepaper, Register for a Webinar, Contact Us, Learn More, etc.).  If we included a link here with more details, it would be CTA-ception.


Responsive Design

A website that adjusts to the screen it is being viewed on, whether desktop, mobile or tablet. Media queries are used to find the resolution of the device the website is being displayed on, and then flexible images, fluid grids and the site menu are adjusted to fit the screen. In the past, there would have been two websites designed—a computer & a mobile site, but because of the sheer number of different devices that now exist, it’s often better to make a site that simply adapts.


User Interface (UI)

How a user interacts with the design on a page. For example, the battery indicator on your smartphone is a part of the user interface. Sometimes UI is lumped with UX, which includes how pretty the site is, the site’s response time, and site content. If you ever get frustrated because you can’t find a button on a website, that’s an issue with a poor UI, which leads to our next definition.


User Experience (UX)

The interaction a user has with an interface. From a planning perspective, the user experience is typically defined in wireframes, but every aspect of the web design and development process—from wireframing and copywriting to design and programming—affects the user experience.


Front End

The front-end of a website is the part that users interact with. Everything that you see when you’re navigating around the Internet, from fonts and colors to dropdown menus and sliders, is a combo of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript being controlled by your computer’s browser. To use a restaurant metaphor, this is everything you see as a customer.


Back End

The back- end of a website consists of a server, an application, and a database. A back-end developer builds and maintains the technology that powers those components which, together, enable the user-facing side of the website to even exist in the first place. If we’re still imagining a restaurant, this is all of the chaos of the kitchen and management that leads to you having a delicious bolognese in the front end.



A small icon image, often a company logo, that displays on the title bar or tab of a browser. It’s teeny-tiny but very helpful when you have multiple tabs open and can’t find the page you were just on.


Hover State

How an item changes when a user moves their mouse over it before clicking on it. For example, when a user hovers over a button, it may change color or animate in some way. It’s a small thing, but it makes your site feel more responsive and dynamic.



Features of a website that allow users to engage and interact with the website. This includes features like hover states, rollovers, video, animations, and calls-to-action. By focusing on interactivity, you can prevent that frustrating experience where something looks like a hyperlink but is really just underlined text.



The navigational elements that appear on a website and direct the user throughout the site. While this primarily refers to the “menu bar” located at the top of a website or along either side, it can also include textual links in the “footer” at the bottom of the page. A navigation system prevents you from getting “stuck” on a page and being forced to hit the “back” button.


Page Template

A unique page layout for page(s) of a website. On average, a website has 8-10 page templates. For example, the homepage and contact page of a website look different and contain different elements, therefore they are two different page templates. Designers and developers may also use terms like “overview page” and “single page” to describe templates. This refers to the structure and hierarchy in a sitemap. For example, a website may have a Services Overview page that contains general information about the company’s services, and then they also have Service Single pages that follow a separate template for individual service pages, i.e. you click a link to see more detail about web design or marketing services.



Software apps that “plug in” to a Content Management System such as WordPress to allow you to add new features and extend the functionality. This might be something like better information about what blog posts garner a positive response or a gimmick like a button that counts every site visitor.


Website Integration

A connection from a third-party app or platform to your website. Examples may include integrating job application forms or a CRM tool like Salesforce with your website.




Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This increases your site’s likelihood of being served up to web browsers that query relevant keywords. SEO ranking can be improved by helping search engines understand the information on your website in order to rank higher in organic search results. This includes having title tags, meta descriptions and ALT (alternative) tags for images on your website. Essentially, SEO is a way of catering to what people are looking for.


Meta Tag

Important for SEO ranking, a meta tag is an HTML tag that is used by search engines to index a site. Meta tags store information about a web page, such as its description, author and copyright. Search engines use this information to categorize websites and display information in search engine results pages (SERPs).



The measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of web data to understand and optimize web usage. Web analytics is more than just a process for measuring web traffic—it can be used as a tool for business and market research to assess and improve website effectiveness

Anna Montgomery
Principal & Brand Strategist
Anna is our founder & brand strategist. She’s passionate about connecting with people to sharpen their creative vision and bring it to fruition. In her spare time, she’s often tending to her 87 (and counting!) houseplants.


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