45 Tech Terms Translated Into Plain English
Ever seen the movie The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook?
In the movie, people kept saying “he’s wired in” or “they’re wired in” over and over again in reference to people coding intensely with their headphones on.
Not knowing anything about programming, I always imagined that being “wired in” meant the programmers were somehow listening to the computers, or that they were connected to the code somehow … or something weird that us non-programmers would never understand.
Turns out it just meant they were concentrating really hard with headphones on. Well, good thing I never hypothesized out loud.
We all misinterpret some of the techy terms floating around web and product design nowadays — but now more than ever, marketers need to be familiar with this vocabulary so we can communicate better with our IT, web design, or product development departments.
To help bridge the gap, here are 45 techy terms every marketer (and human) should understand.
(For a few of these, we drew on these 60 marketing acronyms every industry pro should know.)
A permanent redirect from one URL to another — usually from a company’s old website to their new website. They’re also used to redirect web traffic from those old web pages to the new ones that have replaced them.
Web visitors see 404 error pages when they try to reach a web page that doesn’t exist. This usually happens when the web page has been deleted or the visitor mistyped the URL. Check out HubSpot’s 404 page here.
“Alternative text,” or “alt text.” The text associated with an image. It’s usually the file name of that image, but alt text can be customized using most content management systems (like HubSpot’s). When an image isn’t able to load in an email, website, or blog post, the alt text is displayed instead.
It’s important for all the images on your website to have alt text because it’s the only way search engines like Google can understand what an image is about, which helps you optimize your website for search. It also makes images accessible to the blind because screen readers can read aloud the alt text.
“Application programming interface.” A computer programming term meaning a series of rules. APIs allow an application to extract information from a service and use that information in their own application, or sometimes for data analysis. It’s kind of like a phone for applications to have conversations — an API literally “calls” one application and gets information to bring to you to use in your software. APIs facilitate the data needed to provide solutions to customer problems.
HubSpot has APIs that developers use to get information from our software into theirs. It’s important for marketers to understand what APIs can do to factor them in to their marketing strategies. Learn more about how marketers can use APIs here.
Amazon Web Services is a service that helps web developers and ecommerce owners in developing certain shopping-related features of their websites.
The appliance or instrument through which a browser saves the data needed to see a website, like images and HTML. When you revisit a web page, it’ll take less time to load than the first time you visited it because a cached version of the page was already saved the first time you were there. Because you have a cached version of the page, your browser doesn’t need to send a new request to see that page. Learn more about browser caches here.
“Cached out” can also be slang for really, really tired.
In simple terms, blockchain is a ledger system that uses an open, distributed record to keep track of transactions — transactions could mean cryptocurrencies, medical information, voting or home records, and more.
When people add products to online shopping carts but don’t check out and actually purchase those products. According to Fireclick, 62.30% is the average online cart abandonment rate. It’s a common problem for many ecommerce stores. Learn 8 reasons for cart abandonment and how to combat it here.
“Content delivery network” or “content distribution network.” A system of servers on the internet that provides content rapidly to multiple users by duplicating the content on multiple servers and directing the content to users based on proximity. CDNs enable better performance and availability — plus, they offload traffic served directly from the content provider’s website. They’re especially good for streaming audio, video, and internet television programming.
To give you a better idea of how the system works, CDN operators get paid by content providers (like media companies and ecommerce vendors) to deliver their content to end users. In turn, CDNs pay ISPs (internet service providers), carriers, and network operators for hosting its servers in their data centers.
A small file that a web server automatically sends to your personal computer when you browse certain websites. The identifying information they contain includes login credentials (including usernames and passwords), shopping cart information, and preferences. They’re stored as text files on your hard drive so servers can access them when you return to websites you’ve visited before.
Ever made a return visit to a website like Amazon and seen content tailored to your user preferences? That’s because on your first visit, a cookie was installed. When you came back, the website server read your cookie and recognized you.
A CMS, or content management system, is a platform that allows less-techy people to build websites and content from professionally designed templates. More tech-savvy users can often further customize these templates or website themes with HTML edits or plug-ins, which you’ll learn more about on this list. Notable examples of CMSs include WordPress and WIx.
“Cascading style sheets.” A language that manages the design and presentation of web pages: color, look, feel, and so on. It works together with HTML (see HTML), which handles the content of web pages. “HTML is the skeleton of your web pages, while CSS is the clothing,” as one of our colleagues says.
With CSS, you can create rules to tell your website how you want it to display information. And you can keep the commands for the style stuff — fonts, colors, and so on — separate from the commands for the content. They’re called “cascading” because you can have multiple style sheets, with one style sheet inheriting properties (or “cascading”) from others. Learn more here.
Disaster Recovery Plan
A plan that helps an organization prepare in the event that its website goes down or something happens to the webmaster. These disasters could be hard drive failure, hackers, and so on.
Disaster recovery plans include recording important website information, performing and saving regular backups of your website, determining an implementation plan for recovering your website should anything happen, and keeping an extra copy of your website data in a safe place.
“Domain name server.” Servers that translates web addresses into one or more IP addresses. This is why you can enter HubSpot.com instead of having to remember our IP address.
“Denial-of-service” or “distributed denial-of-service” attack. An attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users. DoS threats usually target websites or services hosted on high-profile web servers like banks and credit card payment gateways, but they’re also common in business in the form of website attacks.
For example, one common type of attack on businesses would be attempting a service overload — i.e. flooding a network with so much information that it either can’t respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly that it’s basically useless.
Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to avoid being a victim of a DoS attack except securing passwords and installing anti-virus software and a firewall. Signs of an attack are unusually slow network performance, unavailability of a website, or the inability to access a website. Contact your IT team if you sense something’s off.
The web servers where website files are housed, served, and maintained.
“Hyper-text markup language.” The language used to direct the architecture of your website, landing pages, and emails. HTML lays out the structure of your website, from the title and first header, to a bulleted list, to your footer. Remember, “HTML is the skeleton of your web pages, while CSS is the clothing.” Learn more here.
GUI stands for “graphical user interface,” known also as simply “interface.” An interface is the part of a piece of software that the end user actually sees and interacts with.
IPaaS, which stands for Integrated Platform as a Service, is a cloud-based platform that connects various applications, systems, and technologies within the cloud or on-premise. It allows for the deployment and maintenance of integration flows without the need for hardware or middleware either within an organization or between an organization and third-party software.
“Internet Protocol address.” A numerical label assigned to each device participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication.
“Internet service provider.” An organization (commercial, community-owned, nonprofit, or otherwise privately owned) that provides internet services.
A computer programming language used to create interactive effects within web browsers. For example, it allows you to perform calculations, write interactive games, add special effects, check forms, create security passwords, customize graphics, and so on. It has become the standard equipment in virtually all web browsers and is well-suited to a large range of non-web-related applications.
Mimification involves going into a web page or piece of content and pulling out all of the useless or excess code or spaces. This can help to increase page load speeds which can also boost your Google SEO.
Machine Learning is an artificial intelligence technique where algorithms are trained to recognize patterns and respond to them by performing tasks. For example, a customer service bot for a travel site might be trained to send you deals related to Bermuda if it recognizes the words, “beach vacation” or “Bermuda.”
NLP, or natural language processing, is when machine-learning algorithms are trained to comprehend large amounts of human language and respond to those commands. You might hear about this machine learning technique most when you are reading about voice assistant products that can respond to multiple spoken commands at once, like Amazon’s Echo.
You’ve probably seen those super-cool scrolling website designs like this one from Wildlife, this one from Bagigia, or this one from Honda? That’s parallax — a web design that takes a visual storytelling approach to guiding visitors through a website, and brings user experience to a new, interactive level.
Pixels from external ad networks work similarly to the HubSpot tracking code. Once installed on your site, the pixel detects visits to your pages. This data is the basis for creating ad audiences. These ad audiences to target ads can be used to target your ads at specific visitors. Pixels also collect data that can help optimize ads and measure your ads’ results.
A software extension that adds a specific feature to an existing software application. You’ve probably heard of plugins in the context of web browsers to add new features like virus scanners, for example. Ever enabled Adobe Flash Player or Microsoft Silverlight QuickTime Player on your internet browser? Yup — those are plugins.
A company that registers domain names, like GoDaddy.
The method of designing web pages that automatically appear in their optimized form on all devices. In other words, responsive design automatically reformats your website for all screen sizes so your website visitors can easily interact with your site no matter what device they’re using. Due to the rapid increase in mobile usage in recent years, responsive design has become somewhat of a necessity.
“Rich site summary feed.” A web feed that publishes frequently updated information like blog posts and news stories. They let publishers syndicate data automatically, which is why they’re sometimes known as “really simple syndication.” When you subscribe to a website’s RSS, you no longer need to check their website for new content — instead, your browser will automatically monitor the site and give you timely updates.
SaaS stands for “Service as a Software.” This acronym categorizes platforms that help professionals and B2B employees with daily tasks or other aspects of their own job. Examples of SaaS platforms are HubSpot, Slack, and DocuSign.
A place to run a program for testing and experimenting in software development. Basically, it’s a testing environment that isolates untested code changes and experimentation. This isolation protects live servers and their data from changes that could be damaging.
A framework for managing product development used in agile software development. In Scrum, projects are divided into succinct work cadences known as “sprints,” which are usually one, two, or three weeks long. At the end of each sprint, the team meets to assess their progress and plan the next sprint. One key to Scrum’s popularity and success is that it has a simple set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings that never change. Learn more about Scrum here.
In computer science, a session is a dialogue, conversation, or meeting between two or more communicating devices, or between a computer and a user (like a login session). It typically involves saving information about the session history in order to be able to communicate.
SEO or search engine optimization is a strategy that optimizes your site and content so it can easily be found and promoted on online search engines.
Slang for anything that could stop the launch of a new product, like a bug.
Site maps show a hierarchical view of a website’s pages and content. It helps website designers figure out what content is needed on a website before they begin designing it. Site maps can also be web pages that offer links to all of the pages on a website.
“User interface.” A type of interface that allows users to control a software application or hardware device. A good user interface provides a user-friendly experience by allowing the user to interact with the software or hardware in an intuitive way. It includes a menu bar, toolbar, windows, buttons, and so on. Learn how to create a user-friendly website registration process here.
A UTM is a code that shows up in a tracking URL that allows a website, such as HubSpot to track views from a specific source, such as a social post or promotional email. Learn how to create and track UTMs and tracking URLs here.
“Uniform resource locator.” Also known as a web address, a URL is a specific character string that refers to a resource. It’s displayed on the top of a web browser inside an “address” bar. Learn how to optimize your URLs for search here.
The overall “user experience” a customer has with a particular business, from their discovery and awareness of the brand all the way through their interaction, purchase, use, and even advocacy of that brand. To deliver an excellent customer experience, you have to think like a customer, or better, think about being the customer. Learn more here.
A computer graphics term to describe the use of “geometrical primitive objects” like points, lines, curves, and shapes to represent images. Here’s an example of a real phone that has been “vectorized.”
A sequential design process often used in software development processes, where progress is seen as “flowing” steadily downward through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production/implementation, and maintenance.
The point of waterfall development is to spend more time in the early stages of the software production cycle because catching bugs and other issues early on is cheaper and easier to fix than catching them later.
The ability for your website to be accessed by people with different physical and mental abilities, age, location, and so on. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes access to the web as a basic human right.
Properly designed websites and web tools can be used by people with disabilities. Here are a few examples from W3C of things to include on your website to make them accessible to people with disabilities:
- Alt text for images — Alt text makes images accessible to blind people because their screen readers, which read aloud the information on a page, also read out the alt text for visual images. It also makes the image information available to people who turned off images on their mobile phones to lower bandwidth charges or people in rural areas who turn off images to speed download. (Alt text is also important for SEO purposes because it lets Google know what the subject matter of the image is.)
- Transcripts for videos and podcasts — Include transcripts to give access to people with hearing disabilities.
Working with headphones on, indicating you don’t want to be disturbed. When programmers write code, sometimes they’ll plug in earphones to isolate themselves from the outside world so they can be totally focused on coding.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in July 2014, but was updated in November 2019 for comprehensiveness.