The Language of Web Design – An Overview of Common Terms

A look at what all those acronyms mean

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Image courtesy Robert Llewellyn / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Whether you are looking to break into the web design industry or simply speaking with a web designer about a potential project, one thing you will discover very quickly is that there is a lexicon unique to this profession. For those who are new to web design, this language barrier can seem intimating at first, but the reality is that you can quickly “talk the talk” by understanding some common terms and acronyms from this industry.


URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locator”, although no one really calls it that in normal conversation. This is your website’s address, for instance is one example of a URL. This term is commonly used along with “domain name”, which is the name you pay to use for your website. In this case, the domain name would be “”. The "webdesign" part of that URL is known as the sub-dmain. Normally, a site's sub-domain is "www".

While many website URLs do include the "www", that sub-domain is actually not required and other sub-domains could be used in place of "www" - for instance, you could have where the sub-domain is "secure".  All of these addresses would be considered URLs.

Web Browser

This is the software that people use to view a website. Web browsers can be found on a variety of devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phone, gaming systems, and more.

Some common web browsers are Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.


HyperText Markup Language is the language used to create the structure of web pages. HTML includes paragraphs, headings, lists, links, and many other “elements” that can be used to build a website.

Many web professionals will use the term “markup” to refer to HTML. There have been a number of different varieties of HTML over the year, including the latest version, HTML5.


Cascading Style Sheets dictate the visual look of a website, including the colors, fonts, page layout and more. CSS is coupled with HTML to create both the structure (which is HTML) and the style of a website.


Javascript is a programming language that can be used to add additional functionality to a website. Javascript is used alongside HTML and CSS. Some common uses of Javascript are to detect whether or not a web browser supports certain functionality (and to respond accordingly) or to add features like animation.

Responsive Design

A responsive website is one whose layout dynamically changes when viewed on different screen sizes. Instead of a “one size fits all” approach to a site’s visual layout, a responsive site can present one look for certain devices or screen sizes and other layouts for different sizes. For instance, a site’s homepage may be designed with multiple columns of content for wide screen displays, but that multi-column layout will not work for small screen, mobile devices. For those devices, the responsive site will automatically reflow the layout to present the content in one column.


Search Engine Optimization is the practice of making sure a website is appealing to search engines who will rank it effective for the terms and phrases that match the content of that website. SEO, and specifically what works and what does not work to make websites more findable, is an area that is very prone to misinformation and, therefore, a prime target for abuse.


A Content Management System is software that a website can be built upon, allowing someone who does not know website code to be able to easily update and manage website content. Many CMS platforms are accessible via a web browser, allowing a logged in user to make edits to that site. Some popular CMS platforms include Wordpress, Drupal, ExpressionEngine, Joomla, DNN, and Perch.

Web Hosting

This is basically rent for your website.

You pay a company for space on a web server where your website’s pages and other resources (images, documents, etc.) will reside. When a person visits your website, they are being delivered files from this web server.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/24/17