What Did You Say?: Deciphering Web Development Talk

Taylor Hartley

When I started working at Papercut a year and a half ago, I felt like I needed to learn a new language – and fast.

The world of web is full of terminology I’d never heard. It can be pretty intimidating – whether you’re starting a new job in the technology industry or a new website development project. 

At Papercut, we pride ourselves in being superfriendly. That means speaking in plain English, no matter how technical the topic. But there are some technical terms you can’t avoid if your job in any way involves web development.

For that reason, I’d like to share some things I learned in my transition from traditional to digital media. Below are a few concepts I found most useful to know, but you can download the full Papercut Web Developer’s Dictionary, if you want more or need a reference guide for the future.

Backend vs. Frontend

As a typical web user, you may only be familiar with the frontend of the website you are viewing. This is what is designed and animated. The backend is the portion of the site you access with your content management system to update your content. This is the administrative side where you upload text, photos and videos to display on the frontend.

Bonus tip: Most web developers excel at either frontend or backend development. Be sure to understand the strengths of your developer/s when you’re starting a web development project.



A web browser is the program you use to access the internet. Think Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer. Web cache is a mechanism for the temporary storage (or caching) of web documents in your browser. Caching those pages in your computer’s memory lets you quickly go back to a page without having to download it from the web again. That means faster web browsing – something we all want!

If you examine the privacy preferences or history section of your browser, you’ll notice settings for clearing your cache, cookies or history. When updates are made to your site, always clear your browser’s cache, so you can see the changes. You might not see them otherwise, because you’re looking at an old, cached version of your site.

Bonus tip: If I’ve learned anything at Papercut, it’s: “When in doubt, clear your cache!” It’s one of those fallback tricks, like restarting your computer, which will resolve your issue more often than not.


Domain versus Hosting

Your website domain is the URL where it lives. Papercut’s is www.papercutinteractive.com. Hosting is the server where your site’s files are stored.

Bonus tip: When purchasing hosting, find out if the hosting company is responsible for maintaining the server, including backing up your files and keeping software current. It’s important to know upfront who is responsible for those tasks.

Extra bonus tip: To keep your life simple, maintain control of your company’s hosting and domain rather than leaving that task up to your marketing company or web developer. That means you should purchase both and register the accounts under your company name. It may take a little time to set everything up, but it will make things easier in the long run. You never know if you’re going to need to change your domain, make a server update or even migrate to a new service. When those situations crop up, I’ve seen clients trying to chase after companies that own their assets, and it can get frustrating fast.


Information Technology vs. Web Development

Web developers and IT professionals are different. Just because they both work in the digital space, doesn’t mean they know everything about every technology. That would be like asking a podiatrist to diagnose your heart condition.

Bonus tip: If you’re working with a web development agency, you’ll still likely need an IT professional to help you with some of the technology on your side – like email setup or ongoing server maintenance.


Responsive Design

A website created with responsive programming adapts and optimizes according the size of a user’s screen – from desktop to tablet to mobile device. The layout of the site is elastic. It stretches and enlarges to look great on large screens, and shrinks and shuffles to stack into a single column for small screens. With a single website, you can offer an optimal website browsing experience to every user. Responsive is the closest thing we have to future-proofing websites and has made building a traditional, fixed-width site obsolete. If you want to be found on Google, you need to play by their rules. Google loves fast, responsive websites.


Site Architecture

The architecture is a document detailing all the pieces that will make your website and should be created at the beginning of the web development process.

It includes the persistent elements that will appear in the header and footer of every page. These are the most important elements on the page, including the navigation. Most of the time, the action you’re hoping site visitors will take (your primary conversion) should be a persistent element.

It also includes a sitemap, which is an outline of the pages of your site. Here, you want to ensure all pages are listed and organized the way you want them to be on the final site. This is the guide a web developer follows when creating your site structure.



Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a security technology that allows an encrypted connection between you and a server. Typically, when you're sending data from one machine to another, it's sent as plain text. If your site sends vulnerable data (such as passwords or credit card numbers) without an SSL, that data could be intercepted by attackers. With an SSL certificate in place, the transmitted data is encrypted.

You can tell when a site is protected with an SSL by the green lock symbol next to the URL in your browser. The URL will also have an “S” (which stands for secure) after the HTTP.

Bonus tip: Recently, Google released a version of the Chrome browser that gives security warnings if a form is submitted on a site without SSL. To avoid this “Not Secure” warning from popping up when visitors use your site's form, you must have a secure certificate installed.

You might not understand all these concepts now, and that’s okay. It’s taken me a while, and I still have “huh?” moments at work. But now you’ve got a reference to come back to when you’re attacking your next digital project.

Or you can use the Papercut Web Developer’s Dictionary to sound smart at the next social gathering you attend. Just beware – once you start understanding memes like this one, it’s all downhill. You’re officially a nerd.


Taylor Hartley is marketing and communications director at Papercut Interactive, a web development and digital marketing company founded in 2001. Papercut services include website audits, custom website development, search engine optimization and digital marketing. Learn more at papercutinteractive.com.

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