George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University


Just as academia has its own terminology, so does the process of creating a website. Here are some terms that you might encounter. You probably know many of them, but some will be new.​



Analytics: These numbers tell us how to spot patterns and gather statistics. We might have a high number of visitors coming to the Admissions site, but they only stick around for an average of 15 seconds. We not only want them to stay, we want them to go to (“click through to”) other Mason pages. Analytics can tell us when we’re doing something right (creating a web page that gets visitors to stick around and find out more about us). They can also tell us when we need to do some work (10 seconds on the site is not optimal).

API: Application Programming Interface. At the most basic level, an API lets one kind of software system talk to and interact with another. For example, Banner talks to Drupal, allowing the importation of information from one system to another.

Aspirational Content: This is material that doesn't currently exist on your website, but you wish it did or would like it to. If you get frequent calls from students seeking the same information because you don't have it on your current site, then you know you'll need to put it on the updated/new site.


Bounce Rate: A measure of visitors to a website who land on one page, then leave, or bounce, without looking at (or “clicking through to”) other pages on the same site. We want people to stick around and read more about us. Generally speaking, a high bounce rate is bad. A low bounce rate is good.

Breadcrumb: A link, usually found at the top of the page, that serves to guide people back to pages higher up in the hierarchy. They help people know where they are on the site in relation to the other pages and can be used to take a shortcut backward. For example, the breadcrumb at the top of an Accelerated Master’s page might read: Home / Academics / Graduate Programs / Accelerated Master’s Programs.

Breadcrumb Screenshot


Click-Through, Click-Through Rate: When a visitor lands on site’s web page, they might find something on it interesting enough to follow, or “click through to," thereby staying on the site and continuing to read and participate. A click-through rate (CTR) can measure how well we hold visitors’ attention; it can also be used to see how successful a marketing or ad campaign is. For example, if we hand out a flyer with an internet address on it, the CTR can count how many people we lured to that site through that flyer.

Closed-Captioning: A transcription of dialogue displayed on a video to aid people who have trouble hearing or are watching a video without sound. Videos with dialogue that appear on Mason websites must be closed-captioned to satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mason's Assistive Technology Initiative will close-caption your video at no cost to you.

The Cloud: Digital storage and programs located on and accessed by people on the internet, instead of physically located on their computers. Several software companies offer data storage “in the cloud,” which not only provides more space than might be available on your computer/server, but also gives us access to our data no matter where we are. For example, if you’re traveling and need to find or download something, you can log into the cloud and get it, instead of waiting to get back home to access your local server. Mason offers all staff members cloud storage through One Drive.

Content Inventory: A document showing the pages and content you have on your current site. We take an inventory of what’s there to see what will be transferred to your new site, and what we'll need to create and add. It’s also an opportunity to dispose of information that's no longer relevant to you or your users.

Content Mapping: A visual technique to organize, explore, and visualize the content going on your website. It lets you see your content, allowing you to spot gaps and opportunities. We create content maps to help begin content development with a focus on the goals for your site and the types of content you need to produce.

Content Migration: Moving existing content from one Content Management System (CMS) to another. Specialists moving this content will have to make decisions on the new site structure’s Information Architecture (see below) and content strategy. The content specialist may have to rework content to determine where it goes in redesigned page templates.

CMS: Content Management System. A CMS is the tool used to post our information, photographs, and graphics onto the various Mason sites. At Mason, the primary systems we use are Drupal (see below) and WordPress (see below). Your current site might be using another CMS, such as CommonSpot. A CMS converts the content you enter into the CMS into computer language (HTML, CSS) that’s readable by web browsers, and styles it to match the other pages on the website.

CRM: Customer Relationship Management. CRM systems organize, automate, and synchronize our work, reaching out to students, parents, alumni, and donors.

CSV: Comma-Separated Values. Data such as numbers and text (for our purposes, such information as faculty bios) are set up in a line separated by commas: John Smith, Professor, CVPA, Tenured, etc. The comma is used to separate each piece of information, and when it’s pulled into a computer system, each bit of information is put into the place it should go. It can also be described as a plain-text version of a spreadsheet or table. The commas separate columns, and each new line of text is a new row of data. See also JSON.

Cutover Plan: When we switch from an old online system to a new one, we’re implementing the cutover plan. The old system is often, for a while, archived.​


Discovery: The process by which you find out what you have and what you want for your new/updated website. You'll do a content inventory (see above) and ask a series of questions to determine what you want your site to convey to the user. It helps establish your mission, vision, and goal.​

Domain Names: They can identify one or more internet addresses. For example, is a domain name for the main university web page and for all the schools, colleges and departments that are part of the university. A DNS is a domain name system.​

Drupal: The name of the Content Management System that we’re using to create the updated Mason website. It’s what we use to populate (place text, pictures, videos, tables, links, etc.) on the web pages.​


Evergreen: Content that requires little updating for an extended time. Information on our Academics and Admissions pages doesn’t change that much from year to year, for example. We look for evergreen content that will hold true for a long time when we post it. Otherwise, you have to keep track of what needs updating/changing constantly, manually curating it. This is not to say it will never need updating, but it should be information that will stand for some time.​


Filtering, analytics: A filter gives perspective to the massive amounts of data we collect. Filters help to separate that data into categories. It can pull out the information you need. How many hits did this page get? What time of day did we get the most hits? How long did visitors stay on this page? If that’s all the information we need, we can filter it out of the data we collect.​

Filtering, components: We use filters to narrow search parameters in a variety of places. For example, you can filter the news on the Mason news desk, as well as look for a specific professor on a faculty profile page. If a student wants to meet an alum who graduated with the degree they're interested in, they filter by that particular program.​


Gather Content: A content-gathering web tool that lets users collect content and visualize it as it would appear in redesigned page templates. We use it to work on our content until it is web-ready, that is, ready to be put onto a web page within Drupal or WordPress. It has wire frames (see below) with blocks that content specialists can use to put copy in that will go on a particular page.

Global Navigation Tab: The set of choices you see at the top of every page of the site. It provides access to the main tasks that users came to the site to do. For example, on the Core site, the global navigation tabs are: Academics; Admissions and Aid; Student Life; Research; and About Mason. This is also called the Top-Level Navigation.

Granular: The more granular something is, the more details you see. You're zooming in from the big picture to see the smallest details. Think of it this way. You go to the beach, you see the sky, sun, water, and sand. That’s the big picture. Then you start looking at the smaller things – crabs, shells, sand castles. Then go smaller, down to the grains of sand. The smaller and more detailed the picture you see, the more granular it is.


Hyperlink: A word or photo is linked to another web page, and clickable by the website visitor. If you're hyperlinking off site, you'll need to set up the link to open a new window. If you're linking within a site, the link can open within the same window.


Instantiate a website: A formal way of saying that we’re setting up the pre-production site and filling our toolbox with the tools we need to build it.​

IA: Information Architecture. The art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities, and software to make your sites user friendly and your information easy to find and get to. It organizes the database.​

IP, ISP: Internet Provider, Internet Service Provider. (Verizon, Comcast, etc.)​


JSON: JavaScript Object Notation. It’s a format that uses text to transmit data. It’s easier to understand when you see it. “firstName”: Mary; “lastName”: Jones; “age”: 30. It’s another way to get a system to automatically input data. JSON is similar to XML (eXtensible Markup Language), as both are file formats that present text/information in a very organized, specific, defined way, so it can be processed easily. See also CSV.​


KPI: Key Performance Indicator. You'll decide what these are at the beginning of the web project. What are the key messages you want to convey, and how well do you accomplish that? KPIs measure how well we’re hitting our goals.​


Manually curated: Someone must change data by hand. For example, units within CVPA have dates for auditions each semester. Whoever is managing the website must go in and update this information at regular intervals.

Metadata: It’s data about data. Confused? Try this. A card catalog at a library is an example of metadata. Its main purpose is to help web surfers find what they’re looking for. When you’re posting something online, there might be a box labeled metadata for you to fill in. Do it! It will help people find us. Need an example? If you’re posting a story about a performance from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, in the metadata box, you would put in such key words as dance, concert, music, live performance, venue, George Mason, classical, ballet, dates of performance, etc.; whatever is relevant and might snag a web surfer looking for a live performance of The Nutcracker in Northern Virginia in late November/early December.

Metric: A standard of measure. When we talk about metrics and analytics when referring to the web, we’re often talking about how many eyes we have on our pages, and how long they stick around. We use metrics to see how well we’re doing — or how poorly — in holding someone's interest, and that tells us if we need to make some changes.​


Network: At the simplest level, networks are systems that let computers talk to each other and exchange information. LANS are local area networks that are close together, often in the same building.​


Outward Facing (also called externally facing, front facing): We want our websites to welcome the public — and by that, we mean students, parents, donors, etc. — and be engaging enough to draw them in. Inward facing means something like an Intranet ­— Patriot Web, for example. There are some sites that do both. For example: Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics.


Populate: We take our content and use it to build web pages. A content specialist takes material from Gather Content to build pages in the CMS.

PDF: It stands for portable document format, but almost no one uses that term. Basically, it’s a picture of a file as it appears in its original form. And since it’s a picture, you can’t edit it, unless it’s converted to a format, such as Word, that lets you. Why would anyone send a PDF? Among other reasons, it lets people share files with others who don’t have the same software, and it can protect files from unauthorized viewing, printing, copying, or editing. However, PDFs are not searchable, so we try to avoid them when we can.

PII: Personally identifiable information. This is data that can be used to identify a specific individual. Examples include Social Security Numbers, bank/credit card numbers, and passport numbers. Mason collects a lot of PII about faculty, staff, and students. It is vital that this information be kept safe. It should only be accessible by authorized personnel. Never ask for PII unless you are absolutely sure that security can be maintained.


QA: Quality Assurance or Quality Analysis. Check the links (do they all work?). Read the text (Typos? Grammar or factual errors?). Look at the photos (are they all high-resolution? Do they accurately reflect the page they're illustrating?). Etc. There will be a QA for content and a QA for technical functionality.​


RFI: Request for information. A client or potential client seeks information about the services you're offering or have available. An RFI is usually made in the planning stages of a project.​

RFP: Request for proposal. An agency, company, or hey, a university, solicits folks to make a case for why we should hire them.

Read access vs. edit access: We collect a lot of information that’s of use to a lot of people, but when we have a master list or page, it can be dangerous to give everyone the ability to make changes. Even if it’s an accident, altering a master list or page can have a serious impact on decisions that affect a lot of people, especially if there are numbers and budget decisions involved. If you spot something that you’re sure is wrong and needs fixing, give us a call. We won’t be offended. Everyone needs an editor.

Rubric: A guide listing specific criteria for a project or assignment. It can include a statement of purpose or function, and it sets expectations.


SSL Cert: Secure Sockets Layer Certificate. You probably won’t run into this often unless you’re working closely with the tech team. An SSL Cert is what lets a website accept and send data (such as passwords, for log-in screens) securely. This software tool lets a web server initiate secure sessions with browsers by creating a private key and a public key. The public key lets in everyone who wants to look around (Admissions). The private key lets sensitive information be transmitted securely without unwanted eyes prying. As we are a university with control of the personal data of faculty, staff, and students, this is a big deal.

Server: Servers can run software capable of accepting requests from clients, and the server can also be the computer such a server runs on. They operate to "serve" the clients (in this case, Mason's websites). They store and share data, information, or hardware and software resources. Mason is likely using a database server, file server, mail server, print server, web server and application server. We connect to the server through a network.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization. It’s what everyone who creates and posts something online should be doing. Prospective students might not go to, but to Google, Bing, or Yahoo and type in “nursing degree programs in Northern Virginia.” If we’ve done it right, a listing for should pop up at the top of the list of search results. When you’re creating a post, you need to put key words in the url, in the headline, in anything that search engine web crawlers (more on them below) might pick up. Studies have shown that most people won’t or don’t go past the first page of results. We need to be at the top. Key words in strategic places will help us get there.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing. We hope to attract as many prospective students as we can to our websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages. We can accomplish this, in part, by using good SEO practices.

Sidebar: It’s the information running down the left side of some of our web pages. Also called the left rail. Sidebars should be used to highlight related topics or adjunct content, and should include Calls to Action (Apply Now) and Spotlights. The sub-navigation (see below) also lives in the sidebar.

Spuds: A communication device to get information from events tool 25Live to calendars. Most people may know these as feeds. They could be a list of events pulled from master calendars based on specific criteria. For example: List events for CVPA’s current season, display 4 events.

Sub-navigation: This is a listing of related pages that runs down the side of every page on a site with certain exceptions (home page, calendar page, unit landing page). It is generated dynamically or automatically, when pages are tagged as "children" of one another.

Sub navigation Screenshot


User Experience, User Interaction, User Interface: User experience is pretty much what it sounds like: The experience a person has as they interact with Mason's websites. We try to meet the exact needs of our users, giving them the information they want and the information they need, while minimizing confusion and frustration. Today's web users are impatient. If they don't find what they want quickly, they're likely to leave the site. While user experience focuses on the user’s path to information, user interface focuses on how our sites look and function. It concerns visual and information design, and how the user interacts with it. We want both to be smooth, seamless, and friendly.​

UI: Shorthand for User Interface.

UX: Shorthand for User Experience.​


Web-Ready Content: It’s content that’s set to be populated into a site or CMS. It’s clearly labeled as to where each piece goes within a page and includes any necessary images (that have been correctly sized), videos, PDFs, form fields, and/or URLs to related information that should be placed on the page. For example, for a new content page, a document outlining the content may have a clear file name and include clearly labeled content for: Page Title, Header 1, body copy, image with caption, and sidebar content such as an Apply Now call to action, and Dean of Admissions twitter feed for #whymason tweets.

Web crawlers or web spiders: Internet programs, sometimes called bots (short for robots) that systematically browse the web to index what is available. Many search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., use some form of a web crawler to update their content.

Wireframe: A black and white representation of the blocks that will hold content on a website. It’s like a blueprint for content specialists to fill in the blanks. A model of what goes where. Wireframes appear in the tool Gather Content. It also represents the planned Information Architecture.

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