The Layman’s Digital Media Glossary

Whether you’re considering a digital media-heavy career or just want to brush up on the latest lingo, this digital media glossary is worth a look.

Digital media. You’ve heard about it, you’ve talked about it, you may even work in it. But what is “it,” and what are all of those confusing buzzwords that people throw around when discussing digital media. Without further ado, I present:

The (un)Official Digital Media Glossary of Terms: An Abridged Layman’s Term Guide to Some of the Most Frequently Used Digital Media Buzzwords.


  • Ad Serving: The online delivery of an advertisement to an end user’s computer. This is typically done through an Ad Server, and allows an advertiser to track and measure the performance of an ad.
  • Animated GIF: A type of image that combines multiple static images and displays them in order, which gives the appearance of movement. GIFs are internet compatible, making them an ideal alternative to video and flash files which are browser dependent.
  • API: An acronym for Application Programming Interface, which may sound confusing, but is just a fancy name for describing the way in which a computer program talks to another computer program.


  • Beta: A state of testing a version of a product, such as a website before it launches. Sometimes products in Beta are made public or selectively open to a group of people. It’s like a dress rehearsal- sometimes it has an audience and sometimes its entirely private.
  • Blog: A specific type of website that consists of a series of posts, and displayed, most typically, in reverse chronological order. Sites like Mashable, TMZ and Gawker are among some of the more popular blogs.
  • Bounce Rate: A site metric that describes the percent of people who visited a website and left almost immediately. It’s like showing up at a restaurant, realizing the wait is too long for a table, and leaving without ever sitting down.


  • Cookie: A delicious dessert. But in the digital media world, a cookie refers to a string of code, embedded in a site, that follows a user around as they browse to help determine their online behavior. Cookies are like invisible GPS trackers that stalk you as you surf the web (in a non-creepy way).
  • CPM: “Cost Per Thousand” (thousand represented as the Roman numeral M). A form of digital media currency, describing the cost for 1,000 impressions (“Impressions” defined under “I”). If a website charges $2,000 per 100,000 impressions, they charge a $20 CPM.
  • Crowdsourcing: Asking a group of people (usually strangers) to perform a task that would normally be handled by one individual/employee. Quora is a great tool for crowdsourcing advice. Kickstarter is a great example of crowdsourcing funding.


  • Demographic Targeting: A method of showing a specific piece of content (ie: an advertisement), to a group of visitors based on their age, gender or houshold income.
  • DFP: The most popular ad server, DFP is owned by Google, and is used by a vast majority of publishers.
  • Digital Media: Content that can be viewed, distributed, modified and preserved on computers.


  • E-Commerce: The buying and selling of goods online. Perks is a great example of an e-commerce site.
  • ESP: Email Service Providers allow for the mass distribution of emails by a company. If you subscribe to any newsletters (ie: UrbanDaddy ), you receive the company emails by way of an ESP.
  • Expandable Banner: A type of digital ad that expands in size when a user rolls over or clicks on it.


  • Flash: A rich media vector-based file format used to display interactive animations/videos on a web page. Flash is a trademarked term, owned by Adobe.
  • Fold: An invisible line on a users screen, separating the top half from the bottom half of a web page. If something is described as being “below the fold,” then it requires a user to scroll on the page to see it.
  • Frequency Capping: The limit of how many times one specific user can see a given advertisement within a given time period. For instance, if I only want my ad to be displayed one time per day for every person that sees it, I can put a frequency cap on it to avoid over-showing it.


  • Geo-Targeting: Similar to demographic targeting, geo-targeting allows a piece of content (ie: an advertisement), to display only to people within a certain geo-location. Geo-targeting can be as broad (by country) or as granular (by ZIP code) as desired. Geo-Fencing is a related term that refers to geo-targeting on a hyper-granular level (such as a specific street or building).
  • Guerilla Marketing: A term that refers to any unconventional or innovative form of marketing or advertising. Typically guerilla marketing is cheaper than traditional marketing, and is meant to be buzzy and sometimes involves stunts or acts meant to garner a lot of press and attention.


  • Homepage Takeover: The act of having a single advertiser on the home page of a website. This is typically requested by an advertiser who wants to have 100 percent of the ads on a homepage for a given period of time.
  • House Ads: Refers to self-promotional advertisements that a company runs on their own website. Think of it like a digital #humblebrag.


  • Iframe: Stands for “Inline Frame” and is a way to embed and display content from another site on a website. Think of an IFrame as a window into another property.
  • Impression: A measure of the number of times an ad or post is seen. Typically ads are bought and sold per thousand (see CPM definition).
  • Insertion Order: (IO) is the physical commitment between an advertiser and a publisher to run ads. IOs typically contain a series of line items that outline the contracted number of impressions and dollars promised between both parties.


  • Javascript: A computer programming language that is written in text and run on browsers only. Javascript differs from Java, in that Java creates applications that can run on either a browser or on a virtual machine (aka computer).
  • JPEG: A file format that allows for the compression of high quality color images. This is the most popular file format for pictures because it keeps the quality and color intact.


  • Keyword Targeting: A method of showing a specific piece of content (ie: an advertisement), to a group of visitors based on certain words within a given piece of content. Try searching the word “sneakers” in Google. Google will return a bunch of relevant links (based on that keyword, “sneakers”) and ads (on the right hand side) for sites like Zappos and Nike. Those companies are using keyword targeting and paying to appear next to the word “sneakers.”
  • KPI: A Key Performance Indicator is a fancy term for describing an organization’s goals. In digital media, advertisers typically give publishers a campaign’s “KPI’s” to help ensure that both parties agree on what success looks like.


  • Link Bait: Is any link posted on a website with the intention of having users click on out to another site. Its name is quite literal – it’s like fishing bait, except instead of luring fish using grub, it lures people using links.
  • Location Based Service: Any computer program that uses location data to control features. Sites like and OpenTable, and mobile apps like UrbanDaddy’s The Next Move determine where a user is located and return relevant content and/or data.


  • Metadata: Data about data. That’s such a “meta” definition, I know. But that’s exactly what metadata is – descriptions of information. To give you a non-technical analogy, take a book. If you consider the book to contain data, then think about the fact that the book also has an author and a publisher. The name of the author and the name of the publisher are both considered to be metadata, as they are data about data.
  • Microsite: A microsite refers to any separate page of a website that has a separate URL than its homepage, but is related to it in some way. Microsites are commonly used to promote something that is time sensitive such as a contest or sweepstakes.


  • Navigation Bar: Or “nav bar,” refers to an element on a webpage that contains links to other sections of that site. Typically a nav bar is located at the top of the page, and appears on all pages of a website (not just the homepage). The nav bar can contain categories (as seen on UrbanDaddy ), trending topics (as seen on Mashable ), or CTAs like “shop now.”


  • Operating System: An operating system is basically like the CEO of your computer. It manages all of the programs on a computer, much like the CEO manages all of the employees at a company. A computer cannot function without an OS.
  • Organic Traffic: Visitors that are referred to a site by way of an unpaid search engine listing. This differs from “Direct Traffic” which accounts for visitors who arrive on a site by typing the URL into their browsers.
  • Overlay: A term used to describe any piece of content (ie: an advertisement or a video) that appears to be floating on top of other content.


  • Page View: This is simply a page of a website that is viewed by a user. Page views are a website’s metric to see how engaging their site content is. The higher the page views per session, the more deeply engaged the visitors are.
  • Pixel: A practically invisible image that is placed on a website in order to track activity on that site or page. Unlike a cookie, a pixel does not follow a user around once they leave that site or page.
  • PPC: Pay Per Click is the amount spent to get an advertisement clicked. Some advertisers prefer PPC over CPM because it guarantees visitors clicking through to their site (not just seeing the ad). PPC tends to be more expensive, but depending on the advertiser’s desired KPI, could be more valuable.


  • Query: As simple as it sounds, a query is literally a question or a request for information made to a database. When you “Google” something, you are making a query.


  • Rate Card: A document that contains prices and descriptions for a media company’s ad offerings. Think of a rate card like a menu: It contains descriptions of items being offered, with a price tag on each item.
  • Reach: A way to measure a website’s unique audience size against the total internet audience. When talking about reach, the audience is always unduplicated, meaning, if I visit a site more than one time, I would only be counted once (when quantifying reach). Tools like Comscore and Quantcast provide a universal way for all advertisers to compare a site’s reach.
  • Rich Media: A term used to describe advertisements that users can interact with. Any ad that changes as you hover, or allows you to click in it, is considered a form of rich media.
  • Run of Site: (ROS) refers to an advertisement showing up on any page at any time on a website. This is a general bucket term for publishers, and is a very popular media buy.


  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization is a form of marketing, wherein a website uses best practices to help them achieve a better page ranking in search engine results.
  • SERP: Search Engine Results Page is literally the results page that appears after you enter something into a search engine. Let’s say I search “Cupcakes” in Google. The page that comes back after the search is a SERP. The first website listed is for Baked By Melissa. I can then assume that Baked by Melissa is doing something right with their SEO approach.
  • Single Sign On: Quite literally, single sign on is the ability to sign onto a platform and have access to multiple other properties and systems without having to log in again each time. Have you ever logged into an app that offered the ability to sign up through Facebook? That app is using single sign on.


  • Third Party Ad Serving: Ads are typically either first-party served or third-party served. First-party served ads are ads being served by the site/publisher displaying the ads. On the other hand, third-party ad serving refers to ads being served by the advertiser (or agency). Third-party ad serving allows advertisers to have a tighter control on the creatives and gives them slightly more visibility into the performance of the ads.
  • Traffic: The number of visitors to a website.


  • Uniques: The number of individual users visiting a website.
  • UI: (User Interface) is anything that a person interacts with. In the digital media world, this typically refers to the design and layout of a web page, mobile app or any digitalized interaction. The goal of every digital product is to have an intuitive UI, meaning it’s easy for a person to understand and navigate.
  • User Generated Content: (UGC), refers to any form of digital discussion created by users of an online community. Yelp, for instance is a website built entirely on UGC. Many blogs allow for commenting, which is another form of UGC.
  • UX: (User Experience) is a way to describe the interactions that a person has with a digital product. Where UI refers to the look and feel of a digital product, UX refers to the interactions and processes that occur when a user engages with the site.


  • Viewability: A hot topic in the digital media world right now, viewability refers to the percent of an ad that is “in view” at a given time. Historically, advertisers paid for ad impressions, and until recently were not concerned with whether or not that ad was actually being viewed by a person. Viewability is typically defined by at least 50 percent of an advertisement being on the screen for at least one second.
  • Viralality: The tendency for a piece of digital media content (ie: video, story, image etc) to be circulated rapidly and widely across the internet. The gold and white/blue black dress was an example of an image going viral.


  • Widget: A small application that lives on a desktop or within a website that offers useful or entertaining information. Have you ever visited a website that had the weather report in a little box on the page? That was most likely a widget.


  • XML: eXtensible Markup Language is a form of computer programming language that carries information. XML is not an alternative to HTML; it provides a different function. HTML is meant to display data, and XML focuses on describing the data.


  • Yield Management: The act of maximizing revenue generated by allowing variable pricing based on consumer behavior. In the digital media world, a yield manager liaises with the finance and ad-ops teams to make sure a publisher is getting the most bang for their buck (or money for their ad space).