How to Optimize Academic Articles for Search Engines

In the age of digital information overload, good SEO can help you make your research stand out.

This article was first published in 2014 on the “OpenScience” blog and has since been updated by the editors. It is part of a series, which serves to provide hands-on information and resources for authors and editors.

Needless to say, most researchers use the internet to search for literature and to communicate with peers. At the same time, the World Wide Web has gotten crowded. That is why more and more people are starting to consider new ways of making their research more visible online.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a controversial issue and might be interpreted as cheating or unfair competition by some, but in fact, good SEO practice is nothing of the kind. As you will see, academic SEO is just a set of a few tips that you should consider after finishing work on your book or paper, and which could help you to get more views, downloads and citations. However, it will only work if the publication itself is good and interesting enough. Academic SEO does not substitute but support the quality of content.

Academic SEO – Step by Step

Step 1: Keywords

Keywords are crucial elements for both search engines and literature recommendation tools. Disregarding this fact will limit the chances of gaining an audience on the net.

After finishing work on your book or paper, you should take a moment to think about choosing keywords. Probably the best way of doing it is to simply list the words that have been used frequently in the text. You should ensure that you have not missed any of the crucial terms of your argument and then check if they are relevant to your field. If they are not, try to replace them with well-defined equivalent terms. Try to limit the number of keywords to the few most specific to your book or paper.

A good idea is to test them with your favourite academic search engine to ensure that the search returns works that are relevant to yours. After you have chosen the right keywords, add some of the most popular synonyms and abbreviations.

Step 2: Title

Compose a short and descriptive title from your keywords. Use Einstein’s razor: it should be as simple as possible but not simpler. Remember that the title is the first thing that a potential reader will see in search results.

The title has to contain keywords, and should describe your research. It is not the best place to express your artistic soul. “Therapy X decreased mortality in Y disease in a group of forty males” is a much better title than “Victory on an invisible enemy: success in fighting disease Y with therapy X”.

Step 3: Abstract

Write a clear abstract that contains your keywords, and if possible also some synonyms familiar to non-professionals. It should be simple. Describe your objectives, methods, results and conclusions. Placing keywords should be easy if you have chosen them correctly.

Step 4: Have a Quick Look at the Body of Your Work

Ensure that the keywords are present in your article and that they occur frequently but not so frequently as to annoy the reader. Remember that you have written this article for a human, not a search engine. Create a “references” or “bibliography” section and link your references, if possible with a DOI number, although remember to follow the editorial requirements of the journal.

You should also make sure that all graphics, tables and graphs that you have used are vector as opposed to raster ones (*.bmp, *.png, *.gif, *.tif, *.jpg are examples of raster objects that are not recommended). Otherwise, search engines will not be able to read them and the text inside these graphs will not influence your position in search results.

Step 5: Where to Publish?

Consider publishing your work in an Open Access model. Nonrestrictive licensing will allow your work to be resubmitted to a larger number of places on the web.

A wider reach can also be achieved by choosing a journal that is indexed by a big number of academic databases and search services, like CrossRef, Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, the Directory of Open Access Journals, etc.

If you are about to publish a paper, choose a journal with a name that is relevant to the topic of your research (yes, a journal’s name is also relevant for SEO!)

Step 6: Pdf Composition and Website

You should double check that the pdf document of your article contains all metadata such as title, author affiliations, etc. The same metadata should also be visible on the website, which is linked to the document (for example on a publisher’s website or on your private home page).

Step 7: Spread the Word

Inform your friends and colleagues via social media about your recent work and publish it in your Mendeley library. While this is certainly important, remember that it is much less important than doing the research itself!

[Title Image via Getty Images]

Wietold Kinc

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