Feature Article — Optimizing Research Articles for Search Engines

Internet search engines are commonly used to find research articles. To increase the discoverability and impact of their research, academics should make their articles more likely to be found on search engines and read by the academic community. Optimizing your articles for search engines not only enables them to be indexed by the engines but also ranked higher in the search results, which helps to enhance the visibility and citation rate of the articles.

The importance of search engine optimization (SEO) for academic visibility

SEO helps to enhance the visibility, accessibility and citability of your publications by making them more discoverable online. More specifically, in the context of academic publishing, academic search engine optimization (ASEO) has become an important strategy for making your research accessible by fellow researchers. ASEO is defined as ‘the creation, publication, and modification of scholarly literature in a way that makes it easier for academic search engines to both crawl it and index it.’ (Beel, Gipp, & Wilde, 2010). With optimization of articles in response to different search engines, researchers can increase their usage and expand their readership, and so enhance the overall impact of their research output.

How do you make your articles more discoverable?

Web search engines usually index all texts on websites. For searching relevant documents, they detect how often a search term or keyword occurs in the documents. In general, the more frequent the search term occurs and the more it occurs in a heavily weighted document field, the more a document is considered relevant (Beel et al., 2010).

Academic search engines have different ranking algorithms for displaying the search results. Google Scholar, for example, focuses heavily on document titles, meaning that a search term appearing in the title of a document is more likely to increase your article’s ranking and visibility in a search result than its appearance in the body of an article. Also, academic search engines consider factors such as citation count, authors’ names, and publication dates. Strategies are needed to maximize your article’s searchability. With reference to the literature on SEO (e.g. Beel et al., 2010; Elsevier Biggerbrains, 2012; SAGE Publishing, n.d.; Shafer, n.d.; Wiley-Blackwell Author Services, n.d.), various ways in which you may optimize your articles with search engines on different criteria are suggested below.

1. Keywords:
Choose a few (but not too many) relevant keywords or keyword phrases for your articles. Consider using tools to help in making this decision, such as Google Trends, Google Insights or Google AdWords, which help you to test the popularity of the chosen keywords in search results. If the choices are too popular or too general (i.e. yielding a large amount of search results), you may choose or add another keyword with less competition.

Use keywords consistent with your field. However, you should also avoid keyword stuffing — mechanical and excessive repetition of certain keywords — in writing your abstracts, because search engines may consequently remove your articles from the database.

2. Title:
Keep your title short and relevant. Try to use one or more keywords in the title which ideally describes your article in a concise manner.

3.Abstract:
Put essential keywords in the first two or three sentences of your abstract, which may be the only content that appears in search engines. Repeat the keywords a few times, or use synonyms to highlight the gist of your research in your abstract.

4.Citation:
Citations are a crucially factor for the indexing and ranking of articles by academic search engines, especially Google Scholars. Be sure to reference your own and any co-authors’ previous relevant publications in your article, providing links where those references can be downloaded as this helps both the engines and readers to locate the full text. Refer to the names and initials of authors consistently so that search engines can perform identifications precisely.

5.Formats of graphics:
Make sure the tables and figures in your papers are machine readable. Vector graphics (e.g. images in .svg, .ai, .eps, and .ps formats) containing font-based text are preferable to image-based graphics, such as .tiff, .bmp, .jpeg, .png, .pdf, .gif and .psd, which cannot be indexed by search engines.

6.Publishing:
When choosing or considering journal submissions, authors should also consult the journal’s or publisher’s policies on allowing authors themselves to share and publicize their own work online. Open access articles have greater visibility than journals that can be obtained only through purchase or subscription.

7.Social networks:
After your article is published, share it in your academic and social networks on social platforms such as
• Academia.edu
• Linkedin
• Facebook
• Twitter
• Mendeley
• Your academic institution's website or repository
• Your website or any website that you contribute to
• Wikipedia (as a reference link)

Further details and resources about SEO are available in the Research Resources section of this issue of the Research Bulletin.

References

Beel, J., Gipp, B., & Wilde, E. (2010). Academic search engine optimization (ASEO): Optimizing scholarly literature for Google Scholar and Co. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 41(2), 176–190.

Elsevier Biggerbrains. (2012). Get found — optimize your research articles for search engines. Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/connect/get-found-optimize-your-research-articles-for-search-engines.

SAGE Publishing. (n.d.). Help readers find your article. Retrieved from https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/help-readers-find-your-article.

Shafer, S. (n.d.). SEO for authors: A how-to guide. Retrieved from http://guides.library.ucla.edu/c.php?g=180830&p=1188059.

Wiley-Blackwell Author Services. (n.d.). Writing for SEO. Retrieved from https://authorservices.wiley.com/author-resources/Journal-Authors/Prepare/writing-for-seo.html.


    

 

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