Search engine optimization (SEO) of your journal articles is as important for you to do to market your research as it is for a company to market a retail product. Different markets and end users, but the same purpose and means. Thanks to companies like Google, SEO is almost obligatory if you would like to increase readership of your articles, increase citations and acknowledgment and to create an overall stronger academic visibility, both offline and online. By optimizing your articles, you guarantee that your articles are indexed and gain a higher ranking in general and academic search engines, such as Google and Google Scholar, Elsevier’s Scirus, SciDiver, IEEE Xplore, PubMed, SciPlore.org, and more.1
A higher ranking means that your article appears at the top of the list in the search results when someone types in one or more of the keywords or phrases you use in your article. The basis for this ranking varies from the search engine used to perform the search, as each search engine employs its own combination of algorithms based on the keywords, phrases, metadata and more contained in your document. Optimizing academic articles is also referred to as ASEO, or academic search engine optimization.2
There are several ways you can optimize your article for better indexing and ranking in search engines. Usage of strong keywords and synonyms, the location in the text of those keywords and synonyms (i.e. in a title vs. only in a sub-heading)3, the completeness of the metadata, the use of vector graphics for your graphs and tables and having a public group for your research, are some examples of the techniques. Continue reading for more information on how to implement these and other techniques.
Using keyword tools, such as the popular Google AdWords keyword tool, you can find which keywords are most popular in searches. Based on this information, you can inform your decision of which keywords (and synonyms of those keywords) to use in your article title, sub-heading, description tags, abstract and throughout the main text of your article. Using a strong keyword in your title is better than, for example, only using it in the description tag.4 However, you should plan to use one or more relevant keywords in your title, abstract and several times in the main text of the article. Regarding how often to use keywords in your text is referred to as ‘keyword density’.5
An overview of places in the article where you can use strong keywords relevant to your topic include:
- Write a good and short title for your article. If you can use one or more keywords in the title while accurately describing the content of your article, then do it. Keep in mind the audience of your article and any academic keywords specific to your field to inform which keywords may be best to use.
- In addition to the keywords tool from Google, the company offers Google Insights and Google Trends. With the latter two, you can see the popularity of keywords over a period of time and by geographic location, which may or may not be relevant for you and to your article. Until now, Google offers the most tools for SEO.
- Don’t go overboard with using numerous top keywords in every location of your article. You want to tastefully optimize your article without compromising the relevance and quality of your writing and research.
- Also note that using the most popular keyword tool may not always be best for you and your article. After all, it is the most popular for a reason, partly because it is frequently used in documents by others. You can test this by doing your own search of the keyword and seeing how many search results are found. If it is an exorbitant amount of articles, you may want to choose another keyword that is also very relevant to your research topic.7
The metadata of an article refers to a number of things. Metadata can refer to keywords used, as well as to the type of file your document is, such as whether it is a PDF or Word file, the title, subjects and authors of the article, the date of the article, the name of the publisher and more. The metadata of your article also factors into the indexing and ranking of your article, so you should ensure this information is complete.
Believe it or not, the types of graphics – including tables and figures – you use in your article factor into the calculation of the ranking of your article. For example, if you use an image-based graphic (represented by the file types: .tiff, .bmp, .jpeg, .png, .pdf, .gif and .psd, to name a few of the most common), the text in that graphic type cannot be ‘read’ and indexed by search engines and therefore cannot be factored into the algorithms used by the search engines. Consequently, it is advised to use so-called text-based ‘vector’ graphics (most commonly represented as .svg, .ai, .eps, .ps in file types)8. Using vector graphics, which can be indexed, enables you to use relevant keywords and phrases in those graphics, figures and tables to enhance the optimization of your article.9
Citations are critical in the academic world, both offline and online. The more your research articles are cited by others in their articles, the better. Your visibility and reputation benefit from numerous citations. Accordingly, for SEO, the number of citations to your past and current research factors into the indexing and ranking of your past, present and future articles.10 Citations to your past publication within your current and future publications, as well as in the publications by other authors, are very relevant and good for SEO.
Consistent spelling of authors’ last names and initials is important to ensure articles and citations are correctly identified by search engines.11
Writing and publishing your scholarly article is not the final step. You must inform everyone in your academic and social networks about it as well. Create a public group for your article or research in any number of places12, share links to your abstract or publication on Academia.edu, LinkedIn, on your website, your academic institution’s profile page, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Also, include the publication in your institution’s repository, on Mendeley, ResearchGate and elsewhere.
Always remember: There is an important balance to strike and to uphold between increasing the visibility of your research through (A)SEO and presenting relevant, high-quality research. Do not compromise your writing and research quality, academic reputation, or ethics.13