Write to be Read: Academic SEO, or How to Make Your Article Discoverable

Over 2 million research articles are published every year. So how do you make sure that your work is easily found, read and cited? A strong correlation exists between online hits and subsequent citations for journal articles, suggesting that to make your paper stand out from the crowd and make your audience aware of its existence you must learn how to improve its online visibility. There are several ways to make your article discoverable, and simple techniques you can implement while you’re still writing it. That’s where SEO comes in.

Academic Search Engine Optimization, or ASEO, is the practice of optimizing your article to improve its online visibility and search engine rankings. Learning how to best optimize your publications for SEO is essential, as Google and other search engines are often the first place where your audience will look for information on any given research topic. Search engines prioritize content they deem to be interesting, high-quality, and relevant, displaying such content on the first results page. Your optimization strategy is very important, since it can determine whether a user decides to visit the site where your article/abstract is posted or not.

Mind your English

Besides being crucial to your academic success, well-written texts are also key to good search engine rankings. Not only are typos, bad grammar, incorrect word usage and clunky sentences perceived by your audience as a sign of low quality and unreliability, but recent research by MOZ also suggests that Google and other search engines associate bad grammar with low-quality content that doesn’t belong on the first results page.

Research your keywords

When you submit your article, you’ll be asked to provide keywords that will be used to index your article on search engines such as Google Scholar and to help others find your research quickly. When choosing your keywords, think about how you would search for this article and what words or phrases you would use, as well as what keywords are most relevant to the focus of your work. Consider the general and specialized vocabulary your audience is likely to use, make sure your keywords are as accurate as possible, and then include them in your title and abstract too (as some search engines only index these). Google Trends is a helpful tool for identifying search trends around topics and it can also show you related queries (other terms people also search for when they search for your term), making it easier for you to find more keywords.

Choose a short, accurate, search engine-friendly title

The title is one of the most important elements of your article, as it’s your first contact with prospective readers—and studies suggest that researchers often decide to read a paper solely based on the information in the title. It should grab your readers’ attention as well as giving them an idea about the topic of your article in a clear and concise manner. Think about how your audience is likely to search for your article and make sure your title includes 1-2 relevant, commonly used (but not too popular) keywords. The most effective titles are short (but not too short), clear, and accurate.

Write an SEO-effective abstract

The abstract is just as important because that’s where Google Scholar gets the text for the meta description, a snippet that summarizes the content of your article. Google has changed the meta description tag length a few times in the past year, but you may want to err on the safe side and aim for 160 characters. That’s where you should sum up the most important information (i.e., the topic of your article). Then look at your abstract as a whole. Think of your audience and how they might use a search engine if they were looking for a paper on your area of research. What keywords would they use? Include three or four key phrases and relevant keywords in your abstract and repeat them where appropriate. Use synonyms, too, to include multiple keywords where possible. This will help your article move higher up in the search results. A word of caution, though: do not go overboard with keywords, as “keyword stuffing” is perceived by search engines as an attempt to manipulate a page’s ranking and it could potentially lead to their un-indexing your article.

Be identifiable

ORCID is “a non-profit organization supported by a global community of organizational members, including research organizations, publishers, funders, professional associations, and other stakeholders in the research ecosystem.” Its registry links all your research activities and outputs to your unique embedded identifier, thus ensuring that your ORCID ID is permanently included in the metadata of your publications—from journal articles, media stories and citations to manuscript and grant submissions and your own webpage. You can also set up your ORCID profile to get maximum coverage from Altmetric.

Get linked!

Inbound links to your publications have a significant influence on search rankings. Once your article is published, you can link to it from your personal webpage, your institution’s website, and your page on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Mendeley, etc. You can tweet about your research, and you can ask your colleagues and peers to link to your article from their sites too. Not only can this increase the number of people finding and reading your article, but it will also help search engines match your content to what users are searching for. This in turn can help your research get higher search rankings: the more reputable sites and social networks link to your article, the more your search engine rankings will improve.

Image by Dave Simonds