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Why and how should you optimize academic articles for search engines?

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As an author of a blog on contemporary scientific publishing, I am forced to stress frequently two important facts. Firstly, a growing number of researchers use the internet in their work to search for literature and to communicate with other researchers, and secondly, the internet is getting crowded. That is why some people are starting to consider the ways of making their research more visible on the net. This is a controversial issue and it can be interpreted as cheating or unfair competition, but in fact good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices 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 views, downloads and citations. However, it will only work if the publication itself is good and interesting enough. Academic SEO does not substitute but supports the quality of content.

Step 1: Keywords

Keywords are crucial elements for both search engines and recommendation tools like PubChase. 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 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 (you can find examples here) 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 from your keywords a short and descriptive title. 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. It has to contain keywords, and should describe your research. The title 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 problem, 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 your publisher. 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?

Publish your work in an Open Access model. Choose a publisher who uses non restrictive licensing (this will allow your work to be resubmitted to a larger number of places on the web) and who is indexed by a big number of academic databases and search services, like CrossRef, Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, 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 important 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, authors, etc. You should be able to see all of this information in the “properties” section after right clicking on the document. 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 one).

Step 7: Inform your friends on social media about your recent work, publish it in your Mendeley library.This is important, but remember that it is much less important than doing research itself.

Beel, J. Gipp, B. Wilde, E. 2010 Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing Scholarly Literature for Google Scholar & Co. doi: 10.3138/jsp.41.2.176

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