SEO for Scientists & Academic Writers
7 SEO tricks to boost
Increase the online presence of your scientific article
In the last 20 years, many things have changed around how academic articles are published and how academics and researchers search for these articles.
The internet has become an essential communication tool in delivering science to colleagues and the general public.
How you place your article out there in the great World Wide Web will determine not only the impact of your research article but will also influence the number of citations your article will receive.
To get an excellent citation rate – not only do you have to be a great researcher, but you also need to understand how to market yourself and your science.
The more visible your research articles are the more likely someone will cite your work.
Why it’s crucial to “Sell” your science
Many journals now publish articles as soon as they’re ready. “Fast-track research”, “Hot News” and “Publish ahead of print” are published weeks or months ahead of when they appear in the print journal. An increasing number of articles are “published instead of print” in which these articles never appear in a print journal.
Although it’s great that ground-breaking research is published quickly, this has led to a significant increase in the number of academic articles published. In a nutshell, the internet is getting crowded.
At the same time, researchers are changing how they conduct literature searches- with most searches focused at an article level as opposed to journal level and researchers tend to read articles which can be downloaded directly to their computer.
General and academic search engines, such as Google, Google Scholar, PubMed, Medline offer researchers to search and access an immense amount of information. In fact, Wiley Online Library reports greater than 50% of their web traffic comes directly from Google, Google Scholar, and other search engines.
A simple search query will return multiple pages of results. The article which is most widely read (and has a better chance of eventually being cited) is generally located near the top of the search page results.
So how do you ensure your article is near the top of the list and not buried on page 5 of the search results?
You need to be clever about how you market your article. You need to ensure that anyone searching for the topic of your article, can find it easily.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the best ways to do this.
SEO for Scientists 101
Everyone has used search engines. You type in a word or phrase and the search engine gives you a page of results for what you’re looking for.
When a researcher looks for information on a specific subject, the same process applies- irrespective of which search engine is used.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of driving website traffic to your research paper – thereby increasing its visibility and citations. SEO involves understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they seek and most importantly the words they’re using in their searches.
Search engines (i.e. Google, PubMed, Medline) “crawl” through the billions of pages of web content and use a sophisticated algorithm to assess or “rank” the set of results to provide you with the “best” answer to your search query.
Using best SEO practices when you write your article is probably something you’re already doing without realising. In order to increase the visibility of your article there are 7 things you should ensure you’re doing.
7 SEO tricks to use when writing your scientific article
- Choose relevant keywords
Search engines scan your article looking for keywords and phrases. These keyword or phrases are what your potential readers are typing in the search box. The search engines look for these in a few main places:
- Title and subtitles (Headings and subheadings)
- Keywords section
- Image and video descriptions
- Metadata- snippets of text that describe a page’s content
The first secret to mastering SEO is the keyword search. Do a Google or PubMed search for keywords and determine if these keywords provide search results of papers similar to your paper. If not, try again.
Use “Long tail keywords” if possible. Long tail keywords tend to be 3-4-word phrases and are very specific to your article. People who search for these particular phrases tend to be looking for exactly what’s in your article. As well, long-tail keywords tend to be much less competitive.
For example, in a PubMed search for articles published since 2017:
- 897,342 articles with the keyword “Cancer” in the title were published
- 87,373 articles with the keyword “Lung Cancer” in the title were published
- 130 articles with the keyword “non-small cell Lung Cancer” in the title were published
Incorporate your chosen keywords into:
- The title
- Headings & subheadings
- Keyword fields
- Used throughout your article
- Create an SEO-friendly Title
Each journal will have specific formatting rules for titles- but within the formatting requirements, you can ensure you’re using Good SEO practices.
- Include keywords related to your topic at the beginning of your title.
Search engines generally only display the first 60-65 characters of the title of a paper. Front-loading your most important keywords (i.e. starting your title with them) will ensure potential readers will see the main keywords even if they cannot read the full title.
- Keep your title short-
As a rule of thumb- for best SEO practice keep your title to between 50 and 140 characters.
- Optimize your abstract
Most readers will only read the first few lines of your abstract to decide whether to continue reading your article. In addition, the search engine results normally only display the first two sentences of your abstract.
- Place essential findings and keywords in the first two sentences of your abstract. This is where you “sell” your article.
- Don’t keyword-stuff or overloading your abstract with the repetitive use of keywords. If you choose your keywords correctly, you should be to incorporate them in the abstract (in a relevant manner).
- Always write for your readers first and search engines second
- Use Headings and Subheadings
Search engines check headings and subheadings to understand the structure and content of your article and headings also can help guide the reader through complex content and improve the readability.
- Use relevant keywords
- Keep the headings and subheadings clear, consistent and simple
- Caption everything
Search engines cannot “read” images, instead they search for the “alt text” to describe them and uses this information to determine the topic of the surrounding text. In fact, it’s been reported over 26% of all searches are conducted on Google Images (vs 59% of searches on Google.com).
- Use your keywords in the titles of the illustrations, figures, graphs or videos.
- Keep captions clear and descriptive.
- Include your keywords in the file names and the file tags of all illustrations, figures, graphs or videos.
- Link to your article
Search engines rank pages highly when they see your content is being read and shared. Meaning that links from and to your article helps boost its ranking.
Promote your content on all relevant networks.
- Link your article on your laboratory’s website and your blog
- Link your article to your institutional sites. University websites are ranked as high authority by Google and having a link on one of these sites gives your article a high authority rank.
- Contribute a feature article or blog to someone else’s website which links to your article
- If you have a chance to do a newspaper interview, ensure they link to your article.
- Encourage your co-authors and colleagues to link to your article
- Post on Linked-In
- Post on Facebook
- Post on Twitter
Remember to use your keywords are tags on all your social media posts.
- Where to publish?
- If you’re about to publish a paper choose a journal with a name relevant to the topic of your research. The name of the journal is also important for SEO.
- Choose a high-impact journal as the majority also rank very highly on web-based searches.
- Publish your work in an Open Access journal. Non-restrictive licensing will allow your work to be available to a larger demographic of researchers- not just those whose institution has a subscription to the journal. As well, open access journals are indexed by many academic databases and search services.
Ensuring your article is visible on the internet is not “rocket science”- unless of course your article is about rocket science.
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