On average, over 2 million research articles are getting published every year. With the increasing publication rate, the scholarly literature competition scale is also propelling towards the higher end. To stand out of the crowd and disseminate the research article to the audience with the content alone is challenging without search engine optimization. Hence the academic work has to be optimized for academic search engines to increase its visibility and discoverability. This article provides insights on optimizing the scholarly literature to get indexed on Google Scholar effortlessly and articulates a few tips and tricks to boost readership and create a more substantial academic web presence.
Since the inception of ASEO (Academic Search Engine Optimization), creating, modifying, publishing, and optimizing a research article to get crawled and indexed by academic search engines like Google Scholar, BASE, or academic equivalent has become run-of-the-mill for modern publishers as it ensures that the published research is accessible to the users for citation and referencing. As a result, the articles on top of search results are more likely to be read, cited, and downloaded.
Also, most academic works are stored in publishers' databases, where the articles are not entirely indexed or sometimes ignored by academic search engines for various reasons like images, charts, graphs, compressed files, etc. Therefore, researchers should follow the below tips and tricks to optimize the content in an SEO-friendly manner rather than depending solely on publishers to promote their articles.
Getting Started with Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Tips and Tricks
Almost 50% of the traffic to scholarly works comes from academic search engines, so you can include these pointers to turn the article into a readily discoverable one.
The five tips to make your article SEO-friendly are;
- Title Optimization: Ensure you include the primary search term or keyword in the title of the research paper and try to place it at the beginning of the title or within the first 60-70 characters of the title
- Optimization of abstract: The paper's abstract should be equipped with the search intent term about 3-5 times and should be placed in the first two sentences of the content as it also serves as the meta-description that gets displayed on the search engine.
- Maintain the flow of keywords naturally throughout the article: Incorporate keywords right from the title of the article to the conclusion. You can use long-tail keywords or phrases instead of stuffing the same keyword; it looks more contextual and helps flow the text without flaws.
- Use descriptive and discipline-specific keywords: Since authors are asked to input the keywords while submitting the article, you should incorporate meaningful and discipline-specific or niche-based keywords and avoid vague or indefinite terms.
Pro-Tip: Use thesauri or discipline-specific thesauri to find the right keywords subjecting your niche. And carefully choose the keywords from user's or searchers' perspectives.
- Avoid keyword stuffing or over-optimization: Search engines don't encourage over-optimized content unnecessarily stuffed with keywords. The ideal volume of keywords should be;
Title: 1-2 times, Abstract: 2-3 times, Body of the article: 1-2% (However, this is not an ideal count for all the articles as the keyword density dramatically depends on the length of the article)
Pro-Tip: You can use this formula to calculate the keyword density for your research paper:
Keyword Density = (No. of Keywords/Total no. of words in article)* 100
When users search for a specific keyword, the search engine will crawl and index those documents containing the search term listed on top. Hence it is crucial to incorporate the keywords in the title, abstract, and body of the content to make it a search-friendly document.
Alongside, academic search engines use different ranking algorithms to determine the ranking position of the scholarly work.
Before we start discussing the optimization strategies, let's understand how this ranking algorithm works.
Overview of Search Engines’ Ranking Algorithm
The basic keyword-based searches are mostly the same for mainstream search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and academic search engines. But the academic search engine algorithm for journal articles is obscure, and the whole ranking algorithm is not made public as it depends on various ranking factors (discussed below).
So, if you want your article to be ranked on top within any academic search engine, you first have to optimize the content before publishing it in the journal. Once done, you must focus on the common ranking factors to increase the probability of getting indexed on Google Scholar or equivalent search engines.
The common ranking factors that influence the algorithm:
In ranking several documents, search engines count the number of hits the search terms in a query and assign specific points of relevance to the different metadata fields. Generally speaking, the metadata fields like title, abstract, content body, etc., that contain search terms are more likely to get indexed first. For example, the title field is ranked higher than the abstract field. Hence, include the keyword in every possible metadata field that is weighted heavily by search engines.
Also, ensure the metadata of the research article is complete by filling out forms and file properties as best as you can.
The metadata fields are:
- Body text
- Header Tags
- Authors' name
- Publications' name (Journals' name)
- Text or words in tables, figures, charts, graphs
- File names
The Citation Count:
The higher the citation counts, the higher the position on Google. So, your past publication citations within the current and future publications are suitable for ASEO.
Text or Words in Tables, Figures, and Graphics:
The text used in tables, figures, or graphical elements should be embedded as vector graphics or plain text to get indexed. However, avoid embedding them as raster graphics (.png, .jpg, .gif, etc.) as search engines can not extract text from them. Hence it will not display in a search query result.
Pro-Tip: Academic search engines usually don't consider synonyms while crawling. So, ensure you use the target keyword in all the document fields. For example, if you want to rank for the keyword "academic research writing" and incorporate the keyword "scientific paper writing,” your work will not be displayed on the top page. Instead, it works on stemming, which means search engines treat the words with the same stem as synonyms. So, for example, if you are looking for the words "optimizing" and "optimized,” the results will also include words with base stems "optimize.”
Now that we have gained a fair knowledge of the ranking factors and their impact on search engines let's dig into the strategies for improving academic SEO.
Strategies to optimize the research article from an SEO standpoint
Increasing discoverability and visibility of the scholarly literature requires a kit of impactful strategies that emphasize how the research work is to be prepared to acquire the top-most position of search engines and get cited.
Here are the four academic SEO strategies created for every researcher;
- Spot check if your article is getting indexed on Google Scholar
- Obtain ORCID id and be identifiable
- Make the articles open access to receive more citations than subscription journals
- Optimize articles for search engines after publication: Post-publication Optimization
Spot Check If Your Article Is Getting Indexed On Google Scholar
Google Scholar is the go-to online outlet to find journal articles and works similar to mainstream search engines like Google. It is a freely accessible and advanced academic search engine available for the academic community. In 2015, a study conducted on 101 scholarly communication innovations reported that 92% of academics used Google Scholar and took pride as the world's most comprehensive academic search tool with over 380 million articles indexed.
We cannot deny that the article indexed on Google might not get indexed on Google Scholar. Hence, a quick test like spot-checking is recommended to ensure your research work is available to the public to cite, read, and share. As far as spot-checking is concerned, it is helpful to periodically cross-check or search for your articles (titles) on the Google Scholar search bar and see if the articles are showing up on the output page. If your query results include your article, it indicates the article indexing is done. In contrast, if you don't find the article in the query result, you can follow post-publication optimization strategies to enhance its discoverability.
Obtain ORCID iD And Be Identifiable
Always refer to author names and initials consistently throughout the work. It has to be referred to in the same way it has been referred to in past publications. A minor inconsistency might affect the citation counts. As a result, the search engines might not cite the articles and lessen the chances of ranking. Authors are advised to get an ORCID iD, Open Researcher, and Contributor ID - a digital identifier to remove ambiguity. Since ORCID iD is one of your research work's constant metadata, you must link this unique identifier to all your research activities. Using this identifier while submitting the research work to publishers helps them distinguish between the authors with similar names and fixes the confusion on naming. Thus, it doesn't affect the search engine indexing and aids in ranking.
Making Articles Open Access To Receive More Citations
The idea of the Open Access movement has always been to improve the accessibility of publicly funded research. This led to better visibility in general and ultimately to better discoverability of openly accessible research. Looking at previous tips, such as filling in all available metadata fields to ensure discoverability through potential search terms in the title and keywords, we offer the entire body of our research to search engines when we publish it open access. While only a few words are available when searching for a keyword in the metadata of a closed-access research paper, the full-text search of an open-access article has access to all the words it contains.
Higher visibility leads to a greater number of views, which has a positive impact on citations. The more readers you have, the greater your chance of getting a mention. ASEO also takes care of common citation matching issues. Avoiding hyphens, special characters, and formulas in your title will increase the likelihood of correct citation matching. To ensure that all your citations are counted as such, make the matching process as simple as possible without compromising good scientific practice. The key is to minimize the sources of error.
Optimizing Articles for Search Engines After Publication: Post-publication Optimization
Most of the ASEO tips need to be applied before publishing. However, you should follow the tips throughout the dissemination of your article. Increase the visibility of your article by uploading it to open-access platforms, repositories, and academic social networks. Use your carefully chosen keywords to help your potential readers quickly identify your article’s main topic and purpose. Make sure your profile and publication list are up to date on all major platforms and databases. If your publication is listed in academic literature databases, check to see if it appears under your author profile, and claim your publications if they are listed under a different or variant of your name.
After your publication is published, use the assigned DOI to promote your work. Alternative metrics can only be tracked using persistent identifiers and rely on the constant use of these identifiers.
ASEO is an organic way of increasing the article's visibility without compromising the quality of the content, the research ethics, or the academic reputation. Optimizing the content according to the search engine helps the authors reach a wider audience and gain credibility, which serves the ultimate purpose of publishing a research paper. Hence, ASEO will be beneficial for authors or researchers, academic search engines, and users in the long run.
For more information on ASEO, see: Schilhan, L., Kaier, C. and Lackner, K., 2021. Increasing visibility and discoverability of scholarly publications with academic search engine optimization. Insights, 34(1), p.6. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.534.
I would like to thank Dr. Lisa Schilhan, Head of Publication Services, University of Graz, AT, who took her time to co-author this article and penned down useful strategies to help authors optimize their research article.
Since 2011 she has been into the publication services at the University of Graz. Alongside, she has contributed significant research articles on Open Access, Open Science, and Academic SEO.