Research Data: Working with Social Media
Using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for research publications
As part of that session I spoke about using SEO for research
publications. The below is a survey of that content. If anyone is
interested in us running that session for a particular
department/school, please get in touch – Chris
In a world where researchers increasingly use the web to search for
literature, and where that web is increasingly crowded, researchers need
to do whatever they can to get their research discovered. SEO
techniques can help to get your research outputs discovered.
A research output may be full text indexed by a search engine.
However, different sections of it (e.g. title, abstract and keywords)
may be weighted differently by a search engine. Judicious wording and
selection of key phrases and concepts in these sections may render your
article higher up the returned results in a web or database search.
Titles should describe what the research is about – they should give
the reader a clear idea as to what the paper is about. That might sound
obvious, but here are some (real) article titles:
- “A message from Titanic”
- “From lemonade stands to 2065”
- “Hot potato endgame”
you do stumble across a creative title for a research paper don’t
dismiss it, maybe you can use it in social media, but it’s probably best
not to use it as the formal title.
The title is likely to be the first thing a potential reader will see
about your article so it’s crucial to let them know what it’s about.
Patrick Dunleavy offers some great advice in his blog post Why do academics choose useless titles for articles and chapters? :
- The title should be relevant
- The title should be consistent with named concepts in the abstract and sub-headings
- Consider using a full narrative title e.g. ‘New Public Management is Dead — Long Live Digital Era Governance’.
This has 2 specific topics, memorable non-academic language and lends
itself to citation e.g. “Some commentators think Public Management is
dead (Dunleavy et al, 2006)”
- If you cannot do 3 above, at least provide some narrative clues
Keywords are terms used to describe the key concepts articulated in
the research output. They can appear in the title, abstract or body of
the work – but do look for terms that may not appear in full text.
These terms may be synonyms or acronyms or possibly larger conceptual
terms that are not specifically named in the body of the text. (There
is a story of an article that appeared in the Washington Post
about Arnold Palmer scoring successive holes in ones – unfortunately
the article omitted the term “golf” – so a search on golf didn’t return
- Think of keywords as potential search terms
- Use keywords that are common terminology in your research field
- Include relevant synonyms as keywords
- Include keywords in your abstract and body text
search may exclude items they consider to be keyword stuffed
and, ultimately, the reader of your paper is a human not a search
engine. Don’t repeat keywords to the point they detract from the flow
of the text.
For example, useful keywords for this blogpost might include SEO; Search Engine Optimization; journal articles; research outputs.
An abstract is a piece of text that should convince a potential reader to read the whole article – its function is to aid selection – and always provide one when you can.
However, it is also likely to be more heavily weighted than the body
of the article, so in an online world of full text indexing it is also
choice text that is indexed by search engines – its function is also to aid return in search.
A 2015 study by Weinberger, Evans and Allesina
in PLOS Computational Biology looked at how longer abstracts containing
terms that used superlatives and signaled novelty or importance were
more likely to be cited than shorter simpler abstracts, they conclude: “Longer, more detailed, prolix prose is simply more available for search.”
So think about how the abstract is not just a representation of the paper but also text that will be indexed by search engines.
Don’t be afraid to cite your previous work – but don’t overdo it and make sure all works cited are relevant. According to this Wiley guide, search engines factor citations into how they rank your work.
Graphics used in a paper should be vector (e.g. *.svg, *.ai, *.eps, *.ps) rather than raster (e.g.
*.bmp, *.png, *.tif and *.jpg) as text in raster images cannot be read
by search engines and are therefore not used to aid the ranking of the
work in search results.
Be consistent with your name across publications and with names of
authors you cite in any particular paper. Advice from the publisher Sage is to use your full name including middle names – try to make sure it is distinguishable from other names of researchers. Even better get an ORCiD, associate all your research with that persistent identifier and use the ORCiD when submitting work to publishers.
The work you do on SEO is contingent on the platform your research
output sits on, some sites are better indexed by Google than others. In
Google search ORO items consistently come up alongside or above the
same output on the publishers website. ORO is a great discoverability platform
and so are other repositories and academic social networking sites like
ResearchGate. So make sure the article is on a platform that is well
indexed by search engines, and that platform might not necessarily be the publisher’s site.
Finally, timely reminders from Witold Kieńć on Open Science… [SEO]
will only work if the publication itself is good and interesting
enough. Academic SEO does not substitute but supports the quality of
and from seanrnicholson…
Some Further Reading:
The Wiley guide: Search Engine Optimization: For Authors
The Elsevier guide: Get Found – optimize your research articles for search engines
Excellent commentary on the publisher SEO guides from Wouter Gerritsma: Academic search engine optimization: for publishers
A good recent overview of SEO and research from a workshop at British Ecological Annual Meeting in 2015: Maximising the Exposure of Your Research: Search Engine Optimisation and why it matters
Witold Kieńć on Open Science, Why and how should you optimize academic articles for search engines.
Using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for research publications | The Orb