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Most academic journal teams are aware of the importance of having an online publication presence, and it’s become common knowledge that researchers increasingly prefer to access content online. The online transition is real and it’s happening as we speak. The question your journal should be asking now is not whether or not to publish online, but whether you’re effectively developing your digital publication to account for the unique needs of online readers.

If your journal’s online publication looks eerily similar to your printed issues, then you have a bit of a problem. Don’t despair - you’re not alone! Many journals are still working out their website designs. The first step is knowing what mistakes you might be making so you can start addressing them. This post rounds up the top 3 mistakes we see journals making on their websites.

1. Giving readers a poor article browsing experience

When you publish your latest journal articles to your website where do they go? If the answer is in an “Issues” section linked from or listed under the name of the issue to which they correspond, then your website is in need of some updating.

Consider how you read articles online, let’s say in a travel magazine. If you needed an article on things to do in Prague you wouldn’t want to click in and out of every issue in the travel magazine to find one with Prague in it would you? Probably not - and that’s because we approach online reading with different expectations than we do print. You’d likely have a much better online browsing experience if you were able to access an article categories section on the magazine’s website and select a relevant category like “Eastern Europe” that would point you in the right direction.

Your online journal browsing experience should mirror the way you expect to be able to browse other publications online. Your journal should have a dedicated place where readers can access content by category, and your article categories should be easy for them to find upon entering your site!

To improve your journal browsing experience further, it’s also a good idea to add search functionality to your website. Some readers may have a hyper-specific search term in mind, and providing them with functionality to search all articles will make it even easier for them to go straight to the articles they need.

Finally, don’t forget that part of browsing is stumbling upon useful content. Your website should be designed to help readers come across articles in which they may be interested. A great way to do this is by highlighting your newest articles on your homepage, as well as blog posts or any supplementary content that you publish. Remember, readers will be more attracted to text if it has visual elements associated with it. Adding images as well as brief descriptions to all of the articles on your homepage and article categories pages is a great way to spark readers’ interest.

2. Failing to give readers a way to follow your content online

Once you publish a new article or issue to your journal website how do readers know about it? If they have to visit your website to discover the update then you’re not offering the best online reading experience possible. You should be giving readers a way to follow your journal’s content updates online. One of the easiest and most efficient ways to do this is starting an RSS feed for your journal. RSS feeds are compilations of the latest content published on a website that can be input into RSS readers.

Be sure to put your journal’s RSS feed link in an obvious place like the top navigation bar of your journal website or a sidebar so visitors quickly spot it. To learn more about how RSS feeds work for journals check out Scholastica’s RSS feed feature.

An important part of having a successful RSS feed is regularly providing new content to followers. A great way to ensure this is to publish articles online on a rolling basis. If you have a journal blog (which we recommend starting you can also have those new posts pulled into your journal’s RSS feed to keep it fresh.

Other ways you can help readers stay abreast of your journal’s newest content include starting a journal updates email list and posting new article announcements on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

3. Forgetting about mobile-friendliness

Hardly anyone is conducting research from their smartphones you may say. But think again. According to the 2015 Simon Inger Consulting “How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications” report mobile usage is on the rise, particularly in lower income countries. It’s vital for your journal to have a mobile-friendly website.

Aside from avoiding a poor user experience, having a mobile-friendly website is actually important for discoverability. Google and other search engines now favor websites with mobile-friendly designs in their search results.

Not sure if your journal website is considered mobile-friendly or not? No problem! You can easily run your website through Google’s free “Mobile-Friendly Test.”

Putting it all together

If your website is lacking any one or all of these website design elements, this may sound like a lot of work. Website updates can be tricky. To keep any website updates manageable, be sure to prioritize what matters most to your journal and make iterative changes to your site.

If in this process you feel like you lack adequate control over your website design, you may want to make some structural changes and consider moving to a different website host and platform. If you’re looking for a way to easily build and maintain a designated journal website, you may want to check out Scholastica journal websites. With Scholastica journal websites you can build a custom open access journal website in a few clicks.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about common journal website mistakes? We’d love to hear them! You can post in the comments section or tweet to us at @scholasticahq.