Scholars are increasingly turning to online browsers and indexes to conduct most, if not all, of their research. And, with the dizzyingly fast pace of online publishing, for any given search term related to your journal articles there’s likely tons of content competing for space on search results pages. Consequently, if you want your journal articles to reach the broadest possible readership (which we imagine you do!), it’s imperative that your team focus on search engine optimization or SEO.
Having search-engine friendly content is obviously of paramount importance to online-only journals as, aside from word of mouth, searches will be the primary way that scholars unfamiliar with the journal learn about it. Additionally, for open access journals in particular, publishing content that is easily discoverable in not only subscription-based academic databases but also via free search engines and indexes like Google and Google Scholar is especially important as not all scholars will have access to the same institutional resources.
When thinking about SEO, assigning relevant keywords to articles is often one of the first things that comes to mind — and that is certainly part of the equation! But there are also many technical aspects of website and article setup that can have big impacts on journal and article discoverability. Below we outline 4 often overlooked areas of SEO that all journal publishers should focus on and why.
We’re starting off with a timely area of SEO — making sure journal websites and individual articles are mobile-friendly or readable from a smartphone or tablet. Since early 2018, Google has been moving to mobile-first website indexing - or using the mobile version of website pages for indexing and ranking. And recently, they sent the biggest batch of notices yet letting webmasters know that their sites will be ranked based on mobile SEO. If you have journal websites or articles that aren’t designed to be responsive on mobile devices you may start to notice a dip in readers coming in via organic search results relatively soon.
If you’re not sure if your journal content is mobile-friendly now is the time to find out. You can easily do so by inputting your journal websites and a few article URLs into Google’s mobile-friendly test. It’s worth noting that if you publish all of your articles only in PDF they are likely not SEO-friendly, as PDFs are overwhelmingly not searchable via online browsers. That’s not to say that journals shouldn’t publish PDF articles. But, for the purposes of showing up in online searches, it’s best to make all articles available in HTML as well.
If you find that your journal websites or articles are not mobile-ready, it’s time to start thinking about making some updates. Many journal publishers assume that this will require bringing in a development team to restructure their website, but there are some much faster and easier solutions out there. For example, with Scholastica’s open access journal hosting platform its possible to set up a mobile-friendly and SEO optimized journal website in minutes using an easy-to-edit website template. Scholastica handles all technical website maintenance so publishers don’t have to worry about any upkeep.
In addition to mainstream search engines like Google and Bing, one free research browser that all journals should aim to be indexed in is Google Scholar. You can do a quick test to see if your articles are showing up in Google Scholar searches by simply spot checking a few article titles in the Google Scholar search bar.
It’s important to note that if your articles show up in regular Google searches that does not mean that they’ll show up in Google Scholar, so be sure to do this test. Google Scholar only indexes content that its web crawlers recognize as legitimate research. You may find that a portion of your articles are indexed in Google Scholar, likely because they’ve been referenced in other indexed content, but to have all of your articles pulled into the index requires following Google’s technical requirements and sometimes working with the Google Scholar team directly to get journal websites approved. You can learn more about Google Scholar indexing requirements here. If you use Scholastica’s OA journal hosting platform, you don’t have to worry about Google Scholar indexing, we take care of that for you!
In order for your articles to show up in online search results they must be readable by not only humans but also machines. Of course, machines can’t read your journal articles line by line and discern what they’re about — at least not yet! Rather, web crawlers and scholarly indexes will rely heavily on your journal article metadata to know what each article is about and determine where and how to house and deliver that information. Metadata are pieces of data applied to your journal and its articles that provide information about the contents. Common metadata fields include article title, ISSN, author ORCIDs, and article keywords.
In order for metadata to be machine-readable, it must be available in computer markup languages, including HTML meta tags for web-based crawlers and XML files for deposit-based indexes. Having rich machine-readable metadata is particularly important for enhancing the search results of articles in academic indexes like Crossref and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) because those indexes sort and return content based on the metadata fields available to them.
Journals should submit as much rich machine-readable metadata to scholarly indexes as possible. If you’re not sure how to go about creating XML article files, there are services that can help. For example, Scholastica’s production service, formats XML, PDF, and HTML articles simultaneously from unformatted manuscript DOCX or LaTeX files.
Finally, when it comes to getting your content to show up in mainstream search results, know that publishing consistently is key. As a journal adds content to its website, search engines perceive the journal as a legitimate and valuable publication. And each time the journal publishes new articles or blog posts, it creates an opportunity for search engine bots to crawl and index its website again.
Today, rather than waiting to publish articles in issues, as in the traditional print publishing model, many journal publishers, such as the American Association for Public Opinion Research, are adopting a rolling publishing model. In rolling publishing, journal articles are made available individually as soon as they’re ready. Some publishers then compile groups of articles into journal issues after they’ve been published. By publishing on a rolling basis, you can produce a more continuous stream of fresh journal content and develop better search authority and rankings.
We hope you find this post useful! Have any SEO questions or tips to add? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter at @scholasticahq!