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 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 your 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 of especial importance 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 journals should focus on and why.
We’re starting off with a timely area of SEO - making sure your journal website 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 your journal website or articles 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 website and articles are mobile-friendly now is the time to find out. You can easily do so by inputting your website 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 website or articles are not mobile-ready, it’s time to start thinking about making some updates. Many journals 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 Open Access Publishing software journals can set up a mobile-friendly and SEO optimized website in minutes using an easy-to-edit website template. Scholastica handles all website hosting and maintenance so journals don’t have to worry about any technical 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 your journal website approved. You can learn more about Google Scholar indexing requirements here. If you use Scholastica Open Access Publishing, 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. Machines won’t be able to 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 their contents. Common metadata fields include article title, ISSN, author ORCIDs, and article keywords.
In order for metadata to be machine readable it must be organized in a computer markup language such as HTML or XML in the code of your journal website and article webpages. Having rich machine-readable metadata is particularly important for enhancing the search results of your articles in academic indexes like Crossref and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) because these indexes will sort and return your articles based on metadata fields. You should aim to submit as much rich machine-readable metadata to scholarly indexes as possible. The best way to do this is by uploading partial or full-text XML versions of your articles to scholarly indexes. If you’re not sure of how to go about formatting your articles into XML there are services that can help like Scholastica’s typesetting service, which is able to produce XML, PDF, and HTML articles all from manuscript DOCX files.
Finally, when it comes to getting your content to show up in mainstream search results, know that publishing consistently is key. As you add content to your journal website search engines will begin to perceive it as a more legitimate and valuable publication. And each new journal article, update, or blog post you publish will mean another opportunity for search engine bots to crawl and index your web pages.
Today, rather than waiting to publish articles in issues, as in the traditional print publishing model, many journals such as Survey Practice are adopting a rolling publishing model. In rolling publishing journals make new articles available individually as soon as they’re ready. Some then compile groups of articles into issues after they’ve been published. By publishing on a rolling basis journals can produce a more continuous stream of fresh 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!