If you ask any researcher which online outlets they use to find relevant journal articles, there’s a good chance that Google Scholar will be at the top of their list.
The 2018 “How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications“ report found that researchers rated academic search engines as “the most important discovery resource when searching for journal articles,” and Google Scholar was among the most widely used free academic search engines available. A 2015 survey on 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication also found that 92% of academics surveyed used Google Scholar.
With so many researchers using Google Scholar, it’s a search engine that all journal publishers should prioritize. Inclusion in Google Scholar can help expand the accessibility, reach, and, consequently, the impacts of the articles you publish.
While it may seem like Google can magically return all relevant search results to answer user queries, the reality is, it’s only able to serve up the content its crawlers can find (more on crawlers below!). Google Scholar also has specific inclusion criteria. So If you want to have your journal articles indexed in Google Scholar, you must first ensure Google can crawl them and that Google Scholar will recognize your journal website as a legitimate academic source.
In this blog post, we overview how Google Scholar works, the benefits of Google Scholar indexing, and what you need to know to have your journal articles added to Google Scholar. Let’s get started!
How does Google Scholar work?
Since you’re reading this blog, you likely know about Google Scholar as an academic search tool. But you may not be entirely sure of how Google Scholar processes content or how it compares to Google’s general search engine. Before we get into the specific benefits of Google Scholar and its inclusion requirements, let’s first take a look at how it works.
Like Google, Google Scholar is a crawler-based search engine. Crawler-based search engines are able to index machine-readable metadata or full-text files automatically using “web crawlers,” also known as “spiders” or “bots,” which are automated internet programs that systematically “crawl” websites to identify and ingest new content.
Google Scholar has access to all of the crawlable scholarly content published on the web, with the ability to index entire publisher and journal websites as well as the ability to use the citations in the articles it has indexed to find other related content. Google Scholar includes content across academic disciplines, from all countries, and in all languages. Recent research, including Michael Gusenbauer’s article “Google Scholar to overshadow them all? Comparing the sizes of 12 academic search engines and bibliographic databases,” has found that Google Scholar is the world’s largest academic search engine, containing over 380 million records.
A common misconception about Google Scholar is that it indexes all the content it has access to regardless of the type or quality — this is not the case. Rather, as explained in “Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing Scholarly Literature for Google Scholar & Co.,” Google Scholar is an “invitation-based search engine.” This means that “only articles from trusted sources and articles that are ‘invited’ (cited) by articles already indexed are included in the database.” On its website, Google Scholar states, “we work with publishers of scholarly information to index peer-reviewed papers, theses, preprints, abstracts, and technical reports from all disciplines of research and make them searchable on Google and Google Scholar.”
In order for a journal to be considered for inclusion in Google Scholar, the content on its website must first meet two basic criteria:
- Consist primarily of journal articles (e.g., original research articles, technical reports)
- Make freely available either the full-text or the complete author-written abstract for all articles (without requiring human or search engine robot readers to log into the site, install specific software, accept any disclaimers, etc.)
From there, journal websites and articles must meet certain technical specifications. Before we get into that, let’s first look at some of the benefits Google Scholar offers journals and how to tell if Google Scholar is picking up your articles.
How does Google Scholar indexing benefit scholarly journals?
We’ve talked about the research benefits of Google Scholar, but you may be wondering — what are the specific benefits of Google Scholar indexing for the journals I publish?
Google Scholar indexing can expand the reach of your articles and improve the chances of them being read, shared, and cited. If Google Scholar is indexing your journal articles, whenever someone uses it to search for keywords and phrases related to the topics you publish on, there’s a chance some of your content will show up in the search results.
Getting your journal articles indexed in Google Scholar will:
- Increase the reach of your individual articles because scholars will be more likely to find them
- Give scholars an easy way to gauge how relevant your articles are to their research based on the article title and search snippet you provide
- Help resurface your past articles since Google Scholar takes citations into account and shows more frequently cited works earlier in search results
For open access journals, the importance of Google Scholar indexing is even greater. If you want your content to be accessible, making it freely available isn’t enough — you have to be sure that anyone can find your articles on the web and that they aren’t only available to scholars with access to subscription-based academic abstracting and indexing databases or prior knowledge of your publication. Google Scholar enables anyone to freely search for and find relevant scholarly content on the web from anywhere in the world.
How can I tell if Google Scholar is indexing my journal content?
As noted, Google Scholar doesn’t just index all the content it can access on the web. Instead, it seeks to index content from what it deems to be “trusted” publication websites. The content must either be published on a trusted website or cited by another publication hosted on a trusted website.
For Google Scholar to deem a journal website “trustworthy,” it must follow all of Google Scholar’s technical guidelines. Journal publishers should also contact Google Scholar to request inclusion. If you’re not sure whether Google Scholar is indexing your journal content, you can quickly check by visiting scholar.google.com and searching for your journal domain (e.g., www.examplejournal.com).
What steps can I take to get my journal articles indexed in Google Scholar?
If you find that content from one or more of the journals you publish is not appearing in Google Scholar, you’ll need to review the Google Scholar Inclusion Guidelines for Webmasters to determine the best next steps to take. For example, some requirements areas you may still need to address include:
- Checking your HTML or PDF file formats to make sure the text is searchable
- Configuring your website to export bibliographic data in HTML meta tags
- Publishing all articles on separate webpages (i.e., each article should have its own URL)
- Ensuring your journal websites are available to both users and crawlers at all times
- Ensuring you have a browse interface that can be crawled by Google’s robots
- Placing each article in a separate HTML or PDF file (Google Scholar will not index multiple articles in the same PDF)
It’s important to know that getting content indexed in Google Scholar can take time, and there are no guarantees that every article you publish will show up in Google Scholar search results. However, following the requirements above will significantly improve your chances.
Google Scholar’s indexing guidelines can get pretty technical. So if you have a journal website built via custom code or a general-purpose content management system like WordPress, you may need to consider moving to a dedicated journal hosting platform that offers indexing support. For example, Scholastica’s OA Publishing Platform includes a customizable journal website template structured to meet Google Scholar’s indexing criteria, and we automatically generate HTML metadata for all articles to make it easier for Google Scholar to find and crawl them, helping you get closer to reaching your indexing goals.
Some journal databases, such as JSTOR or Project Muse, are also indexed by Google Scholar. So adding articles to them can be another avenue to show up in Google Scholar search results.
However you decide to go about getting your journal articles indexed by Google Scholar, now’s the time to start! Google Scholar indexing is sure to expand the accessibility and reach of the content you publish.
This post was originally published on February 4, 2016 and updated on March 13, 2023.