Societies Research Libraries // July 23rd, 2013

Search Engine Optimization and Your Journal Article: Do you want the bad news first?

SEO pic

Source: Kalawin / Thinkstock

Here’s the bad news about search engine optimization and your paper:  it’s going to mean a bit more work.

Yep.  It’s not enough that you hustled for funding, figured out who your co-authors would be, conducted the research, wrote the paper, decided where to submit it, hoped that it would be accepted, made necessary revisions, and waited anxiously for it go up online.

Nope.  Now, before having your article posted online you have to make sure that your article is prepared for the real world: the digital world.     You need to ensure that your paper is search engine optimized.  To quote Zhang and Dimitroff: “Search Engine Optimization (SEO) … is the process of identifying factors in a webpage which would impact search engine accessibility to it and fine-tuning the many elements of a website so it can achieve the highest possible visibility when a search engine responds to a relevant query. Search engine optimization aims at achieving good search engine accessibility for webpages, high visibility in search engine results, and improvement of the chances the webpages are retrieved.”(1)

Except, to put a filter on it, replace the word “webpage(s)” in the quote above with “journal article”.  A little daunting, no?

Now here’s the good news:  it’s worth the effort.  After all, why go to all the toil of authoring an article if your research is going to be buried on page 275 of Google or Google Scholar’s search results?  Scholarly information is increasingly more accessible online, but not inherently more discoverable.  Employing SEO can leverage a paper so that it has better odds of being at the top of search results, and, therefore, better odds of being read and even cited.  Moreover, if you are publishing open access, you will also be getting the best value for your (or your funder’s) money if your research is easily accessible via search engines.

“Isn’t that the journal’s (or publisher’s) job?” you might ask?  Well yes and no.  Journals and publishers need to make sure they do everything they can to optimize their online platforms so that search engines can easily crawl and index content.  58% of all traffic to our online platform, Wiley Online Library, comes from search engines (predominantly Google and Google Scholar).  And publishers need to actively promote journals and featured content in a crowded online space.  However, they do not have ultimate control over the discoverability of content at the article level. You do.

So what do you need to do?  We’ve created an SEO for Authors tips sheet to give authors an at-a-glance guide to optimizing their papers.  Here are some highlights:

  • Carefully select relevant keywords
  • Lead with keywords in the article title
  • Repeat keywords 3-4 times throughout the abstract
  • Use headings throughout the article
  • Include at least 5 keywords and synonyms in the keyword field
  • Link to the published article on social media, blogs and academic websites

A lot of this boils down to selecting appropriate keywords (i.e. search terms) and using them frequently and appropriately, because, “Generally speaking, the more often a search term occurs in the document, and the more important the document field is in which the term occurs, the more relevant the document is considered.”(2)

This shouldn’t be a completely daunting process or even that much additional work.  It is really about being more mindful, as you are writing the paper, of how users will search and find the published version online.

Happy Optimizing!


1. Zhang, Jin, and Alexandra Dimitroff. “The Impact of Metadata Implementation on Webpage Visibility in Search Engine Results (Part II).” Information Processing & Management 41.3 (2005): 697-715.

2. Beel, Jran, Bela Gipp, and Erik Wilde. “Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing Scholarly Literature for Google Scholar & Co.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 41.2 (2010): 176-90.


  • Aleksey Zuravlov

    Hi, Anne!

    That was a good overview.. but did you base your article on studies that are 8 and 3 years old?

    On-page optimization didn’t change as much as backlinking, but I think data from 2005 is plainly outdated. Google and their search algorithms evolve extremely fast.

    Best wishes,

    • Anne-Marie Green

      Hi Aleks,
      Thanks so much for you comment! The reason I referenced the above studies was because the first provided a good intro to SEO and the second applied specifically to SEO for research publications. I acknowledge though that SEO is fast-moving. If you have links to research or guidelines targeted to the academic research community, I’d love to see them.
      Thanks again,

  • Folorunso Lateef Akinwumi

    A lot of researchers are not mindful of this. Thanks for the information.

  • bipin singh
  • Flemming Ast

    If you contact Copenhagen University they developed a search engine that provides you with the i.e. 5 correct search results. It has been designed by a German professor that takes every information into word structures and using math it will guess with ,999 propability the correct answers. It is the Institute for Languages. It is a patent.

  • Portman

    That’s the reason why I love wordpress..always interacting with its users and eager to help them with tons of useful info. I’m guilty of the tags and categories part out of ignorance. And this post has made a lot of things about SEO clear that were very confusing to me earlier. Also I’m glad I didn’t buy into any of the spams I got about SEO. Thanks for sharing! go here

    • Tony W

      Totally agree!

  • Jessica Banaszewski

    Thanks for this great post. I was a little worried when I read the title, thinking uhoh, bad news?! But if the bad news is simply that we need to work at it more, then that’s fine by me :) It’s worth it!

    There’s an excellent refresher article here which may help others:

  • Omega Media

    Hi Anne, Thanks for providing overview about Latest SEO Updates and Zhang – Dimitroff .

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