SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
17 March 2016
Volume 17 Issue 2

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Your Journal Article

Wiley Author Services Marketing Team and Sabine Barrett, SETAC North America

Search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo crawl the web to build an inventory of content and to provide search users with the most relevant results. Authors can optimize their journal article so search engines can easily index it, which can increase the number of people who view the article and consequently might cite it in their work. Citation indexes already figure in many disciplines as a measure of an article’s value, and there is evidence that article views and downloads are also beginning to count in the same way. The crucial area for optimization is your article’s abstract and title, which are freely available online. We have compiled these guidelines to help you maximize the web-friendliness of the most public part of your article.

Understanding Search Engines

Search engines use a unique and complicated algorithm for ranking content, including journal articles. They send automated web spiders to crawl all accessible content online, trying to identify what the piece is about. Additionally, search engines estimate the relevancy of the content by weighing the quantity and quality of the links to the article from other websites. They look at the reputation of the site where your article is posted (must be an important article if it’s posted here) and the quality of the sites that link to your article (must be important if these guys talk about you).

For authors of research articles, there are a few quick and easy steps to keep in mind when writing an article to be posted on the web and for the post-publication stage.

When Writing an Article

The most important advice is to construct a clear and descriptive article. Use structuring to enable both readers and search engines to quickly and efficiently understand your work.

Step 1: Title
It starts with the title, which needs to be short and precise. Search engines pay close attention to the title because they assume it tells them quickly and briefly what this page is about. Think about the search terms that readers are likely to use when looking for articles on the same topic as yours and help them by constructing your title to include those terms. Also, the main concept of your paper should appear in the first 50–60 characters, which is the optimal length for search engines. For example, Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title in their search results.

Step 2: Abstract
The second most important field is the text of the abstract itself, which is the most viewed part of your article. You should reiterate the keywords or keyword phrases from the title within the abstract. It will tell search engines that your abstract addresses the topic as advertised. Introduce variations of the keywords. Think about potential user and what words or phrases they might be searching when looking for your article. You can use tools such as Google Trends or Google Adwords to learn which search terms are popular. For the typical length of an abstract, repeat your keywords and phrases 3-4 times in a natural, contextual way. Also pay attention to your final conclusion and include a major insight in the final sentence.

Generally, always focus on writing clear, comprehensive content for your reader and not for search engines. A well-written text will naturally feature your keywords and synonyms when talking about your topic. Search engines constantly change their algorithms to track down and punish spammers and to reward good content. Therefore, avoid keyword stuffing. It will be clear that you are trying to manipulate search engines, which may un-index your article as a result.

Step 3: Keyword Field
Both SETAC journals allow five keywords or phrases in the keywords field. Include the keywords and phrases you repeated in your abstract. Provide additional relevant keywords and synonyms for those keywords as they relate to your article. Keywords are not only important for SEO, they are also used by abstracting and indexing services as a mechanism to tag research content.

Step 4: Article, Images, Figures and Table Captions
If a reader does not have to log on to access your article (through an institutional subscription or membership in a society), it will also be indexed by search engines. Therefore it’s important to use structuring to enable both readers and search engines to quickly and efficiently understand your work. Primary section headings should be clear and include variations of the keyword phases. Sub-headings afford more flexibility and are good places to incorporate additional keywords as cues for readers and search engines. Similar to titles, search engines pay more emphasis to headings. They should clearly inform what the following paragraph is about.  

Use images, figures and tables to highlight important details. It’s better to include a descriptive title and caption than just “Figure 1” whenever possible. Search engines associate keywords near images, figure or tables with those items. Also use descriptive image file names and alt text, which is an image attribute featuring a short (few words) description of the image’s content. Search engines don’t see like humans, so they look at the text associated with the image (for example, this is what a search engine might see: <img src=”/daphnia-magna.jpg” alt=”ultrasound exposed Daphnia”>).

After Publication
Once your article is available online, it’s time to start your “off-page” SEO, including link building and promoting your article through social media and other channels. The more people are talking about you (for example, through blog posts, tweets, newspaper articles, etc.), the more search engines will think that this must be important information. And if a highly regarded website links to your article, that means extra brownie points for you. 

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Update your professional website with a link to your published article, especially if this site includes “.edu” or a similar educational domain. Search engines prioritize these websites.
  • Send notice of publication and the link to your article to your organization’s library and communications office
  • Share the link on social media such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – be sure to tag SETAC or the journal for wider visibility (@SETAC_World, @etc_editor and @ieam_editor)
  • Send notice of publication and the link to your article to editors of any popular blogs in your field and ask them if they have any upcoming articles on your topic
  • Create a video abstract (a 1- or 2-minute video about your publication) and share it on a site like YouTube
  • Let the editorial office or the SETAC staff know if you receive press or publicity for your article so we can promote it through our channels

Important Reminders

  • People tend to search for specifics and not just one word (e.g., bioavailability of organic chemicals and not just bioavailability)
  • Ensure that the title contains the most important words that relate to the topic
  • Key phrases need to make sense within the title and abstract and flow well
  • It is best to focus on a maximum of three or four different keyword phrases in an abstract rather than try to get across too many points
  • Finally, always check that the abstract reads well, remember the primary audience is the researcher not a search engine, so write for readers not robots

Visit Wiley Author Services for more information, including some examples of well-written (and therefore well-optimized) abstracts.

Authors’ contact information: Wiley Author Services and

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