SEO for Chemists: Make Your Chemistry Research Paper Discoverable
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SEO for Chemists: How to Make Your Chemistry Research Paper Discoverable

Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for chemists looking to gain citations and awards for their research. Before a paper can receive the recognition it deserves, the community must read it. Scientists of the past could achieve this just by publishing in a high-impact journal. But the way the chemistry community digests research has changed. With the emergence of specialized search engines (such as PubMed, Google Scholar, Web of Science) and the increasing number of journals, chemists must also consider the basics of search engine optimization if they’re going to make their research paper discoverable. Optimizing your research for search takes a little bit of work, but it doesn’t have to be scary if you break it down into its base components.

Search engines use an algorithm to determine what appears at the top of their search results for different terms. While the exact details of those algorithms are secret and continually evolving, some basics are public knowledge (see Google’s algorithm information page for an example). Search engines look at two critical factors to decide rankings: relevancy and trust. They determine relevancy by looking at the density of words on a page related to a given term. Search engines determine trust by tracking the number of backlinks to a given page from other sites that also rank highly for related terms.

SEO can be a little different for scientists than for people writing other kinds of content. You won’t have to worry about the technical side of SEO. A prestigious publisher, such as ACS Publications, will handle that piece for you. But you don’t have the luxury of writing in conversational English for most of your paper, which can make certain SEO strategies trickier. This guide to SEO for chemists focuses on achieving good keyword density and attracting quality backlinks. Those are the parts of the process where you have the most control, and they’ll make the biggest impact on your search rankings.

Note: This SEO guide for chemists is written with Google in mind since that’s the most popular search engine in most of the world. Google is also important for researchers because the rules for Google search are similar to the ones used by Google Scholar. Similar principles also apply for other search providers, but each companies’ search algorithm is a little different. This guide breaks down the process into three major steps.

SEO for Chemists: Before Writing a Research Paper

Think About Your Research from the Reader’s Perspective

How would you respond if someone asked you, “why would anyone care about your research?” The question isn’t there to give you needless self-doubt. It’s meant to get you thinking about your work from a reader’s perspective. If someone asked you that question, you’d probably have an answer on the tip of your tongue. It creates new possibilities in the field of X. It’s a more efficient method of doing Y. It solves the old problem of Z. But research papers don’t always think to tell readers why the paper is worth their time in such a direct way. By asking yourself this question before you start writing, you’ll generate a list of concepts that need to be explicitly mentioned and repeated in your work. That way, your paper is more likely to appear in searches related to the question that readers are asking.

Choose Relevant Keywords

Once you’ve begun to think about your work from your readers’ perspective, you can start to make a list of words that someone might search for if they were asking a question that your chemistry paper answers. Those terms are your SEO keywords. You can expect to have about 15-20 of them, once you include common synonyms or variants of the terms in which you’re most interested.

Choose keywords that are specific to your field, not broader terms like “chemistry,” where the competition to rank first is much higher. Think about your ideal reader and the words they might use when searching for a paper like yours. If you want to get a sense of what keywords others in your field are using, browse indexes like Web of Science or Scopus take notes of what you find. Try doing a web search for your paper’s topic and see what currently ranks for that search and what terminology they’re using.

As search engine algorithms evolve, the importance of keywords has shifted. Some journals no longer require a list of keywords as part of an article’s submission. The keyword list for a journal is likely to be much shorter than your personal list. It doesn’t need to include all the variants and synonyms you’ve included on your list. The journal’s list is about tagging core topics, rather than ensuring you’re using a variety of relevant terms.

While a high level of keyword density may longer be the most important part of SEO for chemists, it is still useful to develop a list of keywords. This will help you position your work in a way that both people and search engines will find enticing.

SEO for Chemists: While Writing a Research Paper

Craft a Strong Title

Good titles are easy to read and hard to write. But they’re worth the effort. A good title is short, simple, and accurately explains what you’ve discovered. You want to make it easy for both readers and search algorithms to tell if your work is relevant.

Explain your discovery as succinctly as possible. Don’t worry if you think the phrasing is a little crude or over-simplified. You’ll have the rest of the paper to explain your work in detail. For now, you just need to communicate (to readers and algorithms alike) what your paper is about.

Make sure your title includes your most important keyword. Ideally, it should come early in the title, since search engines placer greater importance on words at the start of a title. Search engines also limit how much of a title a search engine displays in search results. Assume that only the first 60 characters of your title will turn up in a search.

Avoid using any filler words in your title, e.g., “Novel,” “One-pot synthesis,” “Environmentally friendly,” “The effect of,” “The role of,” etc. Those terms are cliched and sometimes subjective. They also tend to come at the start of the title, pushing your keywords toward the end, where they’ll have less impact. Aim for a total of 16 words in your title or fewer.

While brevity is important, clarity is too. Be careful about using abbreviations in your title, as those might confuse a search engine. There’s a chance that an abbreviation might be a keyword you’ll want to rank for. If the abbreviation is rarely used or has multiple common meanings, however, it could hurt your search ranking. You’ll also want to be careful about starting a title with a broader keyword. Competition for over-arching scientific terms is much fiercer than for terms that are specific to one field.

Write a Clear Abstract

Your paper’s abstract determines whether a reader will go on to read (and potentially cite) the rest of your work, so make it count. Write in plain English and try to explain your discovery in the same terms people might use when searching. Use your keywords in the first sentence if possible and then use synonyms later to reinforce those important concepts.

Use Your Keywords Frequently

Search engines don’t just look at the words you use. They also look at how often you use them. This is known as keyword density. Online tools can study your text and tell you what percentage of your copy contains your keywords. Most experts will note, however, that there is no longer an ideal keyword ratio for SEO for chemists. It is also possible to overuse your keywords. Aggressive keyword stuffing was once an easy way to disguise low-quality content, but now search engines penalize this practice.

Instead, write naturally and make sure your keywords and their synonyms are spread evenly throughout your paper. Include your keywords in any subheadings if possible, since search engines place greater emphasis on subheading copy. This tactic has the added benefit of making your paper easier to read.

Cite Your Past Work

Search engines take citations into account when determining how to rank a page, just as they do with all backlinks. If your paper directly builds on your previous work and the older paper is relevant to understanding the new one, citing your earlier paper is an easy way to improve that paper’s visibility.

SEO for Chemists: After Writing a Research Paper

Submit to Highly Cited Journal

Journal selection is an important part of SEO for chemists. One of the easiest ways to improve your search positioning is to publish your work in a well-respected journal. Search engines look at both the domain (everything before the .org, .com, or .edu in a web address) and the specific page (everything after) in a URL. If your work is published on a domain that already ranks highly in a given field, it will be easier for your paper to rank highly for terms associated with that field.

Build Links for Your Paper

A backlink is a link from a page on one domain to a page on a different domain. Just as getting citations for your paper from academic sources will improve your H-index, getting backlinks from reputable websites will improve the SEO for your chemistry paper. This will improve your ability to rank for relevant terms. If you have a personal website, make sure it links to all your publications. If you have a page on your employer’s website, do the same thing there. Get your co-authors to link to the paper. Google places a premium on links from .edu websites since those tend to be more authoritative than some other domains. Depending on your research topic, it may make sense for you to work with your employer or publisher to pitch your research to journalists. Anything you can do to get quality backlinks will increase the discoverability of your research.

Harness the Power of Social Media

Links from social sites are unlikely to influence your search rankings directly. However, anything you do to increase the readership of your work will improve its chances of earning quality backlinks. Even if you’re not active on social media, you can ask your institution, colleagues, and publisher to promote your work on social channels. You can also write about your research for a reputable blog, such as ACS Axial,  for extra promotion, plus a relevant backlink.

Also, links from social media and websites can help improve your Altmetric attention score, which is determined by the online conversation around an article. Having a higher Altmetric attention score can also increase the visibility of your research, which could lead to more backlinks.

Consider Publishing Open Access

Similar to social networks, there isn’t a causal link between publishing a paper open access and its search engine ranking. However, you may find it easier to get readers, media coverage, and citations if more people can read your research. Open-access license options are available in all ACS Journals.

Get more tips with your ACS ID on the ACS Publishing Center.

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