Optimizing Discoverability in Scientific Publishing

Publishing a manuscript in an open access journal isn’t enough to optimize research discoverability. Providing unrestricted access to papers doesn’t matter if readers can’t find them.

According to a report published by Elsevier, researchers now spend almost as much time searching for articles as they do reading them, and the ratio appears to be getting worse over time. On average, researchers spend just over four hours searching for research articles each week and over five hours reading them. Between 2011 and 2019, researchers read 10% fewer articles but took 11% more time to find them. Reversing this trend by increasing the discoverability of papers is a job for authors and publishers.

“Most scientists do not think of themselves as marketers, but marketing your science is important. This will improve your reach and your reputation in the field,” said Mary Cushman, editor in chief of Research and Practice in Thrombosis and Haemostasis, in an article about search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is a marketing technique focused on improving the search rankings of web content. According to Cushman, SEO for scientific publishing involves the strategic construction of manuscripts, and she offers 5 SEO tips for authors:

1.      Use search‐friendly article titles. She suggests short titles that contain medical subject heading (MeSH) keywords within the first 65 characters.

2.      Optimize the abstract. According to Cushman, the first two sentences are most important to search engines. Include essential findings and MeSH keywords in these sentences. She suggests repeating keywords 3‐6 times in the abstract and expressing findings concisely.

3.      Repeat keywords (but not too much). In addition to including MeSH keywords in the title and abstract, repeat them in the keywords section of the manuscript, incorporate them in article headings, and use them in the text. However, Cushman warns authors to be cautious of keyword overuse, as search engines can penalize for “keyword stuffing” and exclude the work from the search results.

4.      Use consistent author names. Use author names and initials consistently across time in published work. For example, keep the middle initial every time on manuscripts.

5.      Create links to your published articles. Cushman explains that “in‐bound links” are easier for search engines to find and highlight for searchers, putting these entries higher on lists of results. Writing a blog post about your article is a great way to create an in-bound link. Cushman adds that many authors and readers of her journal actively discuss articles on social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Creating links to your articles at these platforms can also increase discoverability. 27940989741_b5fc91dc50_b (002)

The Ochsner Journal editorial staff attempts to improve the discoverability of published work by promoting articles through tweets and blog posts and by requiring authors to provide MeSH keywords for all articles. We encourage authors submitting to the Ochsner Journal to incorporate Cushman’s SEO suggestions and to promote their work via tweets, blogs, and self-archiving (as at ResearchGate and LinkedIn).