The importance of search engines
Google and Google Scholar are the principal ways in which people will find your article online today. Between them they account for 60% of referral traffic to SAGE Journals Online. The search engine is now the first port of call for researchers and it is of paramount importance your article can be found easily in search engine results.
By taking some simple steps to optimize your article for search engines it will help your work to be discovered, then read, used and cited in others’ work. This helps with support the Impact Factor of the journal (if applicable) your article is published in and will further raise the visibility of your article.
SAGE already undertakes many measures to ensure SAGE journals are indexed in the all the major search engines. There are over 100 factors that a search engine will look at before deciding how to rank your article in their search results, but the starting point is the content that you write.
What do search engines look at?
Today’s search engines use secret complex mathematical algorithms that change every month to keep their search results as accurate as possible. They take into account over 100 different factors and do not disclose the weighting or importance of each. Below are just a few of the elements considered today by search engines:
| the volume of incoming links from related
| volume and consistency of searches
| time within website
| page titles
|| page views
| quality of content
| page descriptions
|| technical user-features
| quantity of content
| technical precision of source code
| functional vs broken hyperlinks
So what can you do to help?
Repeat key phrases in the abstract while writing naturally
Search engines look at the abstract page of your article, which is free for everyone to look at on SAGE Journals Online. Your abstract is not only the sales pitch that tempts the researcher into reading your article, it’s also the information that gives a search engine all the data it needs to be able to find your article and rank it in the search results page.
Try to repeat the key descriptive phrases. Try to imagine the phrases a researcher might search for if your paper would be of interest to them. Google can detect abuse of this so don’t overplay it, focus on just 3 or 4 key phrases in your abstract.
Get the title right
Ensure the main key phrase for your topic is in your article title. Make sure your title is descriptive, unambiguous, accurate and reads well. Remember people search on key phrases not just single words e.g. ‘women’s health’ not ‘health’.
Choose your key words carefully
Include your main 3 or 4 key phrases and add in at least 3 or 4 additional key words. Where more than one phrase (or abbreviation) is often used to describe the same thing, include both/all variants, e.g. drug names.
- What key phrases would you give a search engine if you were searching for your own article?
- Write for your audience but also bear in mind how search engines work
- Write a clear title with your main key phrase included in it
- Write an abstract and choose key words reiterating 3 or 4 key phrases
- Keep it natural as Google will un-index your article if you go overboard on the repetition
The better you write your abstract, the better chance you are giving your article to appear higher in the search results. This is vitally important as researchers will rarely investigate beyond the first 20 search results.
Example of an article optimized for search engines
This article comes out top in Google Scholar on a search of ‘depression folic acid’. These are words that researchers are likely to search. These search terms are highlighted below so you can see the patterns of repeated phrases that help Google find your article.
Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12
MRC Neuropsychiatric Research Laboratory, Epsom, Surrey, UK,
Pharmacist, Helsingborg, Sweden
We review the findings in major depression: of a low plasma and particularly red cell folate, but also of low vitamin B12 status. Both low folate and low vitamin B12 status have been found in studies of depression: patients, and an association between depression: and low levels of the two vitamins is found in studies of the general population. Low plasma or serum folate has also been found in patients with recurrent mood disorders treated by lithium. A link between depression: and low folate has similalrly been found in patients with alcoholism. It is interesting to note that Hong Kong and Taiwan populations with traditional Chinese diets (rich in folate), including patients with major depression:, have high serum folate concentrations. However, these countries have very low life time rates of major depression:. Low folate levels are furthermore linked to a poor response to antidepressants, and treatment with folic acid is shown to improve response to antidepressants. A recent study also suggests that high vitamin B12 status may be associated with better treatment outcome. Folate and vitamin B12 are major determinants of one-carbon metabolism, in which S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) is formed. SAM donates methyl groups that are crucial for neurological function. Increased plasma homocysteine is a functional marker of both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency. Increased homocysteine levels are found in depressive patients. In a large population study from Norway increased plasma homocysteine was associated with increased risk of depression: but not anxiety. There is now substantial evidence of a common decrease in serum/red blood cell folate, serum vitamin B12 and an increase in plasma homocysteine in depression:. Furthermore, the MTHFR C677T polymorphism that impairs the homocysteine metabolism is shown to be overrepresented among depressive patients, which strengthens the association. On the basis of current data, we suggest that oral doses of both folic acid (800 µg daily) and vitamin B12 (1 mg daily) should be tried to improve treatment outcome in depression.
Key Words: cobalamin • depression: • diet • folate • folic acid • homocysteine • one carbon-metabolism • S-adenosylmethionine • vitamin B12
Key points to note:
- Clear and descriptive title including main key terms or phrases.
- Abstract repeats key phrases in a contextually natural way.
- Key terms or phrases repeated in key words field.
- Many other factors influence ranking but this content is written in a way that gives it the best chance.
Example of an article that has not been optimized
This article could not be found in Google Scholar after searching on a variety of phrases around the subject of the article, the representation of youth anti-war protests. The words highlighted below are the only terms repeated and these are unlikely to help someone researching this subject find this article via Google.
Researcher, London, UK
Debate over the role that young people should play in politics reflects different conceptions of childhood and adult concerns about loss of authority and political hegemony. Coverage of demonstrations against the Second Iraq War by the British national press echoes adult discourse on the nature of childhood and exposes the limits set on political activity. Analysis of news-text and images reveals concerns about the political competence of youth, their susceptibility to manipulation and the requirement for social control. Approval of youth’s right to protest was often conditional on the cause espoused.
Key Words: childhood • Second Iraq War
Key points to note:
- The title appeals to people reading the print version of the article, but it does not appeal to online search engines.
- The title does not include key terms or phrases e.g. ‘youth anti-war protests’
- The abstract does not repeat key phrases used within title or article and presents Google with no patterns to look at.
- Key words play a reduced role in search engine optimization, but they do have influence. Only two key words are provided and the article’s key phrases are not listed.
- Many other factors influence ranking but this content is written in a way that gives it a very poor chance of being found online through a search engine.