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Every year, more than a million scientific publications are added to the existing pool of research papers, making it increasingly difficult to identify the most relevant publications through a simple search. So, even when your hard work leads to a successful publication, you may feel that it is not getting noticed or cited as much as you had expected it to be. But fret not, there are ways to make your research stand out among the millions. One is to make use of the search engine optimisation (SEO) concept and choose the right keywords for your publication.
What is SEO and are keywords really that important?
Simply put, SEO is a means to get your paper to rank higher on search engines, such as Google Scholar or PubMed, that rely on specific algorithms to retrieve and list the search results. This is important considering that only a few people tend to go past page one of the search results. Therefore, higher the rank, higher are the chances of your paper getting noticed. And you can ensure your paper is among the top search results by choosing strategic keywords!
Keywords are words that are key to your article and that a potential reader might use to search for relevant publications. Keywords also play a significant role in getting your article published. Often, journal editors may screen your submission based on keywords to judge whether it is within the journal’s scope. Keywords may also help them identify suitable peer reviewers. Thus, keywords play multiple important roles and should be chosen carefully.
How to choose the best keywords?
1. Consider your target audience
This will largely comprise individuals in the same field as you. Hence, chances are high that your target audience is going to be using the same terms as you would typically use while doing a literature search.
2. Follow target journal instructions
Different journals may have different rules regarding keywords. For example, most medicine-related journals require keywords to be from the US National Library of Medicine’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). Some journals ask to avoid terms appearing in the title because the words therein are already coded to be searchable. Hence, keywords that complement the title are preferred. Thus, always cross-check to ensure you meet the journal requirements!
3. Maintain a fine balance between being general and specific
Intuitively, keywords specific to your research topic are always preferred because broad or unspecific terms could lead to your paper being drowned among numerous irrelevant papers. But it is also important to not be too specific. Keep in mind the concept of keyword search volume, defined as the number of times a certain keyword is searched for within a specific time frame. In other words, if no one (except perhaps a handful of niche experts) is going to be searching for a term, then optimising for it is not going to help! In such cases, rather than being too specific, it is better to use alternative terms or synonyms that people may actually search for.
4. Single words vs. phrases
Nowadays, phrases of 2–3 words rather than single words are commonly used as search queries to help obtain more relevant results. Do note that long keywords would typically be associated with lower search volumes. Nonetheless, they will attract a more relevant crowd, will be less competitive, and can lead to a higher rank.
5. Use relevant terms
Keyword relevancy is supremely important. Try to use terms that accurately reflect your main ideas and are common to your field. You could do this by describing the importance of your study in 2-3 lines and then simply picking words off those lines.
6. Be wary of using acronyms/abbreviations/unpopular terms
Abbreviations/acronyms could have more than one meaning based on the research field. Therefore, search results using such terms could yield irrelevant papers and must be used cautiously.
7. Test and refine
After you have generated a potential list of keywords, test it out using databases like Google Scholar. If your search term doesn’t yield enough papers similar to yours, then you may want to revise or omit the term. This way, you can rank the relevancy of your selected keywords and generate a refined list that you can finally use.
Keywords play a critical role in publishing and publicising your research, and can lead to all those citations that you have been hoping for! So, even though it may seem like too much work, it’s worth investing the time and effort to generate the best keywords. For further guidance on choosing the most relevant keywords that accurately reflect your research, head over to Elsevier Author Services now!