Monday, June 8, 2015

A Well-Optimized Abstract

One of the services that I offer to my faculty is writing abstracts optimized for search engines. I recently came across an article from Wiley that illustrates the benefits of a well-optimized abstract.

Optimizing your article for search engines will greatly increase its chance of being viewed and/or cited in another work. Citation indexes already figure in many disciplines as a measure of an article's value; there is evidence that article views/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 to all online. We have compiled these guidelines to enable you to maximize the web-friendliness of the most public part of your article.

And as I have mentioned in the past, SSRN only indexes the title, abstract, and keywords, so a well-optimized article is essential for discoverability.

A few suggestions from Wiley on how to optimize:
Step 1: Construct a clear, descriptive title
In search engine terms, the title of your article is the most interesting element. The search engine assumes that the title contains all of the important words that define the topic of the piece and thus weights words appearing there most heavily. This is why it is crucial for you to choose a clear, accurate title. 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. In the days of print-only journals, it mattered far less if, for example, an author published an article on body dysmorphic disorder called, The Broken Mirror in a psychology journal because the context was clear. On the web, people search on mirror when they want an item for their house.

Step 2: Reiterate key phrases
The next most important field is the text of the abstract itself. You should reiterate the key words or phrases from the title within the abstract itself. You know the key phrases for your subject area, whether it is temporal lobe epilepsy or reconstruction in Iraq. Although we can never know exactly how search engines rank sites (their algorithms are closely-guarded secrets and frequently updated), the number of times that your key words and phrases appear on the page can have an important effect. Use the same key phrases, if possible in the title and abstract. Note of caution: unnecessary repetition will result in the page being rejected by search engines so don't overdo it. The examples below illustrate the difference between an abstract which is well-optimized and one which is not.

Example of Well-Optimized Title/Abstract: 

Genocide and Holocaust Consciousness in Australia

Ever since the British colonists in Australia became aware of the disappearance of the indigenous peoples in the 1830s, they have contrived to excuse themselves by pointing to the effects of disease and displacement. Yet although genocide was not a term used in the nineteenth century, extermination was, and many colonists called for the extermination of Aborigines when they impeded settlement by offering resistance. Consciousness of genocide was suppressed during the twentieth century until the later 1960s, when a critical school of historians began serious investigations of frontier violence. Their efforts received official endorsement in the 1990s, but profound cultural barriers prevent the development of a general genocide consciousness. One of these is Holocaust consciousness, which is used by conservative and right-wing figures to play down the gravity of what transpired in Australia. These two aspects of Australian public memory are central to the political humanisation of the country.

This article appears on the first page of results on Google for holocaust consciousness + Australia and for genocide + Australia.

Poorly Optimized Title/Abstract: 

Australia's Forgotten Victims

Ever since the British colonists in Australia became aware of the disappearance of the indigenous peoples in the 1830s, they have contrived to excuse themselves by pointing to the effects of disease and displacement. Many colonists called for the extermination of Aborigines when they impeded settlement by offering resistance, yet there was no widespread public acknowledgement of this as a policy until the later 1960s, when a critical school of historians began serious investigations of frontier violence. Their efforts received official endorsement in the 1990s, but profound cultural barriers prevent the development of a general awareness of this. Conservative and right-wing figures continue to play down the gravity of what transpired. These two aspects of Australian public memory are central to the political humanisation of the country.

And a few more tips:
  • People tend to search for specifics, not just one word e.g. women's fiction not fiction.
  • 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 still the researcher not a search engine, so write for readers not robots. 

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