Webometric Thoughts

March 9, 2010

Academic Search Engine Optimization: An inevitable evil?

Filed under: Academic SEO,REF,Scientific publishing — admin @ 2:01 pm

The money available for public science is finite, and it is understandable that governments want to get value for public money spent, and show the value in the form of bibliometric and webometric indicators. Unfortunately scientists are far from perfect, and the indicators and metrics that are meant to reflect the merits of an academic’s work can quickly become the focus of the academics work.

I’ve just finished reading Academic Search Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing Scholarly Literature for Google Scholar & Co. (via @research_inform), which gives advice on making sure your journal articles are indexed and highly ranked by academic search engines (e.g., Google Scholar). There are numerous points I disagree with on both an ethical and a practical level:

  • “…tools that help in selecting the right keywords, Google Trends, Google Insights, Google Adwords”
  • “Synonyms of important keywords should also be mentioned a few times in the body of your text, so that the article may be found by someone who does not know the common terminology used in the research field.”

When I write an academic paper my primary audience is academics in my specialised field, not the wider public that are likely to use different vocabulary and dominate services like Google Trends by their shear numbers. As an academic reading a paper I wouldn’t appreciate the introduction of inconsistency and ambiguity through the use of synonyms, which are necessarily near-synonyms in the precise scientific world.

  • “..to achieve a good ranking in Google Scholar, many citations are essential. Google Scholar seems not to differentiate between self-citations and citations by third parties.”

Self citation has always been rife and needs little encouragement. Later they state that “…any articles you have read that relate to your current research paper should be cited“; although surely discretion is an important factor unless we are going to shoe-horn in crap and further exaggerate the Mathew effect of the high ranked papers.

  • “…publish the article on the author’s home page…an author who does not have a Web page might post the article on an institutional Web page”

Ignoring the curious turn of phrase, the general consensus is that the vast majority of academics should publish in their institutional repository irrespective of whether they have their own web site. The institutional repositories should have the procedures in place to ensure long-term archiving.

  • “…an article that includes outdated words might be replaced by either updating the existing article or publishing a new version on the author’s web site.”

As the authors acknowledge “…it may be considered misbehaviour by other researchers.” At last we have a point we agree on.

As you have probably guessed from the above criticisms, I thought that the article was a piece of crap. Academic SEO should in no way effect how you write an academic paper, or the subjects we choose to write about. Unfortunately academic SEO is a topic that is likely to get a lot more attention amongst bad scientists if another practice I recently heard of takes off: Paying academics bonuses per article. A colleague told me last week how his former university had a pot of money from which academics were paid €4,000 (split between the number of authors) for articles published in certain ‘quality’ journals. It is a small step to start paying individuals for articles that reach a certain threshold of citations, at which point we will have finally dumbed-down science.

“Researchers need to think seriously about how to get their articles indexed by academic search engines” – No, they need to think seriously about doing worthwhile research and writing quality publications. If your focus is on SEO then you are in the wrong field.

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