A good friend of mine told me Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is like having sex at high school; everybody says they do it, but not many people do or know how to.
Let’s first briefly look at what is SEO and how useful it can be before we start trying to practice it.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.
That means whatever you publish online from an abstract of your latest scientific paper to a social media post to promote it should be easy to understand and categorize. In other words, optimized so that a user can easily retrieve exactly the piece of information she or he is looking for.
In SEO terms, we often refer to it as indexed.
Many satisfying benefits are awaiting those delving into the world of SEO. Especially if you are an environmental scientist, or any scientist, researcher, or just a person that has a good idea and needs to communicate it online or reach out to the world.
In this post, I uncover the importance of SEO for environmental science communication; 1) the reasons why it is important for you, 2) for the benefit of the whole internet and when it comes to it, for creating a better place to live. (Yes, it can go as far as that).
One of the reasons search engines let well ‘optimized’ content or ‘Search Engine Optimised’ content rank higher on search results is to provide a good user experience. The other reasons, frankly, have a lot to do with how data is processed and understood, indexed and categorized, and subsequently favored by the search engine algorithms.
SEO for Environmental Science:
What’s in it for a scientist, researcher and system thinkers?
What does SEO mean to a scientist?
Asking the question figuratively; most likely a vague marketing practice that has not much to do with science.
But when asking the question exploratively; a good SEO strategy for science communication can mean more relevant online traffic to your communication or outreach about your work, research, or valuable ideas. It can help you generate attention to your academic publications while making you the authoritative source of knowledge for others.
Academic education or science is about research. So, you may understand how tedious it is to find exactly the answers you are looking for. Other researchers may struggle the same when looking online for the information you or your colleagues might have published.
As a scientist, you learn to conform to sound methodological frameworks, which are complex. More complex than those used by an average search engine user. Luckily, scientific methodologies guide the production of reliable, valid, relevant, and reproducible knowledge. These are strict ‘procedures’ that make science trustworthy. Search engines still lack such assurance.
Nonetheless, when it comes to research online; universities rarely teach researchers to optimize their articles or even social media outreach for search engines. Universities assume everybody can use Google.
I also assumed that until I got into the SEO world. Only then have I learned how to use Google, how Google works, and how this knowledge helps with online communication.
Does nobody read your paper?
SEO strategies may help your environmental science communication.
How many times you looked for that particular unique keyword you need for your arguments and found the answer you needed?
Not often? The trouble however, is that the knowledge most likely already exists out there in the abyss of academic publishing.
But the same might apply to people that would benefit from finding your work. If they cannot find it, they will not read it.
And this is where paying attention to the SEO strategies pays off. Search engines will love your work, so will people that can find it online.
One of the most effective SEO strategies is publishing a blog on the topic you understand the most. But the form is dependent on your audience. First, it is advisable to learn what kind of people would look for your work. Then do a bit of thinking or hire an SEO specialist to help you guide you through the digital environment.
There are abundant forms with which you could optimize your online presence and reach a relevant audience. The most common are blog posts, social media campaigns, podcasts, videos, or even pop-science books.
Why do good SEO practices for (environmental) science matter for the internet?
There are around 4.5 billion internet users globally, while only about 760 000 researchers. That’s 0,01% of the population. Not all of them provide knowledge in the same areas, and not all of them can pay attention to the SEO of their work.
That is why despite the internet being a productive place, it is prone to errors. Although search engines work hard on fixing these errors, they cannot guarantee the best experience nor access to the right answers.
Think of the past decade and how much has your experience from using the internet improved. Today, we pose questions to a hand-held device, and we expect to hear an answer back. Search engines aim to optimize all the internet content so that it provides answers to what people seek. They index – categorize, and organize content in a way that it answers user queries.
What do Search Engines do?
And this is what the future of search engine optimization currently aims for. It is about improving the search experience to such an extent that it is as convenient, relevant, and valuable for the user as possible.
But think of search engines as machines that categorize, index, match and link, process, and share data with and for internet users. It works mostly with human-made content and prefers content that is of high quality, of high value, and relevant to a particular set of users.
The way the scientific 0,01% of the population publishes content online is perhaps not that relevant, but neither it is easy to understand for the search engines’ artificial intelligence. But both machines, such as the search engines, and people struggle to make sense of it. They don’t understand the scientific language and find it not user-friendly.
That is perhaps why we often encounter mis- or even disinformation issues in modern-day society concerning science.
It’s not strange to assume that the fact that people tend to believe strange ideas has something to do with how accessible information is. Accessibility of information online then unsurprisingly relates to SEO. Mis- or even dis-informators seem to be better at optimizing their content than scientists.
There are people with a lack of understanding of science or even malicious intentions concerning providing answers online. Search engines, for now, unfortunately, do not have the capacity to distinguish maliciously informed content on the internet. If it fulfills the SEO criteria and seems relevant to people, search engines may still accidentally let it rank higher on the search results.
As people seek to answer their questions online, fear and out-of-context information can easily undermine the most trustworthy answers out there – science.
Besides, the inability to read science amongst people and often complex theoretical research underpinnings put people off reading a scientific paper. Internet users then reside for something more understandable to them.