We commonly believe science and medical writers don’t have time to be bothered with search engine optimization (SEO), optimizing a website to improve rankings by search engines. After all, how could we? We already work with advanced and technical scientific topics, and yet another overly complicated and technical detail would overwhelm us. However, basic on-page SEO for content creators doesn’t need to be complex; it’s about progressive learning.
I attended a workshop a while back on how freelancing writers and editors can use blogging to attract potential clients. The information resonated with me, but things became fuzzy when I asked how much work the presenter dedicated to SEO. It didn’t seem to be a priority because (and I’m paraphrasing) “we share our writing for the sake of sharing information, not for the clicks.”
I’m afraid I have to disagree with this argument for two reasons. Firstly, the name of the workshop read “How to build your freelance business with blogging” (or something along those lines), indicating that blogging had a purpose beyond merely sharing. Secondly, unless you’re writing a diary purely for self-improvement or self-reflection – in which case you’d better keep your content off the internet – anyone publishing posts online wants and needs to reach out. SEO is the answer.
The all too stigmatized SEO
I know where the indifference to SEO comes from, especially in the so-called scientific click. It partly comes from a lack of knowledge, thinking SEO only means link-building, social media, and technical website optimization. You’ll see soon this is not the case.
But it’s also related to the feeling of losing time. Scientists want to spend valuable time on whatever they love: writing, pipetting, planning, selling products, or bossing people around. We don’t have time for complicated gimmicks, which have become as stigmatized as marketing (that’s my feeling).
Instead, with the risk of stepping on precious toes, people in the scientific community tend to feel that our information should spread organically. We want websites and blog posts to resemble scientific research, where peers actively search for topics of interest and scroll through hundreds of journal articles per month to find valuable information.
So, let’s be frank: SEO is probably not a factor that will offer you professional happiness.
Why you should care about SEO for science
Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t treat published website content like the research world treats knowledge. People don’t search for your information unless you’re a celebrity or an established authority. Plus, even if people search for your content, the dense internet jungle will probably hide yours from the light.
So, instead of waiting for your audience to find you, you’d be better off activating yourself and making your content visible. This becomes especially vital once you search for audiences outside your scientific niche; people don’t have time to sift through the weeds.
Optimizing your SEO lets search engines like Google, Bing, or Brave know that you are legitimate and click-worthy. A couple of tweaks on your website here and there will ensure that the search engines rank your website, which translates into organic page views.
The difference between on-page and off-page SEO
In essence, we can divide SEO into two categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Let’s have a look at the latter first.
Off-page SEO includes all your strategies that promote your content on other websites and social media platforms. A critical approach to off-page SEO includes getting quality backlinks (or incoming hyperlinks) to your website – especially from websites with high domain authority. You can also share your content on social media, get people to share your content, and comment on other websites. In other words, off-page SEO improves your SEO by being active outside your website.
By contrast, on-page SEO includes all activities in which you improve your website quality. There’s a lot you can do with on-page SEO. For example, you can improve your title tags, which for this post would be something like “<title>Better outreach with search engine optimization: SEO for science</title>” and will tell search engines whether your content interests others. Other on-page improvements include internal linking, navigation, images, HTML headers, and meta descriptions. It’s a lot!
But, there is one more thing you can improve, which people sometimes miss thinking of as SEO. Content SEO!
Start simple with only a fraction of on-page SEO
Unless you work for an established, large company, no one would expect you to handle all SEO (on-page or off-page). As a blogger, I delegate specific aspects of SEO to experts when needed – website speed being the best example.
However, bloggers would be comfortable working with at least one part of the SEO: content optimization. Content optimization and its surrounding properties are SEO since search engines care about content. I’d claim content ranks among the most critical aspects of on-page SEO.
To optimize your website, ask yourself:
- Does your content answer your audience’s questions?
- Is your information unique?
- Is your website, including your published posts, reader-friendly?
You need to offer your readers value to rank high on search engines, among the top-10 search hits, number 1 position, or even position 0. Get to know your target audience and the questions they ponder. Finding these targeted and unique keywords (meaning their burning questions) requires research – but that’s what we like doing anyway.
Readability is equally essential. What good is your content if nobody or a selected few understand your research’s or product’s value? So, ensure your content is explicit so your target audience can appreciate your new written material. And, guess what, you’re in luck: You’ll find several free applications, plugins, and websites that help you assess the readability of your content so you can disconnect your brain for a while, including Hemingway Editor and Yoast SEO.
If you already have published website content, I’d recommend reviewing it or letting a scientific editor or proofreader improve your material. Once your posts and pages are precise and targeted, search engines will discover them and bump them up the list accordingly.