by Roxanne Shirazi
Being a scholar means keeping track of your productivity – all those articles, conference presentations and books we work so hard to create. With the proliferation of digital technologies, scholars can have an impact in lots of ways and there are new ways to track this impact, but it can be confusing and overwhelming at first.
In this post we’re going to offer you a brief introduction to the mechanics of maximizing the impact of the kinds of digital media tools we’ve already covered in this series, like Twitter, blogging and podcasting.
An important part of taking your scholarly identity online is minding the details. When we create print documents, we routinely perform familiar tasks that make the work appear more polished and professional, like formatting the cover page or setting the margins. Yet the online equivalents of these activities are too often brushed aside for expediency. Who has time to add tags and tinker with all those settings?
Take the time. Simple actions like using thoughtful titles and headers in your blog posts, assigning tags or keywords, and summarizing your posts into 2-3 sentence abstracts can enhance the visibility of your content in search engines and improve the look of your posts when they are shared on social media. If you use WordPress for your blog, many of these functions are provided by easy-to-use plugins, so you don’t have to become a web designer or metadata expert to benefit from these techniques. But there are some basic principles to remember as you create content on the web to help you connect with your audience—and ensure that they can find you.
What is SEO and what does it have to do with academic blogging?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and the basic premise is that understanding how search engines index and retrieve materials on the web allows us to structure our work so that it has a better chance of showing up in search results.
If you’re blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site, I highly recommend using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which installs a simple set of menus on your dashboard so you can easily customize the most important components of your post’s metadata (the data about the post that helps web crawlers identify the main topics of your post). Regardless of what platform you choose, the following tips will help you flag the most important keywords to search engines and improve your chances of getting your posts included in search results.
- Choose your title carefully. We all love being creative, but if your post is about unsafe working conditions, include those words in the title. It helps in search engine retrieval and in social media sharing.
- Use html headers (h2, h3, etc.) when breaking up blog posts and make them meaningful. Descriptive headers allow readers to scan through quickly, and search engines will place greater weight on the keywords used there when indexing your post.
- Get to know your meta tags. Meta tags include descriptive information about your web page. You know that snippet that appears in Google’s search results? That’s controlled by your site’s meta tags, so it pays to pay attention to them.
Optimize your posts for sharing on Twitter and Facebook
If you use Twitter to share links, as many academics do, you’ve likely noticed that some websites include a preview of the content directly within the tweet. Likewise, Facebook includes an image and summary content whenever a link is shared. As authors on the web, we have control over what is displayed in these areas, but it means taking a few minutes to check the details of our posts.
Librarian Eric Phetteplace has written an excellent introduction to using Twitter Cards and Facebook’s OpenGraph Metadata Protocol to enhance the way a site appears when it is shared on these platforms. Facebook’s OpenGraph Debugger tool provides a preview of what a link will look like when it’s shared on someone’s timeline, and will flag any errors in the metadata for that site.
Measuring your reach with analytics
To see how visitors to your blog are interacting with your posts, most platforms provide basic data and will distinguish between page views and unique visitors. Many will also tell you what search terms brought people to your post, and what site or social media service linked, or referred, them to your site.
To drill further down into detailed metrics, Google Analytics stands alone for in-depth analysis, but it can get rather complicated quickly. Google offers free resources (online courses and tutorials) for learning and implementing Google Analytics on your website, including a Setup Checklist that goes over the details for getting started with the service.
Altmetrics tools like Impact Story and Plum Analytics can capture the reach of work outside the traditional formats of academic articles and books, including blog posts, datasets, and slides, and will measure stats from social media sites as well.
Bottom line: don’t let the immediacy of digital publishing platforms lead you to neglect the mundane tasks that lead to polished publications. Your audience depends on it.