Sunday 20 January 2013

To Disappear or Not to Disappear? How to Avoid Dropping Out of Search Services During a Journal Transition

Ensuring ongoing visibility within search and discovery services is an important success metric for any journal or platform transition but requires careful planning. New sites can easily disappear from search indexes if best practice isn’t followed, resulting in a significant drop in traffic and negative PR. 

ALPSP's webinar To Disappear or Not to Disappear? held last week featured insights from Darcy Dapra, Partner Manager for Google Scholar, who is responsible for external relations with the scholarly publishing and library communities. Highlights from the talk were captured by Louise Russell from Publishing Technology.

Darcy Dapra shared practical advice from a Google Scholar perspective, although the general principles can be applied to other search and discovery services.

The webinar focussed mainly on the implications of a platform change but the advice also applies to any journal transition. The biggest and most common issue identified relates to URL changes. Redirection of URLs from the old to the new site is critical to avoiding being dropped from the search index but is certainly not the full story.

So how exactly do publishers’ avoid dropping out of the search indexes when changing platform? Darcy talked through a comprehensive check list of actions and considerations for publishers and vendors when managing a transition. Most are technical points but some relate more to the user experience and site design and therefore need to be factored into the early stages of planning for any new platform – to share a few nuggets of advice and housekeeping tips from the session:

  • Ensure ALL URLs for a journal site redirect from the old location to the new via HTTP 301 (permanent) redirects for at least 12 months. 
  • Avoid redirecting users to an interstitial page i.e. “this journal has moved” while potentially useful for a reader, it is not useful for robots. 
  • Without redirects your old URLs will effectively disappear from the search indices – the black hole effect! 
  • Article landing pages should include an abstract, ideally above the fold so the user can see it. If not abstract is available a readable image of the first page should be provided. 
  • Ensure the crawler has acces to full-text articles (PDF or HTML). 
  • The browse path or hierarchy for the new site should use HTML links rather than Javascript. Alternative measures should be taken if Javascript is used. 
  • Include metatags to ensure your data is structured well. 
  • If in doubt review with your platform vendor and Google Scholar. 

You can find additional useful resources on Google Scholar pages for basic start up information. The Transfer Code of Practice is a new version of the code that is due to be released shortly and will include further information on URL redirects in particular.

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