Do you want to increase the visibility of your research project’s website and effectively reach your target audience? In this blog, we will discuss some simple yet effective strategies to increase your website’s visibility and engage with your audience. Let’s dive in!

Write blog to answer a burning question

One of the keys to attracting visitors to your research project website is to provide valuable content for your audience. You can do this by adding a blog to your website. Don’t write about what you think is interesting, write about what your audience wants to know. You can probably answer a burning question from the general public or address a specific need within your field. These are often very simple questions.

Write about what your audience is interested in, not what you want to talk about.

An example: For a scientific website we helped create about childbirth, we found that most pregnant women were afraid to poop during labor (and did Google searches on the topic). So the first thing we published was a blog called “Is it normal to poop during labor?“. This would help pregnant women find the site and learn about the other valuable evidence-based content on the site.

An example of a blog we wrote based on what our audience looked for online

Think: What will people search for?

Be aware that if no one is looking for you, you will not be found. People have to look for you first. And the way that people look for things is trough search engines. You can find out what people will search for by identifying common questions or challenges your target audience might have. You’ll probably already have an idea because as an expert in your field you’ve talked about your work at parties or family gatherings. What are the most common questions people ask in those settings? From these questions you can create informative and engaging blogs.

A great website to help you find questions is answerthepublic.com. Here, you can search for questions people ask about your expertise and find inspiration for your next article.

What are people looking for on a topic like diabetes? Answerthepublic.com will help you find the most asked questions.

Write a What is… ? blog

If your topic is very niche, a simple What is… question will be enough for people to find your website on the internet. For the SODAH consortium, we created a simple website page explaining what a satellite constellation is.

The added benefit of writing blog posts for these searches is that you will reach a highly motivated group of people who are already interested in your topic. If you want to reach people who aren’t specifically searching for your content, think about how your work relates to other common searches and see if you can write a blog that combines the two

Write for two types of audiences

Is your audience someone outside of academics, other PhD researchers, or people who work in the same field but at a different institute? Think about who might care about the things you are an expert in.

If you’re writing for other people in academia, the following topics might be interesting:

  • How I used analysis method X to get valid results.
  • How I analyzed complex data (with a lot of outliers), and how I reported them in my paper?
  • What are the new tools available in my field?
  • What are the main topics we should be researching in our field?
  • My opinion about the latest paper in our field.
  • What is the vision of our research group?

However, a general audience probably would probably not be very interested in so much detail. For them you can write about these topics:

  • What does your field mean exactly?
  • How do you do research in your field?
  • Examples of how your research can benefit the audience or the world.
  • How can you become a researcher in your field?
  • Why is your research field so interesting? Share your passion.
  • What questions is your research trying to solve? And what can we do with this knowledge?

Share your behind-the-scenes

If you don’t know what to talk about, you can also share your research process. How do you do your research? What are some of the difficult issues you’ve struggled with in your methodology or lab work, and how did you solve them? Can you share the best practices you’ve developed in your career, can you show where you’ve got stuck? If your audience is other researchers, this is a great way to help them with their process.

Leiden CID study: a best-practice blog

The Leiden CID study does this really well. They have a best-practice blog where they share what they’ve done. And they have the following blogs:

  • Keeping still for research: collecting MRI data in developmental samples.
  • Exploring the replication of neural findings in the L-CID study.
  • How to organise a large multimodal longitudinal dataset.
  • How to involve (young) participants in your study.

Write better titles

The way we write titles in academia (e.g. Introduction, Discussion) is really bad for your visibility online. Nobody searches for “introduction”. People type actual questions into search engines like DuckDuckGo, Google and Bing. So write your title either as a question or as an answer to a question. The title of your paragraph should summarize what follows. That way, people can scan only your titles and still understand what your main message is.

The title of your web page is the most important content for search engines to find your site. So make sure it answers a single question and contains the keyword you want people to find you by. See also the SEO tips below.

Write short, active, and concise copy

Paragraph text is also important for online visibility. So avoid long sentences, use active voice and add conclusions at the end of the text. People mostly scan websites, so make it easy for them to find the information they are looking for. Try to write in plain language without too much jargon. In academia, many researchers will not be native speakers, so you need to keep things simple in order to reach everyone.

For more writing tips, see our blog on content design for science communication.

Share your website on social media

Social media platforms can be powerful tools for promoting your research project website and reaching a wider audience. However, your content still needs to be relevant to your audience. So don’t write a post that says “We’ve just launched our new website!” because nobody cares. Instead, say something like “Are you concerned about biodiversity loss and want to take action? You can find the latest biodiversity research on our website, and we can help you improve biodiversity in your backyard”.

Use hashtags for your topic

Hashtags are used by most social media platforms to make it easier to find topics and experts. You can find relevant hashtags on sites such as hashtagify.me and ritetag.com

Consider using your own channels instead of a research project channel

We often create dedicated social media channels for research projects. However, this also means that the channel will die when the project is finished. So if you’re running a Marie Curie EU project that only lasts 4 years, you can’t expect thousands of people to follow you in the first week of the project and then leave when the project is over. Getting followers takes time.

Instead of using an anonymous project account, use your own. You probably already have followers on LinkedIn, so post on your own profile. The benefit is that those 100 extra followers who are interested in your research project will stick around after the project is over, increasing your follower base throughout your career.

Get help from other experts & influencers

You don’t have to do it all yourself. If you’re writing social media posts about the website, make sure the people in your research consortium all share the website and blogs on LinkedIn and other social media (depending on where your audience is). Get your whole department or research team to share their personal views on your research. But don’t write the same for all these posts, each person can tweak the post text to give it a different spin and make it personal. The more people are sharing the website, the more it will be found. You can also specifically ask certain people (peers or other experts) to share or reshare your posts.

Do you know anyone prominent in your field? Can you think of influencers who would like to support your research and share the results with their followers? Ask them to share posts, images, videos and stories about your findings. Another way to get people involved in your research is to have them write guest blogs on your website. Make them part of your work.

Collaborate with other researchers or institutions for cross-promotion. This will extend your reach by tapping into each other’s audiences. Make sure that the collaboration is mutually beneficial. Both parties should benefit from the cross-promotion.

Engage with your audience

When you share a post and never look at it again, you’re not really using the ‘social’ in social media. Interact with people in the comments section of your post. Tag people who might find it interesting, or tell them how they can use your research in their lives. Start conversations with people and discuss your research. Ask people questions. Don’t leave a graveyard of great posts on your profile. Building a community around your research fosters a sense of connection and encourages more people to get excited about your research.

If you want to learn more, check out our social media workshop where we share all our tips to write better social media posts.

Be relevant & help people

All of the previous tips can be summed up in one piece of advice: be relevant. Make a connection between your topic and your audience. Ask and answer questions in your writing. Think about how you can really help people with their questions, challenges and problems.

One way to be relevant is to write a cornerstone article. These are longer articles or pages that explore an entire topic. They are timeless articles that people will return to for updated information on a particular topic.

Evict project: Answers to key questions about evictions

See for example the article on evictions and international law: https://www.eviction.eu/evictions-right-to-housing/ It answers the following questions

  • What is an eviction?
  • How many evictions are there in Europe and other parts of the world?
  • What is the right to housing?
  • What does the EVICT project add to what we know about the right to housing?

Create memorable visuals

A message becomes stronger when you add an engaging image. Adding a visual (photo, diagram, illustration, or AI-generated image) to your blog or social media posts can grab the attention of your target audience and encourage them to visit your website. If you create a good name for the image file and write a good title and caption, it can also help people find your website, as these are all used by search engines to find relevant content.

Adding an image to your social media post will also help you reach more people! A tweet with a visual abstract reaches 8x more people, is shared 8x more, and even attracts 3x more people to your research paper. (Ibrahim et al. 2017 Annals of Surgery).

Share your website URL with other websites

Another effective way to increase the visibility of your research project website is to place your URL on other relevant websites. Look for opportunities to list your website on their website, write a guest post or contribute articles to reputable platforms in your field. These could be other research project websites, but also academic networks and communities. Forums, conferences and collaborative platforms are also excellent places to spread the word. Ideally, these should be sites that already have a good reputation in your field. Search engines know that these sites are valuable and will trust that the sites they include will be useful too.

Simple SEO tips

Implementing basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques can significantly improve the visibility of your research project website. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make a list of keywords and phrases for which you want to be found. For example: “biodiversity and bird song”.
  • Use these relevant keywords throughout the content of your website. It’s best to use them in blog post titles (H1) and other headings (H2, H3).
  • Optimize your meta descriptions and headings with keywords.
  • New websites are not indexed directly by search engines, so make sure you share the URL via other websites or social media.
  • Create internal links, from one page or blog post to another. When you do this, never write “click here”! Instead, make sure the link text is relevant and uses the keywords people are searching for: “Learn more about biodiversity and AI in our blog post”.
  • Make sure your website has a clean, user-friendly design that is easy to navigate. A clear menu and structure will improve your SEO.
  • Improve page loading speed by compressing images.
  • If you’re using WordPress, you can use plugins such as Yoast to help you with keywords, metadata and writing (they also have courses on SEO if you want to learn more).

By following these simple SEO tips, you can improve your website’s ranking on search engine results pages, making it easier for your target audience to find you.

Becoming visible takes time

Remember that increasing the visibility of your research project takes time and effort. So keep up the routine of writing blogs and social media posts over the entire course of the project, and not just at the beginning or end.

If you want to learn more, you can book our workshop Increase your online visibility. You’ll learn some creative ways to get you and your expertise into the spotlight!

About the Author: Liesbeth Smit

Liesbeth combines her knowledge of science communication, technology and design to explain difficult topics to a wide audience. You can use her practical tips immediately in your (poster) presentations to create a bigger impact. She developed dozens of websites, infographics and animated videos, and regularly gives workshops about design at The Online Scientist.

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