The breadth of reading scholarly content has increased substantially over the last decades due to changing reading patterns in the society, academic researchers being no exception. Each year, more and more scholarly articles are being published online, which makes it more challenging for readers to process all the material available: the readers in the academic community - just like the rest of modern society - have developed selective reading patterns.
As the 2012 CIBER study* shows - "few users of scholarly websites spend any significant time reading in the digital environment. Session times are short, and only 1–3 pages are viewed, and half of visitors never come back."
The same study points out the shift in reading methods of academic publications, suggesting the readers online have developed a horizontal content reading - that is, merely scanning the surface of the article rather than reading deeply.
What does it all mean to present-day scholarly publishers?
Essentially, the decreased attention span in readers and their ever-increasing selectivity for information brings in a new challenge in science publishing: to make articles easier to scan and glance through, saving the readers’ time, energy, and ensuring the best results in finding the necessary information.
The shift in readers' methods of locating relevant content
It’s not only the reading patterns that have changed drastically over the years but also the methods of searching for specific content.
If we look a few decades back, the main paths to finding relevant content were via databases or navigating from certain publishers' or journals' homepages whereas today the researchers may arrive at their intended article straight from Google.
It's also important to mention the prevalence of the academic-focused search engines such as Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search that have universally become the starting point for any science-related search.
Given that modern readers more increasingly choose search engines as the most effective way to discover articles, what can be done by publishers to make their journal content more accessible to their audiences?
Sophisticated journal hosting platforms come into play
Accommodating readers' needs and new information seeking patterns has become one of the main publishers' priorities when preparing and issuing scholarly content on the internet.
In order to ensure more chances for a publication to appear in the Google search first and rank better, publishers must follow practices that make content easily discoverable on the internet - for the most part, SEO.
While it's important that a paper's textual content includes essential keywords, most responsibility in making it SEO-friendly falls on journal hosting platforms. Luckily, today's most advanced journal hosting platforms are built in compliance with the readers' and publishers' needs as well as technical SEO parameters.
One of such platforms is PubliMill. To save researchers' time and adjust to their reading patterns, PubliMill and other similar publishing services help significantly improve articles' discoverability with the following features:
● Machine-readable full-text HTML format. This parameter is crucial as full-text HTML is the central format indexed by the search engines. Google only discovers information that is coded in the articles’ metadata or in the full-text HTML. Even if your reader googles a phrase that is featured in your article, Google won’t display it in the results if your document is not provided in full-text HTML format.
● Easy search and navigation within the article. Modern publishing platforms adjust to the new reading patterns in readers and enable them to skim through the article and find relevant information quickly and easily.
● Mobile-friendly platform structure. Since 2018, Google has prioritized mobile indexing and ranking which means the article will perform better in the search if the hosting platform is designed to be responsive on mobile devices.
● Social media sharing. By sharing your article on social platforms and receiving reposts, you can improve the readers' engagement and thus the ranking of your publication.
* David Nicholas and David Clark (2012). 'Reading' in the digital environment. Learned Publishing, 25(2), 93-98.