SEO for Research Networking: How to boost Profiles/VIVO traffic by an order of magnitude

"Redwoods" by Michael Balint (cc-by)

The UCSF Profiles team has increased site usage by over an order of magnitude since the site’s big campus-wide launch in 2010. This “growth hacking” cheat sheet distills the key lessons learned during that period, and can be applied to almost any research networking platform, including VIVO, Profiles, and home-grown solutions.

1. Measure Everything

  • Install Google Analytics
    • Set it up on every page of the site
  • Learn how to use it
  • Segment on-campus vs. off-campus use
    • Find your “service provider” name(s) at Audience > Technology > Network
    • Create an advanced segment that includes only your service provider(s), and one that excludes it/them
    • Use these two segments to analyze everything (internal and external visitors are totally different, and need to always be analyzed separately)
  • Register with Google Webmaster Tools
    • Go to
    • Follow the directions to register your site
    • See how your site’s indexed on Google, and check for issues
  • Check the Recommendations for RNS Usage Tracking

2. Ignore Your Homepage, Focus on Profile Pages

  • On a mature search-optimized RNS like UCSF Profiles, only 2.6% of visits start on the homepage
  • If you’re successful with steps 3-4, traffic directly to profile pages will skyrocket, and dominate traffic. That means you need to focus most of your attention on the care, feeding, and design of profile pages, vs. the home page.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • Make sure search engines can see your pages
    • Tweak your robots.txt so search engines can see all your pages (
    • Create a dynamically-generated sitemap of all your profile pages (
    • Mention your sitemap in your robots.txt file, and then register it with Google Webmaster Tools
    • Wait a day, use Google Webmaster Tools to validate that your sitemap works
  • Improve the copy on your profile page titles and descriptions
    • Make the page <title> on profile pages short and globally unique
    • Make <meta name=”description”> on profile pages readable and descriptive
      (e.g. “Jane Doe’s profile, publications, research topics, and co-authors”)

4. Add extra professional metadata

  • Follow the directions at and to add people-oriented HTML metadata to your profile pages
  • Use to test your syntax
  • OPTIONAL: Use “pretty” URLs — and include names if possible (e.g.
    • Pretty URLs should be the “real” final URL, not just a redirect
    • All old or alternative profile URLs should do a 301 redirect to the pretty URL
  • OPTIONAL: Prevent indexing of multiple versions of your page
    • If you have multiple versions of your page getting indexed (e.g. /url/ vs. /url/?a=b), tell search engines which version is the main one by using the rel=canonical canonical link element

5. Get Inbound Links

  • Get webmasters to link to your homepage from campus resource guides, etc.
  • Get webmasters to link to individual profiles from departmental faculty profiles, news stories, campus directory, etc.
  • Encourage reuse of your data via APIs, and ask for a link back as attribution (downstream users save time and money; you get links back in return)
  • All these new links may not send traffic, but will help SEO.

Have questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment below, or contact Anirvan Chatterjee directly.

Photo credit: Michael Balint, used under Creative Commons attribution license