PDF Files – Quick Tips for Better SEO

Sometimes the little things make a big difference, and sometimes a little effort yields a big return.  When you find those kinds of activities in business, you’ve got to take advantage of them…especially when many others aren’t doing it!

In every website we build, the combination of content, design and accessibility play at times an interesting battle where one may be somewhat sacrificed at the expense of the other.  Building a website that is great at all things is definitely time consuming and takes care and discipline.

Virtually all sites have a combination of content that is delivered as HTML pages, and then greater depth and detail in a downloadable asset, usually a PDF.

PDFs are used because of their guarantees of formatting, look and orientation…things we are never sure of when creating HTML pages for all devices and widths.  While PDFs are less accessible in that they require a viewer and aren’t responsive, they are still indexed by search engines and displayed as results alongside their traditional web page counterparts.

This means that they can contribute to your SEO efforts like any webpage or other content object.

A key mistake we’ve seen made over the years is that PDFs are often just uploaded into a website without expending the small amount of effort it takes to make them more indexable, and therefore more likely to both be found, and clicked on from a Search Engine Results Page.

Here are some key things to do, that won’t take very long, to make your PDFs a better contributor to your SEO efforts.

Remember, doing this as you upload/post documents is important. Going back to do this on hundreds of PDFs uploaded over the many years is painful, but spending two minutes each time you or one of your content authors or web developers uploads a document will be far easier to handle:

Learn How to Use Your Authoring Software to Leverage its Features

The most common choice over the years for content editors and authors is Microsoft Word, but you now have a myriad of choices and authoring tools for creating and managing your content (Google Docs, or Adobe InDesign for the more layout/design conscious for example).  Teaching people how to use the features of that software can save time having to deal with PDFs as you upload them.  For example:

  • Headings – create a properly structured document using Headings, ideally the document title as a Heading 1 and others in decreasing Heading # as the document structure unfolds
  • Add META information where possible – Title, Author, Company, Keywords/Subject, Description – many applications will create this META information properly so that a search engine can index it like it would META tags on a webpage where you try to influence the display of the title and description snipped that the search engine displays

Text is Text, Images of Text isn’t Text

We’ve seen this one countless times, when a document has valuable information and content, but is actually a picture of text, and not text itself.

While technology exists to recognize characters from pictures of text, text itself is always better and will always be more accurately read by a search engine.

So if you have a key PDF that has great value to searchers and other stakeholders, make it text and not a picture of text.

Should You Include Links in Your PDF?

Someone searching at a Search Engine and finding your PDF is great, but if they are reading it and would like further information, make sure your PDF has active links in relevant places back to your website where people can find out more information, buy something, or become a lead for your sales team.

Remember that many who find your PDF at a search engine may not have been to your website, or even really know who you are. Make it easy for them to get further information and follow up on their expression of interest in your content.

Other SEO Tips and Tricks for PFD posting

Here are some other SEO tips, tricks, and further resources to consult if you want to really optimize your PDF for search engines while authoring and posting:

  • SEO Friendly filename – we spend effort optimizing the URL/Slug for our web pages, you should do the same for the PDF filename
  • Keyword Optimized Titles – consider the primary keyword target for the content and write your title here as you would a title for a webpage
  • Complete all available fields and META information that apply – while some of these may be ignored today, future indexers or other less popular search engines may care about these someday
  • The often neglected option of making an HTML page (even a shorter, more concise version that’s likely to be read online, with the PDF as the full version), with the PDF as the takeaway asset…so you encourage reading online without needing a PDF reader.

Here is some older,  but still good advice right from the source:

For some more advanced advice and topics, consider some of these, especially if you’re creating a PDF that is more “designed” and not necessarily linear in its content presentation:

Remember, it only takes a few minutes to add the necessary elements as you create and upload PDFs into your website!