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How to Optimize PDFs for Search Engines and Users

By January 27, 2015 One Comment

HTML pages are not always better than PDFs. For example, if the main goal is for the user to print something or scroll through a brochure or catalog, PDFs can provide an admirable experience. However, posting an effective PDF to your website can be challenging because search engines may not be able to crawl them, or users may not know how to respond to them. There are a few different ways you can upload and share PDFs, whether it be a direct link from your website, or hosted through a third party site such as, FlipbookPDF or Scribd. It’s up to you to decide which way is optimal for your purpose and target market. Here are a few tips that will help you create a successful PDF for search engines and visitors.

PDF Search Engine Optimization

It’s been said that PDFs should never replace HTML webpages because they rarely rank for keywords and can take too much time to load. However, if PDFs have high quality content and are optimized correctly, users will be able to find them through search engines. Below are the essential steps to take when optimizing your PDFs for search engines.

Create PDF in a Text-Based Program

The first thing to do when creating a PDF is to create it in a text based program. This allows the document to be crawled by search engines to improve rankings. Search engines are able to read text more than images, so it’s important that the text is actual text, and not images of text.

Fill in Description Properties

Before saving your PDF, the description properties should be filled out to maximize the chance search engines will rank your resource. Adding a keyword rich title, subject and list of keywords (although some would contest if keywords are necessary) will give search engines something to crawl and rank.

pdf description properties

Follow Simple SEO Rules

When creating your PDF, it’s important to keep simple SEO rules in mind. Content should be relevant and written around keywords you want to rank for, just like regular webpages. Your PDF should also have a keyword-focused file name, titles and subtitles. Other SEO rules you should follow include:

Avoid Duplicate Content

The SEO rule of not having duplicate content applies to PDFs as well. It is important to not have duplicate content between HTML pages and PDFs. Search engines are unable to tell the difference and don’t know which resources to rank for in search results.

Optimize Images

Search engines are unable to read photos to know what they, which is why it’s important to add “alt text” or alternative text to each of the images. This allows search engines to rank the photos in your PDF.

Add Internal Links to PDF

To generate more traffic and increase credibility in search engines, there should be links to the PDF from your website. There should also be links on the PDF that link back to relevant pages on the website so users can navigate back to the website easily.

Creating User-Friendly PDFs

Once your PDF is optimized for search engines, it also has to be optimized for a positive user experience. If your PDF loads too slowly, or users are unable to find the document after it’s been downloaded, the likelihood that someone will read your PDF goes down greatly. It’s important to keep these in mind when making a PDF available to users. Below are a few tips that will keep readers on your PDF.

Have a Small File Size

The first thing to do before making a PDF available to your users is to check the file size. If the file size is too large, the PDF will take a long time to load, which can cause users to exit the PDF before it loads.

Open PDF in Another Webpage

Some users are unable to locate downloaded files on their hard drive, so it’s best to have the PDF open in another webpage. Once the PDF is loaded in another webpage, the user can download it from there. This also ensures your visitors aren’t leaving their web browser, and your site is still open for them to easily go back to.

Keep PDF Brand Consistent

Consistency is key when trying to catch and keep your visitors’ attention. It’s important to brand your PDFs so visitors aren’t confused on where the PDF is coming from. This also gives the PDF more visual credibility over a plain PDF.

ceo website guide

Make PDF Navigational

Interactive and easy to navigate PDFs make users happy. If the PDF is searchable or offers forward and backward navigation through pages, users will be more likely to stay on the PDF and read on.

Sometimes, PDFs are the best way to communicate information to your target market. Following these simple SEO rules with your PDFs will make them search-engine friendly and effective with users.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Rebecca Cavanagh says:

    Hi. With the keyword function, do you know whether the search engine recognises strings in some way rather than just random assemblages of words?

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