Optimizing PDF Files for Search Engines

Optimizing PDF Files for Search Engines image Adobe Reader 10.1.2 292x300These past few weeks I’ve noticed a large amount of PDF documents ranking very high in search engines. Generally speaking, there are a lot of crappy websites out there that regurgitate information to people. In general, PDF document’s that you find on Google provide a better source of quality information on a given subject. I believe that Google has recognized that PDF files generally great source of information on niche subjects, and as a result has begun to rank them higher on search engine results pages. Because of this, I decided to a do a little research to help the generous PDF publishers of the word understand how to get their PDF documents to appear in google.

Create your PDF’s with a text based editor

There are a lot ways to create a PDF, just make sure that you or your designer is using a text based editor/creator. Photoshop, for example, allows you to save items as a PDF. This isn’t ideal, because you’re actually saving the document as an image that search engines can’t read. Search engine robots cannot read an image based PDF file, and they will will most likely completely ignore it. Using a text based PDF editor ensures that search engines can find, read and index your PDF files like any other website.

Set document properties

Metadata is the labeling system that search engines use (among many other things) to find and organize information. PDF’s have a unique set of descriptive information that search engines can see, and in turn use to index your PDF. The two primary settings you want to complete are the title and the document properties.

Setting a title

If you already know a thing or two about SEO, think of the title element in a PDF as a tag in HTML. The PDF title you choose informs search engine robots about the subject of the file. The title you choose is also what Google uses in it’s search result pages. Make sure that your title field is optimized with the specific keywords you want to rank well for, or entice potential visitors to click.

Setting the document properties

Each PDF file contains a set of document properties, which are usually found in the same place that you add a title. These properties typically include:

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  • Description — Similar to a meta description tag for a website
  • Author info — Information about the person, or organization, that created the content
  • Copyright — Legal information regarding the contents of the PDF
  • Keywords — Keywords that describe the content of the PDF. Search engines will often ignore this entirely because of the potential for abuse.

Make sure you complete each one of these fields with the most relevant information possible to help

Make the PDF visible to search engines

Search engines index their content using robots. These robots bounce from link to link in your website, determining what to index. If you don’t link to your PDF file(s), then search engines have no way of finding them. Ideally, it’s best to link to your PDF file from a top-level page. If it is placed too deep within the website it may not be found by search robots. Link to your PDF file(s) from a page that is regularly crawled by search robots, such as the Home page. Consider using footer links if you don’t want to take up valuable space “above the fold”.

Optimize the content in the PDF

The content in your PDF file(s) is crawled by search robots in a similar fashion to a website. It’s important to understand and follow the basic principles for on-page content optimization when creating/writing the content for your PDF file(s).

Choose a Keyword Rich Filename

Search engines will read the keywords in your PDF file, and they will interpret dashed (-) as spaces. It’s a PDF SEO best practice to optimize your filename with description keywords, for example:


Is going to be much better for search engines than


Link to Your Website

Make sure that you include links in your PDF content. Specifically, be sure to link back to your primary website where the file is hosted. This will help search engines associate the PDF with it’s original source. It will also provides a back link to your primary website.

In Conclusion

As PDF files continue to climb search engine rankings, it’s important to understand the factors involved in optimizing them for search. The SEO methods use to help a PDF file rank high in search engines is very similar to general website, but still many of the PDF’s you find in Google aren’t optimized at all. Follow these practices and set yourself ahead of the crowd to achieve higher PDF search rankings.

Other Resources

Am I wrong?

I love a good debate, if you think I’m wrong about anything please let me know in the comments below. I’m happy to follow-up with you.

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