How to Optimize PDFs for Better Search Engine Rankings
Publishing content in PDF (Portable Document Format) has several benefits. PDFs maintain formatting, allow controlled sharing, and retain interactive and multimedia content.
However, PDFs have historically posed SEO challenges due to their image-based format that search engines could not easily decipher.
But with advancements in search engine crawling capabilities and PDF editing tools, you can now optimize your PDFs to make them more discoverable on search engines like Google.
In this post, we’ll explore the best practices for optimizing your PDFs, so they can achieve better rankings and drive more organic traffic to your website.
Choose Descriptive and Keyword-Rich File Names
The file name is the first thing search engines look at when crawling a PDF document.
That’s why using relevant keywords in the file name can give your PDF a boost in rankings.
For instance, instead of using a generic file name like “brochure.pdf”, go for something like “organic-skincare-product-brochure.pdf”.
The keywords clearly describe what the content is about.
According to a Backlinko study, pages with keyword-rich URLs get 7.5x more search traffic on average compared to pages with generic URLs.
This effect likely translates to PDF file names as well.
So make sure to include your target keyword in the file name, along with any important related keywords.
Keep the name concise, descriptive, and under 60 characters.
Optimize the Document Title
The title is one of the most important on-page SEO elements for optimizing PDFs.
When adding a title to your PDF, ensure it:
- Clearly describes the topic and content
- Contains the primary keyword for the document
- Is concise while being descriptive (under 60 characters)
For example, a PDF on the benefits of meditation can have a title like “The Top 10 Benefits of Daily Meditation and Mindfulness”.
Place the title in the document properties of the PDF.
If using Adobe Acrobat, it can be found under File > Properties.
Enrich the PDF with Descriptive Metadata
Metadata provides additional information about your PDF to search engines.
This includes title, keywords, author, description and more.
When adding metadata:
- Set the PDF title as the metadata title for consistency
- Add a meta description of 160-170 characters summarizing the content
- Include relevant keywords search engines can match queries to
- Provide author name and publisher details
Refrain from keyword stuffing as it can get your page penalized.
Only include keywords and phrases that naturally relate to the content.
Structure Content with Headings
Headings create a semantic structure for your document, allowing search bots to easily understand the information hierarchy.
Make sure to:
- Break up text under appropriate headings like H1, H2, H3
- Use descriptive headings summing up the section content
- Avoid skipping heading levels inconsistently
This improves the scannability of your content while helping search bots crawl and index the PDF document.
Insert Contextual Internal Links
Linking relevant keywords and phrases to internal website pages provides context for search bots.
For example, in a PDF guide on SEO, you can link the first mention of “metadata” to an internal blog post expanding on the topic.
Internal links help search bots better crawl your site while improving rankings for both the PDF and linked pages.
Just ensure the links are relevant and naturally blend into the content.
Include a Text Version of the Document
Since PDFs are image-based files, search engines cannot fully decipher and index the textual content inside them.
Creating a text version of your PDF allows search bots to better understand the content.
It also makes the content more accessible.
You can include the full text transcript as an attachment along with the PDF or link to it from the PDF file.
Offer both download options to users.
According to one study, PDFs with text versions saw a 21% higher click-through rate on average.
Optimize Images with Descriptive Alt Text
While PDFs rely heavily on visuals like images, charts, and diagrams, search bots cannot interpret them.
Adding descriptive alt text to images in your PDF helps search engines understand the purpose and context of the visuals to better index them.
For example, an infographic on content marketing can have the following alt text:
“An infographic illustrating important content marketing statistics including that 91% of marketing professionals use content marketing.”
Only include keywords and phrases in the alt text that describe the image naturally and accurately.
Check Accessibility of the PDF
Ensuring your PDF adheres to web accessibility guidelines serves two purposes:
- It allows visually impaired users to access your content using screen readers.
- It improves SEO value because web crawlers can parse accessible PDFs better.
Here are some tips to make your PDF more accessible:
- Add correct tagging to give structure to page elements
- Include alt text for all images
- Set the reading order to logical flow
- Enable automatic language detection
- Avoid scanned documents which are just images to screen readers
Adobe Acrobat provides an accessibility checker to identify and fix common issues.
Enable Fast Web View
Fast web view allows your PDF to be viewed quickly online through a text-based version without requiring the viewer to download the file.
According to Adobe:
- PDFs with fast web view enabled see 150% more traffic on average.
- The text-based version improves SEO value by exposing content to search engines.
To enable fast web view in Adobe Acrobat:
- Go to File > Properties > Advanced Tab
- Check the box for “Fast Web View” and save the changes
Now your PDF can be indexed and ranked better while providing an optimized online viewing experience.
Promote Your PDF to Boost Visibility
Creating a search-friendly PDF alone is not enough.
You also need to actively promote it to improve rankings and visibility.
Here are some effective ways to promote your PDF content:
- Link to the PDF from related website content
- Share it on social media channels
- Email it to your mailing list and promote through newsletters
- Pitch it to relevant blogs and resources for backlinks
- Submit it to PDF content aggregators and directories
The more quality links that point to your optimized PDF, the better it will rank in search engines over time.
FAQs About Optimizing PDFs for SEO
Here are some common questions around optimizing PDFs for better search ranking and organic reach:
How much text should be in an SEO optimized PDF?
Ideally aim for PDF documents between 2,000 – 5,000 words in length.
This provides enough text content for search engines to decipher and rank the PDF for relevant keyword searches.
Can you optimize scanned PDFs for SEO?
Scanned documents saved as PDFs are just images to search bots since they cannot decipher text from them.
It’s best to use original text-based documents and optimize as per above guidelines.
Does PDF metadata really matter for SEO?
Yes, PDF metadata enhances the search visibility and ranking capabilities of a document.
Search engines analyze metadata like title, description and keywords to understand the PDF content.
Should I password protect or restrict my PDF?
Avoid password protecting or putting any restrictions on your PDF, as search engines won’t be able to index the content, leading to poor SEO value.
How do I check if my PDF is search engine friendly?
Use Google’s rich results test tool to see how your PDF appears in search results.
Check what content is indexed. PDF content analytics tools like Scrapinghub can also analyze indexability.
What’s better for SEO – PDF or Word documents?
For SEO, Word documents are usually better since search engines can fully interpret the text content.
But you can optimize PDFs to nearly match the search performance of Word docs by following the guidelines above.
Make Your PDFs Search-Friendly for Higher Rankings
Optimizing PDFs requires a bit more effort than regular web pages.
But by following the tips outlined in this post, you can make your PDF documents much more discoverable in search engines.
Focus on improving the on-page elements, metadata, internal linking and overall accessibility of the file.
Promoting the optimized PDF can give a further boost in organic rankings and traffic.
Do you have any other tips for optimizing PDFs for search? Let me know in the comments section!