improve pdf seo

How To Improve PDF SEO To Rank Better On Search Results

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Contrary to popular belief PDFs can be optimized to rank better on search results. Search engines do crawl and list PDFs in their search results, and the main reason why PDFs often don’t rank that well is largely because their optimization is neglected.

Make no mistake that does not mean that you should create a purely-PDF website or even exclusively produce PDF content for your website. But what it does mean is that if you do want to include PDF documents on your website – optimizing them will give them a leg up and help them to rank better on search results.

The one thing that you will need before you begin are the keywords that you want to rank on – and there are several keyword research tools that you can use to help with that.

Set a Descriptive File Name

One of the first steps that you can take towards improving the SEO of PDF documents is to give them a descriptive file name. The file name of your document will be part of its URL, so making it descriptive is a good policy in general since Document001.pdf tells search engines a lot less than PDF-SEO-Tips.PDF.

When you are setting the file name of your PDF documents, keep in mind that you should use a hyphen or dash (i.e. ‘-‘) to separate words rather than an underscore (i.e. ‘_’). Simply put search engines will read hyphens as spaces, whereas underscores have no real meaning to them.

Fill Out the Document Properties

Every PDF document has certain properties that mirror the metadata of HTML pages in many ways – and search engines will treat them as such. That is why it is important that you fill out the document properties to tell search engines as much as you can about your PDF document.

Although as a rule it is best to fill out as many document properties as possible – there are a few that you should definitely focus on:

  • Title – Just like the title tag of HTML pages your PDF document title will be used in search engine results and should include the main keyword you want try to rank on.
  • Description (or Subject) – The description of the PDF document will often be used in search engine results as well, and should be keyword optimized too.
  • Author – Can be the company or website name.
  • Keywords – Should list the main and secondary keywords, though it is often not used by search engines.

In most cases it is best to fill out all these properties when creating your PDF, but if not you will need to use a PDF editor in order to alter them.

Carefully Handle Images and Media

Part of the appeal of PDF documents is the fact that they can include images and other forms of media. Unfortunately when it comes to SEO any images or media in PDF documents need to be handled carefully.

To optimize the images and media in your PDF documents, you should keep two factors in mind:

Alternative text

As you probably know search engines can’t ‘see’ images or most other types of media and rely on text. Because of that you should make sure that the images and media that you add to your PDF include alternative text (via the ‘Reading Order’) that describes them for the benefit of search engines.

File size

Any media that you add to PDF documents will inflate its file size and increase the time that it takes to load – which will affect its ability to rank on search engines. That is why you should be selective about the images and media that you use, and take care they don’t increase the file size too much.

To further improve the file size you may want to consider compressing any images and media that you use in your PDF document.

As a rule it is best for PDFs to be as text-based as possible for SEO purposes. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid using images entirely, just that you should only incorporate them when necessary and make sure to always include alternative text when you do.

Follow Good SEO Practices

Aside from the areas highlighted above, as a general policy you should try to follow good SEO practices for your PDF document – the same way you would a normal HTML webpage. That includes:

Link to and from the PDF document

In order for search engines to crawl and list your PDF document you should link to it from your website the same way that you would any other piece of content. Additionally your PDF document should contain a link back to your website as well, so that it is seen as a part of it and to make it more convenient for readers.

Use headings and subheadings

Break up the content of your PDF document using headings and subheadings both to make it more readable and for its SEO value. The ‘Reading Order’ in PDF documents will enable you to set headings that search engines will handle the same way that they do with headings in regular HTML webpages.

Optimize for mobile

Remember that a good chunk of internet traffic consists of users on mobile devices, and you should make sure that they are able to read your PDF document easily. Bounce rates are often factored into search engine rankings, so the last thing that you want is for most mobile users to immediately close your PDF document.

Keep the file size low

As mentioned previously you should carefully handle images to keep the file size of your PDF documents low so that they load quickly. To go a step further, you may want to try keeping any PDF document below 10 MB to ensure its SEO isn’t adversely affected. If your PDF document is too long – consider breaking it up into several smaller documents.

Overall each of these measures should help to contribute to the SEO of the PDF document as they do in normal HTML webpages. The problem is that often these practices are neglected with PDF documents, and you should ensure that isn’t the case with yours.

Final Words

At the end of the day you don’t need to take any ‘special’ measures to improve the SEO of your PDF documents, as you should now realize. In fact all that you really need to do is focus on the basics so that search engines are able to properly list them in their results.

If you follow the tips listed above, you should notice a marked improvement in the rankings of your PDF documents. More importantly if your PDF documents aren’t ranking that well, you should know exactly what you need to do in order to rectify that and improve their chances.

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