How to Optimize PDFs for Search Engines.
Whatever online content you’ve got available in PDF format — be it e-books, factsheets, guides, tutorials, or online courses — if you’ve got something you want to share with the world, you need to make sure that internet search engines can find it.
PDFs have been the go-to file type for sharing all kinds of documents between people in business and online for a few decades now — they’ve stood the test of time.
You can optimize PDFs for search engines to help bring people to your content, your site, and your brand.
What you’ll learn
- Benefits of PDF search engine optimization
- PDF SEO best practices
- SEO writing tips
- PDF Accessibility and security
PDF search engine optimization benefits.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about taking a few steps to help your content be picked up by search engines and rank well in results and drive organic traffic to your website. Along with website and webpage optimization, PDF optimizing will help search engines index, rank, and list your PDFs in their results, and create snippets to draw in new users, clients, or customers to your website.
PDF SEO best practices.
Follow a few conventional SEO best practices to optimize PDFs and improve discoverability and search engine rankings and you’ll help bring people to your online content. Some best practices for PDF SEO are:
- Use keywords in titles, headings, content, and document descriptions in PDFs. Do your research on keywords people in your target audience may use. Blend keywords into your text meaningfully, within context, and naturally in short paragraphs and lists to help drive people to your online content. (See our SEO writing tips below!) Rearrange your PDF pages if you need to create a more logical flow.
- Add alt text or alt tags to all images in your images in PDFs. Alt tags give readers a short description of images, such as jpegs you might insert or convert to pdf. These help your users with visual impairments “get a picture” of your picture and will also be shown to readers in the event your image doesn’t don’t load properly. The words in alt tags are also picked up by search engines. It’s a win-win-win.
- Insert hyperlinks in your content. Including internal links to other content or pages on your website, and/or links to other external websites helps to bring people to your site through your PDFs.
- Add and update PDF document properties. The fields in a PDF’s document properties are searchable metadata that search engines crawl through and add to their lists. Make sure your PDF title and description or subject are also keyword-optimized here. Use your company name in the “Author” field.
- Check your filename wording and format. Keep your filename consistent with your keyword-optimized title. Avoid punctuation and use underscores for spaces. The PDF filename will display in the URL on your website, so make it easy to read and understand too.
- Tag your PDF content. Use the Autotag Document feature in Acrobat Pro to create alternate text. Tagging content not only improves SEO but also makes your PDF accessible for people with disabilities.
Writing SEO-friendly PDF content — a few tips.
There is an art to writing content that incorporates SEO. It’s a balance between incorporating keywords and creating content that flows naturally and is of value to your reader. A few SEO writing tips are:
- Include keywords in the title of the document, headings, subheadings, and short paragraphs. Don’t “overstuff” the keywords so it sounds robotic!
- Keep titles and headings relatively brief. No long sentences!
- Structure your overall document content so that it flows naturally.
- Always add alt text, also known as alt tags, to any images, tables, or graphs.
- Use heading styles whether you are writing directly into a PDF or converting from Word to PDF. Or explore using HTML tags such as <title> and <h1>, rather than just increasing the font sizes and formatting.
- Write for your reader. Think about what they want to know or what questions they may have.
PDF accessibility and security.
Along with optimizing PDFs for search engine visibility, make sure your PDFs are accessible and easy to navigate, and secure.
- Make PDFs accessible and easy to read. Use layouts, fonts, and writing styles that are easy to follow and read. Use alt text and alt tags. Follow the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at all stages of development.
- Compress your PDF. Use a PDF compression tool or in-app feature to reduce the PDF file size. This makes it easier for web viewing and users to download and read later.
- Optimize for Web and Mobile. Consider the additional features available in Acrobat Pro to optimize your PDF for web or mobile users. And/or use the free Acrobat Reader mobile app to test your PDF on a smartphone.
- Secure your PDF. After you’ve finished SEO optimizing your PDF, don’t forget to secure it to prevent anyone from making any unwanted changes. Use the security settings and set password protection to prevent others from editing your content.
Make the most of your optimized PDFs.
Take the time and get in the habit of incorporating search engine optimization best practices with your online PDFs. It will help drive traffic to your website and content and improve your site’s ranking and listings in internet search engine results. Your readers and users will also benefit from having content and PDFs that are easy to find, download, and follow.
Frequently asked questions.
How can I get my PDFs indexed by search engines?
To get your PDFs properly indexed by search engines there are a few things you can do.
- Use search-friendly file names, titles, and meta descriptions for your PDFs.
- Add tags and accessibility options to the document, such as alt tags or alt text for any images, and links to relevant pages on your main website.
- Complete all fields in the document properties. Include your company name in the "Author" field and use relevant keywords in the "Keywords” field in your PDF document properties.
- Consider offering an HTML version of the document as well.
Are there potential downsides to optimizing PDFs for search engines?
Search engine algorithms need to be able to read and understand the content of the PDF to rank high in search engine results pages. It’s not too difficult to optimize PDFs for search engines, but a downside could be if it’s not done well. Follow the best practice tips given here for working with keywords, optimizing, accessibility, and reducing PDF file sizes. This will help your PDFs be picked up by search engines and make your online PDFs user-friendly for your target audience.