Is It Possible To Optimize PDF Files?

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Optimizing your PDF files for search engines can lead to better visibility and increased visitor numbers, particularly if you have an e-book or technical manual useful to your target demographic. The optimization of PDF documents is relatively straightforward and has become easier over the last few years as search engine spiders have developed their understanding of the file structure. Although PDFs can be converted into regular HTML files with a little time and knowledge, not everyone will have the internal resources to dedicate to such a chore.

A PDF file can often make a greater impact than a regular website page for documents such as catalogs and sales material, as it can be branded to more closely reflect offline marketing docs. In addition to this, you will often see PDF files returned higher up in the search results on engines like Google, making PDF optimization a useful endeavor for most websites.

Optimizing a PDF document requires a similar thought process and workflow to regular optimization work.

Tip 1:  Use Words, Not Pictures

As with any material you’re looking to use for SEO purposes, content is king and thought must be given to keyword use, placement, and density. Standard good practice for content optimization should be observed within the creation of the PDF document — use keywords for titles, picked out in bold, italicized and used at regular internals throughout the body of the document.

Some PDF documents are converted into PDF after being designed in an image-based program. This has the same effect as using Flash on-site in that no information can be taken from the document, as it is essentially an image. This is the last thing you want if you’ve spent time crafting a PDF that blends visual appeal with a good keyword density. Make sure your efforts are not lost by avoiding programs that create PDFs from images alone.

Tip 2:  Don’t Skip Document Properties

When creating a PDF document, there is a tendency to skip the document property fields. This is a mistake, as fields such as ‘Document Title’ are just as important as the <title> tag of a regular HTML file. The document properties form provides important information about the file – both to the search engine and end user. When deciding on a title for the PDF, bear in mind that the information you input will normally be used as the title of the listing in the SERPs. It’s worthwhile including keywords here and spending a little time deciding upon the most appropriate title – avoid clever headlines and plays on words and stick to something straightforward, accurate, and descriptive.

If you’re pushed for time, a concise title will suffice, but consider returning at a later date to complete at least the Author and Subject fields, particularly if you want to establish yourself as a thought-leader or opinion-former in your field. This information will help users to find documents and white papers you have presented, so it’s also worth sticking to the same format to establish your credentials – e.g., if you prefer to be called Bob rather than Richard or use Bob more in professional circles, make that the standard author entry on all your PDF files to be uploaded to the web.

Tip 3:  Consider File Size

PDF documents can be quite weighty if they are stuffed full of high-res images. To encourage readers to wait for the PDF to load, use the Adobe Acrobat advanced optimizer tool to format the file to the correct size. You can also encourage speedier loading by activating the Fast View option, which will download the document a page at a time. Regardless of whether or not you choose to use these file size optimization tools provided in Adobe, always use the lowest possible dpi for images inserted in the file.

Tip 4: Include Your Website Address as A Link

Unlike a regular HTML page which can be emailed as a link and will direct the recipient straight through to your site, a PDF document may not guide a third party directly to your website. PDFs can be easily passed on via email and printed off for reference in meetings or at a later date. If you haven’t included at least one prominent link in the PDF to your website, you may miss the opportunity to capture relevant qualified traffic.

Including a link in the PDF with optimized anchor text will be recognized by the search engines and added to the inbound link count they hold about the URL.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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6 Comments

  1. Yes you can! (optimize PDFs for search) I have successfully used this step-by-step guide http://ow.ly/sZrl [from Proteus B2B Marketing Blog]. Regards Michael Schmidt @esuiteone

  2. Rebecca: So basically, the Search Engines still ignore the content of the PDF and we are just surrounding it with basically meta info, to let the bots know what's inside it. That it? Rob

  3. webmaster

    No Rob, the contents of PDFs are being indexed and returned in search results.

  4. Ok, I reread it and got it. Tip 1. Thanks! Rob

  5. IL Nachos

    Hey, great article. I put out PDF newsletters for clients and this is great too know.

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