Optimizing PDFs for search engines
Today, the internet is the best — and certainly the most accessible — source of personal and business information. But unless we’re treading familiar paths, we rely on search engines to help us find what we need in the sea of available data. Accordingly, most companies (especially those in the IT sector) have web infrastructure in place designed to make their content more accessible to these search engines. But this investment is wasted if the content’s format itself becomes a barrier.
The popular PDF format is ideal for sharing your valuable content — Adobe Acrobat has ensured that almost anyone, on any computer system, can open a PDF file. And it’s a great way to ensure your content always looks and prints properly. But, while most leading search engines can now read and index the content of a PDF, they still have certain restrictions.
Here are some things that you can do to ready your PDFs for the web:
Make sure your PDFs are text based
To be sure that the content of a PDF file is recognisable by a search engine, the most important thing involves how the PDF file is created. Some PDF programs simply convert text into a large image — which the search engines cannot read. It is important to create the PDF file using a text-based editor like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, so that the text format is retained when the file is saved.
Optimise your PDF copy
Text contained in a PDF file is very similar to web copy, so try to employ SEO techniques. Use specific keywords in headings and subheads, as well as throughout the body of the PDF file. Where appropriate, include a detailed table of contents that includes keywords and phrases. And use the title as a header or footer throughout the document.
Complete the document properties
All PDF files must include an appropriate title, to prevent search engines from yielding untitled PDF files — making it difficult for a person viewing search results to tell if this file is useful to them. If you haven’t added this information in the source program before saving as a PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat to add it.
At the same time, ensure you have defined metadata properties within the PDF file — this generally constitutes Title, Author, Subject and Keywords. Search tools use this information to index your PDF. If the document creator hasn’t entered that information, the indexer may attempt to generate it — potentially mislabelling your valuable content.
Optimise the links to the PDF
In order for a PDF file to be indexed, the search engine must be able to find it. The links to the PDF files should be on a web page that is frequently spidered by search engines. Not hidden deep in your website.
If you’re not using the PDF/document title, use related keywords or a keyword phrase in the text of the link itself, and in the text immediately surrounding the link.
Build links into your PDF
Make sure you include links in your PDFs, and pay attention to the anchor text used. Search engines do recognise these links. So make sure these important hyperlinked words give them, and your visitors, useful information about the content of the page you’re linking to.
In addition to including links in PDFs for search-related purposes, there’s also a good business reason. Often, PDFs are passed along to others via email. Accordingly, a reader may be viewing the PDF in isolation (i.e., not associated with your website). By placing links into PDFs, you give these readers an easy way to click back into your site, where you can further influence them.