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SEO for PDFs: Get your PDFs Ranking in the SERPs

By Manick Bhan on Oct 14, 2022 - 5 minute read

There are times when a PDF file is the type of content that brings the most value to your audience. And just like with your traditional html […]

There are times when a PDF file is the type of content that brings the most value to your audience. And just like with your traditional html pages, SEO for PDFs can help them earn keyword rankings so your target audience can discover them through organic search.

Although not always the greatest for SEO, Google does index PDFs, and sometimes ranks them, meaning that your executive reports, white papers, survey results, or other PDF content should be using SEO best practices and be optimized for search.

How Does Google See PDF Files?

PDF files are treated like regular pages by search engine crawlers. Google converts PDFs into HTML, and then indexes the HTML version of the page.

In the SERPs, the PDF tag will be visible next to the title tag. This lets the user know that they will be directed to an indexed version of a PDF page rather than a traditional web page.

How to Optimize PDFs for SEO

Because Google does treat PDF files like regular web pages, that means all of the same on-page SEO best practices still apply.

Have an SEO-Friendly File Name

Just like Google looks to file names of your images to understand their relevance to your web page content, your PDF file name should communicate to Google what your content is about. 

Best practices for optimized file names include:

  • Short and Sweet
  • Includes target keyword
  • Accurate description of PDF content

Optimize your PDF Title and Meta Description for your Target Keywords

SEO Meta Tags like the title and meta description of your PDF will be visible to users in the SERPs. They will be used by Google to understand the primary topic of your PDF.

Including your target keywords in these elements of your PDF, and those with Keyword Difficulty scores that are achievable for your website, will help improve your ranking potential.

If you are using Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can edit the title of the PDF via:

  • File > Properties
  • Edit your title in the Title Field

Similarly, you can also edit your meta description by clicking:

  • File > Properties
  • Click Additional Metadata

Edit your meta description in the Description field

Designate Headings in your PDF Documents

Just like you use heading tags to help users navigate your web pages (and search engines understand the topical depth of your content), PDFs should also leverage headings.

Most likely, your white paper, report, or PDF document has some natural structure separated by headings. Make sure that you take the time to specify h1-h6 tags in Adobe Acrobat.

  • Navigate to the Tags icon on the left sidebar
  • Click on the text you want to specify as an h1-h6
  • Right click on the tag > Properties
  • Select the relevant heading from the Type dropdown list

Include Internal Links to your Website

Having internal links will help direct users to other relevant pages on your website. 

They also signal to Google the range of content that your website offers and what other topic areas you cover.

Google will follow the links in your PDFs, meaning you can use them to spread link equity to other pages.

Don’t Save PDFs as Images

Google is going to struggle to crawl and render the content of your PDF if it is saved as an image file. It also makes it more difficult for users if they want to highlight text.

PDF Issues Flagged in the Search Atlas Site Auditor

The Search Atlas site auditor will flag an issue if a web page is linking to a .doc file instead of a .pdf.

.doc and .docx are not seen as SEO best practices because they will not be included in Google’s index, meaning missed opportunities to get your content in front of more audiences.

And because .doc are not compatible for all users like .pdf docs, including PDFs instead provides a better experience for website visitors.

Should I Be Using PDFs?

In general, a web page is more likely to get in front of more audiences because of how easily can be understood and indexed by search engines.

PDFs are generally seen as not great for SEO. But when you do have PDF content, you should make the most of it!

So the short answer is don’t make PDFs a big part of your SEO content strategy. But for content like annual reports and white papers that are in PDF form, optimize them!


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