5 Tips for Optimizing PDFs for Organic Search

There’s a misconception out there that search engines don’t read (i.e., spider) PDFs. They do.

Of course, HTML pages are faster to index than PDFs, but the latter still can be indexed. The trick is to know how to set up the PDF to make sure you get maximum pickup by the search engines.

Here are the top five tips to help make sure your PDFs on your Web site are optimized for search engines:

1. Make sure each PDF file is text-based and has the correct document properties set up. When the search engines spider a PDF, they extrapolate the text from the information fields within the PDF. So the metadata and keywords you have in these fields are critical. The important fields are: author, document title, description, file size and modification date.

2. Remember to tag the PDF and use anchor text and links within the file. Just as search engine optimization best practices tell us to do these things for a Web site, these methods also are viable for PDFs. In addition, make sure your links are not buried deep within the PDF file. Have them at the root level, where they’re easy for search engines to find.

3. If you have a large PDF file, consider breaking it into smaller, relevant groups, sections, chapters, etc. These sections should be tagged accordingly with accurate, relevant keywords. This is not only reader-friendly for humans, but also for search engines because it takes longer to spider a PDF than HTML.

4. Check the PDF file format version number, and make sure it’s readable by search engines. Typically, the version to use is Acrobat 5/Adobe XMP (PDF V. 1.4 or 1.5).

5. Finally, make sure the reading order in your PDF is logical and flows. Again, this is user-friendly for humans and search engines. However, your reading order, for a search engine perspective, will give you an idea of what will be displayed in organic search results. To do this, when your PDF is open, select Advanced-Accessibility-Add Tags to Document. Then select Advanced-Accessibility-Touch Up Reading Order. After you do this, the reading order of the PDF will be displayed.

So if you have PDFs on your site already, it’s a good idea to review them to make sure they were originally set up correctly for search engines.

Wendy Montes de Oca is president of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based online marketing services consultancy Precision Marketing and Media. She can be reached at wendy@precisionmarketingmedia.com.


Often referred to as the 'marketing maven' by industry peers, Wendy Montes de Oca, MBA has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, media, and publishing with expertise in multichannel, direct response, and Web marketing. Wendy has generated more than million in total revenues for Fortune 500 companies, top publishers, consulting clients, and her own firm, Precision Marketing and Media, LLC. She is the creator of the groundbreaking SONAR Content Distribution Model and author of the best-selling book Content Is Cash: Leveraging Great Content and the Web for Increased Traffic, Sales, Leads and Buzz [Que Publishing, Paperback].


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