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SEO Guidelines to Make Your PDFs SEO-Friendly


Just because your company website features a portfolio of work as PDFs or that popular thought leadership piece you wrote is in PDF format doesn’t mean Google can’t find them.

Just because your company website features a portfolio of work as PDFs or that popular thought leadership piece you wrote is in PDF format doesn’t mean Google can’t find them. Google and other search engines have been scanning and indexing online PDFs for years, which should encourage you to make your PDFs more SEO-friendly. Want some actionable SEO guidelines for PDFs? We’ve got you covered.

What content types should you use a PDF for?

First off, why would you want your online content to be in PDF format? There are a ton of reasons. The biggest is that you may want your audience to be able to save and/or print that PDF in the precise format in which you published it. Examples might include ebooks with graphics and charts, white papers, and highly technical documents. You might also use an offered PDF download as a way to catch a potential customer’s contact information.

Basic guidelines for SEO-friendly PDFs

The key, of course, is ensuring that any PDFs you publish online are SEO-friendly so they can help drive traffic to your business. Here are some basic SEO guidelines for PDFs:

Make your PDFs searchable

If you created a PDF from a scanned file, it’s essentially a picture instead of text. And search engines only scan text. Make your scanned PDF searchable byusing OCR to convert scanned text into digital text that a search engine can read.

Choose an SEO-friendly PDF filename

Make sure your PDF has a keyword-rich filename that will make it SEO-friendly. But don’t use too many words: keep your character count under 60, use hyphens to separate words, and match your URL to the title of the PDF whenever possible.

Define a good title and meta description

Just like a regular web page, your PDF needs a title tag and meta description. Put the most important keywords at the front of your title tag, keep it tight (50-70 characters), and use different keywords for different PDFs. Keep in mind SEO-friendly meta descriptions should be concise as well (no more than three sentences and 170 characters) with primary and secondary keywords.

Use headings and include relevant outgoing links

Use headline tags for titles and subheadings in your PDF, and make sure those headings contain primary keywords to increase the SEO-friendliness of your PDF. Also be sure to add links in your PDF to content on other areas of your website.

Make sure your PDFs don’t cause duplicate content issues

That means if your PDF contains the same content as a regular page on your website, they’ll compete with one another for search rankings. Avoid this by applying the canonical URL via the HTTP header to signal search engines.

Don’t save PDF files as images

While your audience will still be able to read the PDF if it’s saved as an image, they won’t be able to select text, and search engines won’t be able to understand and find your PDF content as easily. So make sure you don’t accidentally save that PDF as an image.

Optimize your PDF file size

This is critical. You want your PDF optimized for web viewing with standard fonts like Courier and Times. Also be sure to use vector-based images so they’re still high-quality while being smaller in size. Make sure to compress the file, too, so it doesn’t take long for viewers to download regardless of whether they’re on a desktop computer or a mobile device. Mobile-friendly PDFs should also use images sparingly and contain a lot of subheadings, bullet points, and short paragraphs to break up content and make it easier to read.

Download a free trial of Nitro PDF Pro, and try out some of the techniques above to make your PDFs more SEO-friendly.