In the past, PDFs have had a notorious reputation for performing poorly in Google’s rankings. This is largely because Google’s crawlers have a harder time reading images than they do text. For a long time, there wasn’t much you could do to boost your PDF’s rankings—or so we thought.
But there are actually many ways you can optimize your PDFs for SEO, and most of the methods are very simple. The fact is, most PDF optimization practices are merely underutilized, or site builders simply don’t know about them.
The days of your PDFs seeing terrible rankings are over. We’ve compiled a list of eight optimization strategies that will help your PDF see an increase in clicks.
Have a Search-Friendly File Name
Choosing a file name is your first step in optimizing your PDFs for SEO. Before you change the file name of your PDF, it’s wise to do some keyword research to understand what your audience is looking for. When you change the file name, be sure that you separate each word with a hyphen. The file name should not only include relevant keywords, but it should also be a concise and accurate description of what you can find on the PDF.
You’ll see that keyword research is a significant component of PDF optimization—the same as page optimization within your site. Google’s spiders feed off of relevant keywords. So before you begin the optimization process, you’ll want to have done thorough keyword research and have a list of words and phrases you want to rank for. It will make the next few steps much easier on you.
Don’t Forget a Title and Description
While you’re filling out information fields, don’t stop at renaming your file name. Choose accurate and keyword-friendly titles and descriptions for your PDFs as well.
Having an optimized title is especially important, because the title is going to be displayed on the SERPs. You want to make sure it’s accurate, clear, and includes the keywords you’re trying to rank for.
In both the title and the description, you want to utilize the same keywords that you chose when creating a new file name. While you obviously won’t be limited to the keywords in the file name, you certainly want to include them all. This level of consistency will play in your favor when Google is crawling your PDFs.
Include Alt Text
Utilizing alternative text is a common—and most would say necessary—SEO practice if you’ve got images on your site. But many times, the alt text element is overlooked when optimizing a PDF. Just as you would add alt text to an image on your page, add alt text to your PDFs. It’s another simple way to catch Google’s attention and signal their crawlers that you’ve got something relevant and of value for their users.
A PDF format is not typically going to earn a first-place ranking on Google’s SERPs, but if it includes images that have been optimized with alt text, the chances of a first page ranking increase exponentially.
PDFs allow you to denote the author. Though this might not have any measurable effect on your rankings, it’s still a good thing to complete this field. We suggest using your company’s name. The more thorough and complete you are, the more professional you come across, and if you use your company’s name, you’re going to build brand awareness among users.
Lay Out the PDF with Readers in Mind
When you’re structuring your PDF, don’t get so caught up in presenting large quantities of information that you forget about the reader who has to take it all in. Just like with written content on a blog or web page, you want to structure your PDF’s written content so that it’s effortless for your reader to consume.
Break up your PDFs with headings and subheadings. This makes it easy for users to see what information is available, and it gives Google more signals showing what is on your PDF.
Keep paragraphs short. This is a simple yet effective way to use your structure to your advantage. Short paragraphs keep readers engaged both physically, since they have to keep scrolling down, and mentally, as the white space between paragraphs actually gives their eyes a break from blocks of text.
In some ways, your PDF is very similar to HTML pages, especially when it comes to link building. Link building is one of the best ways to optimize any of your pages for SEO—your PDFs included. By linking back to your own pages from your PDF, you’re boosting your chances that Google’s web crawlers will take notice of you.
PDFs are also very useful for earning backlinks from other sites. PDFs—if you do them well—are eye-catching, engaging pieces of content that act as a permanent resource, and that’s exactly the kind of thing other sites are looking for. If you create a useful PDF, you can get linked. And even better, if your PDF has links to other parts of your site, you’ll boost your site’s authority. When you take advantage of linking in your PDFs, you can’t lose.
Keep the File Size Small
This practice goes for nearly all files on a site, including your PDF. The smaller the file size, the faster it will load, and the better it will be for your overall SEO. There are tools on the market to help compress your images in a way that doesn’t compromise their quality—which is important, because you don’t want any part of your PDF to be unnecessarily altered.
Use Plain Text
Many, if not most, PDFs are image-based. While Google is constantly improving its image searching, and you’re optimizing PDFs for SEO, plain text will still signal Google’s crawlers better than an image will.
For this reason, we recommend that you include text on your PDF or even change your image of text to plain text. You can confirm that the change has been made by simply copying and pasting text from your PDF. If you can do this, you’ve successfully converted the image to plain text.
Hopefully after reading this article, you can see that optimizing your PDFs isn’t only possible, it’s actually really simple. Just a few strategic changes can help Google’s crawlers take notice of your PDFs—and your site as a whole. When you’re working to rank with the biggest search engine in the world, every optimization counts, including those on your PDFs.