Are PDFs SEO Friendly? How To Optimize Them For SEO

Brandon LazovicApril 28, 2021

A PDF is a document that is created in Adobe Acrobat and designed to be read on screen or printed. A PDF file can also be viewed by someone who does not have Adobe's software installed on their computer. This article will discuss if pdfs are good for SEO, and how you can optimize them for search engine optimization (SEO).

Are PDFs SEO Friendly? 

A big question that webmasters often have is if PDFs are SEO friendly. In most cases, PDFs aren't an ideal format to use if you want your content to rank on Google.  The problem with PDFs is that Google sees them as a static document and they are unable to crawl the text from inside of the file. This means it's difficult for Google to understand what your content says, which will keep you from ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

However, in some cases, if you have a long form pdf (a pdf over 20-50 pages) then it may be suitable for SEO purposes. If this is the case, there are three things you can do to optimize your PDF:

The first is through Adobe Acrobat Writer:

The Document > Save As > Select "PDF/A+" under Format options and select Optimize For Fast Web Viewing within Preset options to help with user readability for long documents.

Another way would be to use a headings and subheadings  to break up the document into smaller chunks. This will allow Google to better organize your content on their SERPs so that you can rank for keywords relevant to specific sections of your pdf.

Lastly, if you are looking at adding SEO optimization right after uploading or converting from another file type, then there are plugins such as PDF Optimizer which can help with optimizing your files without having to do anything manually like adding tags or inserting hyperlinks. Using this plugin is easy- just upload it onto any site hosting your pdf (such as WordPress) and click "optimize". 

Main Reasons PDFs Aren't Good For SEO

  • PDFs are generally not optimized for Google. Google can’t read the metadata of a PDF (unless done automatically), so you need to specify these metadata values before publishing a PDF anywhere on the web.
  • The lack of metadata means that these documents usually have low SEO rankings.
  • Yes, the PDF will probably be indexed, but its performance will be poor. For example, if there is no title tag Google will pull out the file name in a search - which is very short and uninformative about the document's content.
  • PDF files display poorly in a search engine result page, due to the lack of formatting features that would typically be available for other types of files, which can hurt your clickthrough rates and lead to a suboptimal amount of users visiting your web page compared to standard HTMl content.
  • Links within PDFs are not as effective at driving authority as regular backlinks and passing SEO value to other pages on your site.
  • PDFs are less readable than HTML documents due to the lack of formatting and underlining.
  • Most businesses with standard Google Analytics can't track PDFs in their analytics databases. The tracking ID for a web page will fire when that web page loads in a user's browser. This tracking ID doesn't exist on PDFs, so you won't be able to track data like visits or conversions that come from the PDF.

Are PDF Files Indexed By Google? 

Google indexes PDFs and most other page formats. However, it isn't an ideal practice compared to incorporating HTML and other coding elements like CSS and Javascript on a web page.

Optimizing Your PDFs For SEO

If you decide that you want to use PDFs as your content format, we'll walk through how to optimize your PDFs for SEO below.

Optimize Your PDFs File Name

First, you'll want to optimize your PDFs file name before uploading it on your website. Performing keyword research is essential before crafting content if you want to rank on Google. Make sure that your PDF file name includes your primary keyword that you want to target and show up for in the search results.

Use A SEO Friendly Title and Meta Description

Next, you'll want to include a title and meta description for your PDF. The primary keyword that best represents the content of your PDF should be used in both fields. Keep in mind Google uses these two fields when it displays search results pages so this is an important step to take if you want visitors who are looking for content like yours on Google's SERPs (search engine result page).

Structure Your PDFs With The Right SEO Headings

Next, you'll want to structure your PDFs with the right SEO Headings, such as H1s, H2s, and H3s. This will help Google better understand what your PDF is about and better contextualize the content so it can rank more effectively. It also helps with user engagement as they scroll through your PDF to find specific information that's outlined within them.

Include Internal Links In Your PDFs

Another way to optimize your PDF files for SEO is by including internal links within them. This helps users navigate through the content, but it also has a positive effect on search engine crawlers because they are able to crawl and index more of your PDFs in less time so you'll end up with better rankings that are faster.

Canonicalization Tags For PDFs

Canonicalization tags are another way to optimize PDFs for SEO. These tags are used when you have duplicate content across your website, such as a blog post that has been published on more than one page, or even two separate WordPress blogs with the same content. A canonical tag helps Google choose which URL to show in search results so it's important that they're implemented correctly into your PDF files if you happen to have duplicates of them on different web pages.

You want to make sure that your PDF as a self-referencing canonical tag so that it can rank independently on Google compared to other web pages (while ensuring that you aren't copy and pasting duplicate content in the form of a PDF).

Avoiding Saving Your PDFs As Image Files

One of the easiest ways to optimize your PDFs for SEO is by saving them as text-based files instead of images.

There are many formats you could save your file as, but if you're not sure then use .txt or HTML format so that it can be indexed in Google's search results pages. If someone has trouble opening a .html file on their computer and they want to save it with another extension like .pdf, this will mess up the tags which will break any linkages between webpages and make optimization difficult.

Some people might think that PDF documents are an image type and therefore not accessible to crawlers found within search engines such as Google or Bing, but this couldn't be further from the truth! Therefore you want to make sure that your PDF is saved as a text-based format so Google and Bing can crawl its content, rather than an image file.

Use A Responsive PDF For Mobile-Friendliness

In the age of cell phone use, people are using their phones more than they're using a computer. This means that you need to make sure your pdf is mobile-friendly because a large number of people will view it on screens smaller than what's found on PCs and Macs. A responsive PDF ensures that text, images, columns or other elements in your document adjust automatically depending on how big or small the browser window is!

How To Make My PDF File Size Smaller? 

The simplest PDF optimization is to save a reduced-size version of the file. To do this, open the PDF in Acrobat and choose File > Save As Other > Reduced Size PDF.


Are pdfs a good way to get your content online? Well, it's all about how you optimize the PDF. If you have invested in creating an informative and useful pdf that is well-optimized for SEO best practices, then PDFs are an option as a content format, although it won’t perform nearly as well as a standard web page on your site.

This article has provided some great tips on what you need to do when optimizing a PDF file so that search engines can find them easily. We hope this helps solve any questions or concerns of yours regarding whether or not pdf files are helpful for SEO purposes. Thanks for reading!

Honestly, PDFs Are NOT Good For SEO
Honestly, PDFs Are NOT Good For SEO

In this video I'm going to be talking about PDFs and SEO, and the truth is that PDFs are not good for SEO. You need to understand that they're just not going to rank as well as a website in search engine results pages (SERPs) because it's just an image file. I'll also talk about how you can use PDFs for marketing purposes, but if your goal is ranking high on Google then my advice would be don't create anything in PDF format.

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