Scottsdale SEO for PDFs: How To Optimize Documents for Search Rankings
You’ve just finished a PDF of user documentation for your product, but after uploading it, none of your users can find it. Keep reading how to optimize the right way to help boost your Scottsdale SEO rankings!
Here’s the nightmare: They search for it on Google and someone else’s product shows up. What do you do?
Optimize it! Just like your website, a little Scottsdale SEO strategy goes a long way to get your PDFs ranking on Google. Read through this article and you’ll have top-ranking PDF files in no time.
Google Loves Your PDFs
Well, at least Google wants to love your PDFs. Most don’t even realize it when they’re putting documents together, but Google indexes PDF files in the way it indexes web pages.
They’ve been doing it since 2001!
And when your PDF is optimized, it will rank highly. Google includes PDFs on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You can even filter searches for PDFs as a filetype.
If you’ve uploaded any PDFs, try it with your website. Search “filetype:pdf yourwebsite.com”
Google is already really good at indexing PDFs. For example, if your PDF is uploaded as an image, Google uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to scan and identify the text in the image. They also index images from your PDFs in their image search.
Of course, optimizing your documents makes this process more reliable. But as a disclaimer, PDFs are not the most SEO-friendly file for a few reasons.
The Not-So-Friendly Truth
The biggest reason that PDF files are not SEO-friendly is that they rarely change. Search engines “crawl” the web, looking for new content. Once they’ve indexed your PDF if it doesn’t change it isn’t prioritized.
All search engines want to deliver the freshest, up-to-date material. This is why blogs and news sites rank high in searches.
Another reason PDFs tend to fail for SEO is the lack of navigation. In a large PDF, there is rarely a method for jumping through huge sections of content, and there often are no links to external content.
Linking matters a lot for SEO, both internally and externally.
PDFs by and large are not mobile-friendly. As static documents, they can be difficult to read and view on a smartphone depending on their design. Yet, 70% of web traffic is from mobile users.
Mobile users then don’t often want to click on your PDF link. They’d rather be served the same content in a different format. No positive traffic? Bad for SEO.
It might actually be better to serve some content as HTML instead of as a PDF.
For example, would you rather visit a restaurant’s website and see the menu neatly displayed on your phone or would you rather wait for a heavy PDF to download?
See the point? So while you can host PDFs, ask yourself if the PDF should be on your website in the first place. If so, let’s optimize it!
Optimize Your PDFs
A lot of SEO for PDFs is similar to our blog post SEO tips. This is because Google uses the same methodology for ranking documents as it does webpages.
Design your files with a structure that mimics good web design and it will rank.
Get Your Titles in Order
Google looks at titles first, and it makes sense why: a strong title defines the purpose and value of a document. Titles create a high order for understanding focus keywords and content, too.
There are two titles that matter. The document title and its filename (and no, these aren’t the same thing).
The document title is an internal value. It will likely be the first major header on the first page of your PDF, but it’s also defined in the document properties.
You can edit the document properties in Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader/editor.
An SEO-optimized title should:
- Include a focus keyword near the beginning of the title
- Be between 55-70 characters in length
- Accurately represent the content
- Include the brand or business name near the end
The filename is equally as important. This is an external value that Google and users can see in the absolute file path from your website.
PDF filenames like “ebook_01_final.pdf” might be useful when you are building the doc and need to manage multiple versions, but it does not carry much value for Google.
The best filenames look similar to the title.
So your ebook on “10 Expert SEO Strategies for Optimizing PDFs” can have the filename “10-seo-strategies-for-optimizing-pdfs.pdf” and make more sense to users searching for it on Google.
Filenames should be around 50-60 characters in length. Not as long as the title, but not much shorter. You still want to include the focus keyword and brand if you can.
Where’s Your Head At?
Headers are critical for SEO. These allow Google to subdivide the levels of content in your document and create meaningful, distinct sections.
Hierarchy matters. Google loves when a page or document is thorough and full of rich, useful content. Google promotes expertise. Headers show Google the depth of the content, especially when the headers are meaningful.
Consider how you produce articles for your blog. Are you writing a 2000 word wall of text for every article? (If so, you shouldn’t be.)
Consider the structure of this article.
It is broken up with a series of H1 and H2 headers. Content is divided and subdivided, making it useful for the reader and for Google as it indexes the content.
If you’re using Adobe Acrobat, you can define them using the Touch Up Reading Order tool. This structures the hierarchy of the PDF. You edit tags in the document to define headers, too.
Write Excellent Content
Of course content matters. Great content makes your PDF useful, keeps readers on the document, and is totally indexed by Google. Every word. That’s why you can search for specific phrases in quotes!
While you not only want to write great content, to optimize that content, your job is to make sure that Google can read it.
We mentioned earlier that Google uses OCR for image-based PDFs. It works, but it isn’t always perfect, depending on the font and quality of the uploaded document. Pixel aberrations can mean Google’s OCR does not translate characters or words correctly.
To ensure Google gets the translation right, be sure to upload a text-based PDF.
The easiest way to check this? Open the document on your computer. If you can copy and paste text from your PDF to another file, your document is text-based. If you cannot, then your PDF is image-based.
You can’t change image-based PDF files into text-based ones. To fix this, check your original document settings and export the document as a PDF again.
Tag Your Images – Scottsdale SEO
Images on the web have alt tags. Since images are not text, alt tags sort of act like a title and a description for the image. This snippet of text explains to Google what the content of the image includes.
This also appears on a webpage if an image fails to load. Alt tags also help Google index the images in PDFs.
Remember how we mentioned that Google includes PDF images in its image search? Alt tags drive that search capability. It is easy to be lazy with alt tags in the same way it’s easy to be lazy with filenames.
For instance, “SEO Ebook stock photo 01” is a terrible alt tag.
Aim for clear descriptions of what the image contains. So rather than tag the stock image of a man typing on his laptop as “typing,” give it a more dynamic tag like “man typing on laptop.”
Be as clear as possible here, too. “Happy man typing on his laptop” is an even better description if we can see that the man is smiling.
Create your alt tags in Adobe Acrobat, InDesign, Microsoft Word, or pretty much any other PDF-capable editor.
Check Your Links and Make Connections
No PDF is an island entire of itself. While your document might seem like a dead-end, where readers collect information and walk away, like a user manual, it is bad thinking for SEO purposes.
Create multiple pathways that link to your PDF. Create multiple links in your PDF to other sources of content. You would do the same with a blog post, wouldn’t you?
This helps build link authority, which raises your PDF higher on the SERP.
Start by looking through your PDF for keywords related to content on your website like blog posts and product descriptions. Link them!
Create hyperlinks for your contact and social media pages.
On your website, upsell your PDF at the end of your blog posts. Include the link in your email campaigns. Use it as a lead magnet for your mailing list.
Opportunities to link exist everywhere in your PDF files and on your website. Be creative and make those links useful.
Get Ranking with Scottsdale SEO
It’s important to remember that PDF files do rank in Google search. While they are different from webpages, they are handled similarly and your SEO strategy across both of these spaces needs to match up.
Follow the tips we’ve provided here and we’re confident that your PDFs will soar to the top of the SERP.
Do you need a little more Scottsdale SEO advice? If so, then it’s time to give us a call. We can help you clean up the SEO across all of your online content.