How to Optimize PDFs for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


Some of our clients that use PEERNET software are customer-facing, and have a need for a website with extensive information guides, brochures, and the like. Often in the corporate environment, these come in the form of PDFs.

There are several things you can do to optimize PDFs for better visibility in search engine rankings. In an ideal world, the best thing to do is to convert the PDF documents to web pages and allow the search engine spiders to crawl them that way. But depending on your time and resources, that might not be feasible for your business, in which case optimizing your PDFs for search engines is the way to go.

If you have PDFs that you would like to be indexed by Google, Bing, and other search engines, there are basic on-page factors that influence a document’s search engine ranking. Here are some tips on how to optimize the documents for maximum visibility.

Covering the Basics

  • Ensure the filename of the document is relevant and search engine friendly. Use terms that people are likely to search for, but make it specific enough to ensure that it’s targeted. As an example, let’s say you were creating a brochure for your company’s 2014 line of baseball cards.
    • REALLY BAD (not telling the user or search engine what the document is): cards051856.pdf
    • BAD (too broad):baseball-cards.pdf
    • BETTER (brand and topic): topps-baseball-cards.pdf
    • BEST (brand, topic and model line): 2014-topps-baseball-cards.pdf
  • Make sure the PDF starts with a relevant, meaningful title. The search engine results page is likely to display the first text it crawls on the first page of the document. Ensure that the document title tells the reader exactly what the PDF is about. From a search engine perspective, it’s better to be straightforward with the title than to be creative.

Document Content:

  • Use keywords throughout the content of the document. As search engines have evolved over the years, they’ve gotten much better at identifying what content is useful and relevant to searchers. One of the most important factors in determining a documents search engine ranking is consistency. So it’s fairly important that the main keywords you are using to target searchers in the filename and document title appear in the content. Just don’t over-do it: search engines have also gotten quite good at identifying “keyword stuffing” and will punish a document where it’s obvious that the author has artificially used keywords where it’s not necessary. One to three mentions per page is a good range to shoot for.
  • Build internal links throughout your documents, if possible. Ever wonder why whenever you search a topic on Google, the Wikipedia page shows up near the top? A big factor is the amount of internal links throughout the site. Google’s algorithm considers internal links as a sign of the site’s authority, and helps it achieve a higher PageRank. Anyone can use internal links on their site to build up their value to search engines — but as with the use of keywords, don’t overdo it.

Other Things to Know:

  • For PDFs to be crawled by search engines, they have to be text-based. In simple terms, that means that the PDF contains text that a user can highlight on the document… not images that contain text in them. As noted, all that search engines can crawl on images are the image title and alt tags.
  • Ideally, you want your PDFs to be as small as you can make them. For purposes of displaying and being found on the web, it’s better to sacrifice high quality images for quicker loading files. This is better both for both the search engines’ crawlers, and from a user perspective.

Ready to optimize your organization’s PDFs for search engines? Check out PEERNET’s PDF Creator Plus, software designed with businesses in mind.