If it’s possible to create your content in HTML format, it’s suggested to go that route since it will be easier for you to update and more efficient for search engines to crawl. However, it’s still possible to optimize your PDF for search engine results.
You could use a PDF document if your content includes:
- research findings and survey results
- fliers and advertisements
- contracts or other printable documents
Generally, Google can index any textual content in various character encodings, as long as the document isn’t password protected or encrypted. However, the text can’t be indexed the same if it’s part of an image, such as if the document is scanned and saved to a computer as a PDF. Google says, “the general rule of thumb is that if you can copy and paste the text from a PDF document into a standard text document, [Google] should be able to index that text.”
The Breakdown of Optimizing a PDF
The title that is shown in Google’s search results depends largely on two things: the meta title that’s written within the file itself, and the anchor texts linking back to the file.
The meta title can be set in the “Document Properties” section of the PDF. Google will see this title the same way that it sees an HTML title tag. And just like when writing the HTML title tag, be sure to include the keywords that will rank best. Your document may have a catchy title as a hard copy, but online it needs to work for SEO.
When creating your document, remember that a big chunk of text is hard to read and will turn users away. Use subheadings to break things up; this will also help alert Google of targeted keywords if your subtitles are tagged correctly.
Just like in HTML, your PDF needs links to and from it in order to rank higher. Have links on your website that point directly to your PDF, and be sure to include links in your PDF that direct to other pages on your website. These contextual links will signal to Google that the PDF content is significant and should be ranked.
When embedding your page content with links to your PDF, be sure to use the appropriate anchor text instead of a simple “click here.” Anchor text that uses your targeted keywords will come into play for the document’s SERP title.
Google won’t index the images in your document. To get over this, Google suggests creating a separate HTML page for the image and adding alt text within the image’s properties. It’s also suggested to compress the images within the document. PDFs are already large files to load, and having heavy images will slow down load time even more.