How to SEO your PDF files?

Alex Zagoumenov

Alex Zagoumenov

PDF stands for Portable Document Format and is an internationally accepted format for managing documents online. The chances are that if you have a website and distribute Word format documents or Power Point presentation they are in a PDF format. If it’s not the case, I strongly recommend converting these docs into PDF. One of the main reasons is that PDF SEO will give you advantage in improving traffic from search engines.

Why optimize (SEO) your PDF files?

A *.pdf file is considered a piece of content that Google indexes in its database. PDF file is like a webpage that you can find in Google SERPs. Here’s an example of a PDF search snippet:

PDF SEO, Google search snippet

If Google treats PDFs as pages, then these pages get a chance in rankings, and as a result, play an important role in getting more traffic to your website.

Another reason to optimized you PDF files is that it’s a piece of content that you can benefit from. Why leave it sitting there un-optimized? Some of the clients I’m working with don’t have much page content, but they do have a lot of PDF files (press releases, product documentation, white papers, etc.). Optimizing PDF files gives them additional volume of page content, and a new search engine traffic opportunity.

Let’s look at things to keep in mind when optimizing your PDF file for SEO performance. Please note that you will notice a lot of references to “keywords”. Yes, keyword research has to be done prior to optimizing your files. This will allow you to better target the elements and content of your PDF files.

PDF SEO: filename

As with page’s file names (i.e. seo-guide.html), PDF file names are important. Make sure your PDF filename is descriptive and contains keywords. For example, if you’ve written an ebook “A simple guide to internet marketing”, a good filename will be: simple-guide-internet-marketing.pdf.

PDF SEO: file location


In order for Google to grab the information about the file the search bot will need to access the PDF file on your server. If your PDF file is located in a deeper folder (i.e. /marketing/presentations/ebooks/internet/F7H643/file.pdf) it will take longer for Google search bot to access the file, and check back on file changes in the future. So, make sure your file is located in a 2-3 directory deep structure (i.e. /files/simple-guide-internet-marketing.pdf OR /files/guides/simple-guide-internet-marketing.pdf).

Also, keep in mind that in order for Google bot to discover your PDF file, you need to create a link to this file on an already indexed page. This way the bot will find the file by following the link to it.


PDF SEO: meta properties

Just as a regular document a PDF file has meta information that is used by Google to 1) check the relevancy, 2) build your search snippet. If the meta information is clear and concise, you will end up with traffic and beautifully looking search snippet. Here’s an example of filed you need to complete in the meta of your PDF files:

PDF SEO, meta properties

The same rules for meta development apply here: Short but descriptive title, 2-3 key phrases just in case and use the Subject field to write an alternative version of your document. Make sure all of those fields have your target keywords in them.

PDF SEO: on-page recommendations

Again, as with regular web page, make sure you follow the key rules of on-page optimization of your PDF. When preparing the PDF, make sure you use Headings (Heading 1, 2, 3) for important information. Also, ensure your images have all the appropriate meta information. I’d recommend using MS Word 2010 to work on your docs. You can add a lot of (read as various) meta data to your files, then save it as a PDF file.

Your document will also benefit by in-text links. Links should be both document-internal (anchoring to certain pages in the document) and document-external (pointing to other pages on your website). Make sure your PDF files include your contact information, if applicable. This way your readers will have an easier time connecting with you as a result of reading your document.

In conclusion, whatever you have, case study, ebook, white paper, press release, it will likely be in a PDF format. PDFs are indexed by Google just like pages. And having your PDFs SEO optimized will increase search engine traffic and an additional opportunity to connect with your audience online.