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How to Optimize PDF Files for SEO and Get More Traffic

Content marketing is essentially the process of providing value through content to generate leads and sales.

And some of the most valuable content is created in PDF format because of its consistency and compatibility. It is the standard format for lead magnets like ebooks, whitepapers, and study reports.

But getting them noticed by search engines is as important as creating such lead magnets to ensure you get the most out of it. However, PDF Search Engine Optimization is a little different from SEO for web pages.

Today, we will explore PDF SEO optimization tactics in detail, covering everything from how Google treats and indexes PDF files to how you can optimize PDF for web and search engines.

How Google Treats PDF files

Google prefers web pages over PDF files because of the obvious user experience benefits. If you have a web page and a web optimized PDF file with the same content, Google will consolidate all ranking signals to the web version. It will show up in search results over the PDF version.

But that is applicable only when you have the same content in two formats. If you have only a PDF version and have no similar content in web format, the PDF will make it to the search results page.

Basically, PDF files are converted and indexed as HTML by Google. When the document has images of text, Google will convert it into text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Images in PDF files also get indexed and show up in image search results. Today, information from PDF files even shows up as rich snippets on Google.

Although SEO for PDFs isn’t as robust and documented as SEO for web pages, there are still a few methods to improve their visibility on search engines. Here are a few PDF tips to make your document appear on the first page of Google.

PDF SEO: How to optimize a PDF file for SEO?

1. Ensure quality content

Content quality comes first and foremost in SEO, and this is true even for PDF files. When the document has structured, high-quality content that people might be searching for on the internet, it will show up on the Google search results page.

The only catch is that the PDF should be crawlable and optimized for search engines. To optimize a PDF for SEO, the first thing to do is to fill it up with highly valuable information. You can add relevant keywords to improve your chances of making it to the first page.

2. Compress the PDF file

Just like web pages, the size of the PDF file also matters. Smaller file sizes mean faster loading, resulting in better rankings and low bounce rates.

There are a few things you can do to reduce the PDF file size. First, use the least number of fonts as possible, as using several fonts can increase the file size.

PDF readers support a set of standard fonts such as Helvetica, Times, Courier, and Symbol. If you use any non-standard fonts, they will likely have to be embedded, increasing the PDF file size.

You can also enable PDF Fast Web View, a feature that lets browsers download one page at a time. When it is enabled, users don’t have to wait until the PDF is fully downloaded to view the first few pages.

To enable this feature, go to Edit→Preferences in Adobe Acrobat and select Documents under Categories in the left sidebar. Under Save Settings, check the ‘Save As optimizes for Fast Web View’ box.

3. Add an optimized title and description

Many search engines use the PDF title to describe the document in search results. The title of the PDF file is equivalent to the title tag of a web page, so treating the PDF title as you would treat an H1 or permalink goes a long way in optimizing PDF for web.

If your PDF doesn’t have a title, search engines will use the filename as the title. So getting both the title and the filename right is critical.

The meta description of web pages also has a counterpart in PDF—you can add a catchy description to your PDF to control the text that appears in search results. Just like meta description, PDF description is not a ranking factor but a way to increase the click-through rate.

To edit your PDF title in Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can go to File→Properties. You can click on ‘Additional Metadata’ to edit your PDF description.

4. Use a relevant and optimized PDF filename

In most cases, the filename of the PDF translates to the URL and hence has an impact on SEO. However, if your content management system lets you choose a URL of your own, the PDF SEO best practice is to use the same text in both filename and URL.

Here are a few PDF filename best practices:

● Just like web pages, shorter filenames and titles are better for PDF files. The ideal length is 50-60 characters.
● Include the most important keyword in the filename.
● Always use lowercase letters.
● If your PDF title is ‘SEO for PDF files,’ your filename should be ‘seo-for-pdf-files.pdf.’ Separate words using hyphens or underscores just like you would in a URL.

5. Add ALT text for images

As mentioned earlier, search engines can crawl images included in the PDF, and Google lists such images in image search results. But for this, adding ALT text is necessary.

The ALT text helps search engines understand the content of your images. It also improves the document’s accessibility to visually impaired users.

To add ALT text to your images in Adobe Acrobat Pro, click on the Tags icon in the left sidebar, right-click on the image you want to add ALT text to, and open Properties. You can enter the ALT text in the ‘Alternative Text’ box in the pop-up window.

All ALT texts should be keyword-rich but never keyword-stuffed. Make sure you always add succinct, descriptive ALT text to your images.

6. Use headings and subheadings

Information from PDFs often shows up in search results as rich snippets. For this, having proper structure and heading tags are important. It also helps Google better understand the context of the information in the PDF.

To specify heading tags in Adobe Acrobat Pro, click on the Tags icon in the left sidebar, right-click on the text you want to edit, and select Properties. You can select an appropriate heading tag from the drop-down menu in the pop-up window.

7. Include links

One of the mistakes you always want to avoid is not adding any links in your PDF document, especially when it offers great value to the readers.

Lead magnets usually attract quality links from high-authority websites, and having no links in PDF leads to a dead end. Note that search engines do crawl links in your PDF, so having no links means missing out on an opportunity to pass authority to different pages of your website. You can also drive traffic to your website if you have links in your document.

Always use relevant anchor text for your links so that readers know what they’ll find if they click on the link. Also, don’t forget to add a link to the PDF page from your website. Search engines won’t be able to find the PDF if you’ve not linked it from your website.

8. Canonicalize your PDF URL

Since Google prefers web pages over PDFs, your PDF file can compete with other pages on your website which have similar or identical content. This competition can lead to worse rankings and prevent your PDF file from climbing up the rankings.

To avoid content cannibalization, you can add a rel=”canonical” tag in the header of the page you want Google to crawl and index. This is a good option if you have the same content on both html & pdf pages, thus making the canonical tag point to the html page

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Frequently asked questions


Can Google read PDF documents?

Yes, Google can read PDF documents and show them on the search results page for relevant keywords. The information from PDF files also shows up as rich snippets in Google search results.

Can Google crawl PDFs?

Yes, Google can crawl and index PDF files, including the images and other resources in the PDF. Google converts and indexes PDF files as HTML.

How do I make my PDF searchable on Google?

To make your PDF show up in Google search results, ensure that it has highly valuable content, use keyword-rich title, filename, and subheadings, and add ALT text for images in the PDF file. You must also link to the PDF file from your website.

What is an optimized PDF?

Most PDF editing tools have an option to allow Fast Web View, which allows browsers to load the first few pages of the PDF when it is opened, improving the loading time and user experience. A Fast Web View enabled PDF is called an optimized PDF. They are generally smaller in size, reduce bounce rate, and offer better SEO.

Can you optimize a PDF for SEO?

Yes, you can SEO optimize PDF files. However, Google prefers web pages over PDFs because of mobile friendliness and user experience. If you have the same content on a PDF file and a web page, Google will show the web page in search results.

Why is my PDF not searchable?

If your PDF is mainly images and not a typed document, it won’t be searchable by default. However, if the images have a quality of at least 72 dpi, you can use Adobe Acrobat’s built-in Optical Character Recognition feature to make your PDF searchable.

How do you compress PDF files?

To compress your PDF, open the document in Adobe Acrobat and click on File→Compress File. The tool will give you several compression options like Standard Mode and Mobile Mode. You can also create a preset as per your preferred settings. Read Adobe’s tutorial on PDF optimization to learn more about different optimization features.

How do I optimize a PDF without losing quality?

To optimize PDF online without losing quality, you can use Adobe Acrobat’s Online PDF Compressor. The tool offers high, medium, and low compression levels; you can choose low-level compression to optimize your PDF without sacrificing quality.

How can I optimize a PDF for free?

Adobe Acrobat’s online PDF file optimizer offers free PDF compression. You can drag and drop the PDF file in the tool and choose your preferred compression level to get it optimized.

Does optimizing a PDF reduce quality?

PDF optimization does not always reduce quality. For example, the Acrobat PDF compression tool reduces file size without making a noticeable difference in image or font quality.

How can I make my PDFs more accessible?

To make your PDFs accessible, open the document in Adobe Acrobat and click Tools→Action Wizard. Choose ‘Make Accessible’ from the ‘Actions List’ and click ‘Start.’ You can follow the prompts to make your PDF more accessible.

How do I enable Fast Web View on a PDF?

To optimize for Fast Web View, open the PDF document in Adobe Acrobat and go to Edit→Preferences. Select Documents under Categories in the left sidebar, and check the ‘Save As optimizes for Web View’ box under Save As.