Most businesses, in addition to their website’s pages, have content which can be crawled by the search engines. This content can take the form of whitepapers, eBooks, webinars, case studies, data sheets and brochures, among other forms. Many of these assets are saved in PDF form.
If your assets require registration, you should make sure you include a “disallow” in the robots.txt file on your site. The “disallow” can be either for the folder the registered assets are in, or for the individual assets if the files are in the same folder as non-registered assets. If all your assets are in the same folder, you might want to consider separating the assets into unique folders: one for registered assets and one for non-registered assets.
Just like your website pages, your non-registered PDFs should be optimized for maximum search engine visibility. The following are some best practices for SEO on your PDFs.
Keep Your PDFs Text-Based
When you are creating your documents, be sure you are using a text-based program, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, rather than an image based program, such as Photoshop. When saving your document into PDF form, be sure you are saving it in such a way that the text is kept as “formatable” text so that search engines can read and index it. If you are wondering if you have saved the PDF correctly, open your PDF and try to “grab” a block of text with your mouse. If you see the “I-bar” and are able to copy and paste the text into, say a Word document, you are formatted correctly.
Optimize your Content
Just like your website, you should be following SEO best practices for optimizing content with your PDFs. Use relevant keywords in your H1 and H2 tags, as well as regularly throughout your copy. Search engines pick up on your optimization practices.
Don’t Forget Your Alt Tags
Images can be just as important, if you include keyword-rich (and relevant) alt tags on them, so the search engines see their relevance to the context of the document.
Anchor Text as Internal Links
Similar to your website, you should make sure you are including links in your PDF to relevant pages on your website. The anchor text (the actual text that is underlined and linking to your website) should be reflective of your targeted keyphrases. The search engines will crawl these links in your PDF.
Additionally, your readers may be viewing your PDF, and find relevant information on your links. They may, in turn, email this link to a colleague, or if they are reading the PDF outside of your website, be able to easily return to your website, thereby reconnecting with your brand.
Let Your Content Influence Your <META> Description
While search engines will ultimately decide what to include on the search engine results pages for your document, you can have a hand in influencing what they display. Make sure you have a clear, optimized sentence or two in the beginning of your document. By corresponding these sentences with your targeted keyphrases used throughout the optimization of the document, you will have a much better chance of the search engines using this copy as your <META> description.
What’s in a Name? More than you think!
One facet of PDF optimization that often gets overlooked is the actual title of the file. Similar to the webpage URL, your file name is a prime way to infuse relevance into the topic at hand, using your targeted keyphrases. All too often, businesses create their documents with a name like “XYZ-corporate-brochure-v1.2.pdf” which may be a great way for the business to keep track of the asset, but provide no value to the search engines, nor the reader of the PDF. Use descriptive targeted keyphrases in the naming of your document. Also, be careful not to put spaces in your name, as they will appear as a “%20” in title. Space your words with hyphens “-” to distinguish individual words.
Don’t Neglect Your Properties
Another place that is often neglected, but very important is your Document Properties. This can be accessed through Adobe Acrobat (full version, not read-only) under File> Properties. You should use the title, author, subject and keywords fields to further optimize for your targeted keyphrases.
The title of your document is the equivalent to your Title Tag on a web page. This is, most likely, where the search engines will pull the title for your document to display in the search engine results pages. If you don’t complete the Title property, the search engine is going to generate a title from the PDF’s content, and it may not be what you would choose.
If possible, include an effective call-to-action (that includes your relevant keywords) as the document title, as most search engines will attempt to include the PDF’s document title as the title for the search listing.
Treat the Subject field like a <META> description. Write it for users to help drive conversions.
Fill in the Keywords field with 3 or 4 keyword phrases you’re targeting in your PDF, separating each phrase with commas.
Get the Word Out
Once you have successfully created your optimized PDF, you need to make sure it can be found. Place links to the PDF on popular pages on your site, as well as pages that are frequently crawled so it’s easier for search engines to find and index the PDF. You should also place links to your PDF on pages that are relevant to the content and targeted keyphrases used in the PDF itself.
A great practice I have seen on some PDFs is the ability to click on links within the PDF to share the PDF on social media channels. This is a super-fast and easy way to get the word out.
Location, Location, Location
Equally as important in the optimization process is where you actually store the PDFs on your site. Since spiders don’t particularly like to dig very deep, you best bet is to place your assets as close to the root of your site for maximum exposure.