How to Optimize a PDF for Search Visibility

pdf-iconNewsletters, press releases, success stories, brochures … the PDF documents on your website contain plenty of great content.  But is that content visible to search engines?

If your PDFs aren’t created properly, search engines will have a difficult time indexing the document which can render all that great content totally invisible (yes, PDFs can and DO show up in search results).

Here are 7 useful tips for optimizing PDFs to ensure SEO benefit and search engine visibility.

1) Add Document Properties and Metadata

Document Properties act like a table of contents, providing search engines with the title, subject, and keywords within a PDF.  Search engines use this information to quickly asses how strongly a PDF relates to a queried keyword without having to scan the entire document.

To assign document properties, go to File >> Document Properties and the following window pops up:


In this example, one of our keywords is “Sage ERP Support” which is included in the title, file name, and listing of keywords.

Things to Note:

The Title you specify in the Document Properties will displayed as the heading of a search result.  Be sure to include your primary keyword phrase in the title.

The Subject field acts like a meta description in search results. So create something description and compelling which will improve click through / conversion.

2) Keywords in Your File Name

As you can see in the example above, your file name should also include keywords.  In this case, the file name is “Sage-ERP-Customer-Support.pdf

3) Use Hyperlinks and Anchor Text

Web crawlers can read the hyperlinks within your PDF document so be sure to include links to other pages of your website, your blog, other PDFs, etc.  Ideally, these hyperlinks also contain keyword anchor text.  In other words, use “Sage ERP Support” as clickable anchor text within the document rather than “Click Here” for more info.

These links also create more dynamic PDF documents.  After all, don’t forget that your PDF may be passed on to someone else who is not familiar with your company. Embedded links will make it easier for this unexpected reader to find their way to your website.

4) Use Text-Based Program to Create the PDF

Your PDF should originate from a text-based application like MS Word or other text-based publishing software. Using something like Photoshop (image-based) or scanning a printed document and then converting to PDF actually creates a big image file (not a true “readable” PDF) … that means there is no text for a search engine to “read.”

5) Make Sure Your Sitemap Includes PDFs

It’s a good idea to include links to PDF documents on your Sitemap page.

6) Size Matters

Do what you can to keep the PDF file size on the smaller side to minimize download time.  Not only has Google incorporated site speed in the SEO equation, it also spares your website visitors the hassle of lengthy downloads.  In fact if your PDF takes a while to download, a web crawler may just quit and move on to the next job.

Adobe provides a PDF Optimizer tool that allows you to “Optimize for Fast Web View” (as opposed to a “Print Quality” high resolution PDF that’s larger and takes longer to load).

7) Follow the Same Rules as Web Page Optimization

At the end of the day, here’s the thing to remember … when creating PDF documents, you should follow the same SEO Best Practices that you would in creating any other content in a web page.  That means using relevant keywords in the title tags, H1 headers, and body text along with many of the tips discussed above related to file size, links, and anchor text.

By creating better PDFs and implementing a few SEO best practices, you can improve organic search results and get better mileage out of all the content that’s on your website in PDF format.

Let’s hear your feedback … do you take the time to optimize PDF documents for search visibility?


  1. matthew newman says

    Hi Alex,

    Great post! One question I hope you can help me with is this: We have many pdfs that have existing file names prefixed with numbers or other “non search-friendly” info. When we fill in the title properties field on the PDF, we are omitting this extaneous info, since we assume that a user will just type in “mentoring guide” rather than the file name, i.e. “2.012c Mentoring Guide” if you know what I mean. My question–does the search engine pick up the original file name (with the numbers) or does it pick up the new “title” we put in the PDF properties field? In an ideal world we would rename the file to make it more search friendly, but that is not feasible. Thanks

    • says

      Matthew – Thanks, I’m glad you found the article useful. To answer your question (if I understand it correctly) … when you change the title in the PDF document properties and then reload the PDF to your website, the search engines will pick up the new (presumably more search-optimized) document title. It may take a few weeks for the new document title to be re-indexed by the search engines but it will serve you better longer term.

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