It’s likely you’ve run into a PDF document on occasion as you search on Google, so you know that search engines are capable of indexing PDF documents. But that doesn’t help you understand their impact on SEO.
Is it a good or a bad idea to add PDFs to your site? Here are a few things to consider:
✔ PDFs Are Easy to Use. It’s a widely used format for a reason. They’re easy to create, and most individuals and businesses have access to tools that allow them to read and print PDFs. There are no worries about compatibility issues.
× But PDFs Don’t Allow for Coding. Since they’re a simpler format, they don’t allow for the more advanced coding allowed in HTML. For example, while you can optimize images in HTML, that’s not possible in a PDF document. And you can’t implement a structured markup, so the document won’t be able to take advantage of the rich snippets this generates for search engines.
✔ PDFs Contain Meta Data. That means you can write the description that a search engine will display when your document appears in results. This allows you greater control over whether or not people actually download the document. Also, authorship can be identified. Like with HTML, the first author is the only one who will be listed, so ensure that the preferred author is listed first. And the PDF itself must be set as a contributor site in Google+.
× But PDFs Provide Less Control Over Tracking. Google Analytics allows you to track onclick events, but more sophisticated tracking, such as a marketing automation system or tracking codes, cannot be added. This makes it harder to understand the visitor journey and track conversions.
✔ PDFs Allow Links. This means you can use a PDF to drive traffic back to your website, and also those links can contain keywords as anchor text and be followed by search engine crawlers.
× But PDFs Don’t Allow Navigation. While you can embed links, there’s no top or bottom nav to encourage people to visit other areas of your site. If someone reaches your site through a PDF doc, it’s unlikely they’ll take the time to explore the rest of the site, and in some cases, they may not even pay attention to what site they landed on at all.
✔ PDF Content Is Indexable. As long as you create the PDF document as text – not an image – through a program like Word or Illustrator, search engines can read the content.
× But There May Be a Lot of Content for a Single URL. Most PDFs contain a lot of information – a few pages to hundreds that may cover multiple topics– but that single document will only be one URL. If it weren’t in PDF form, it would likely be broken up into several more focused web pages.
The Bottom Line about PDFs and SEO
It’s almost never a good strategy to rely heavily on PDFs as web content, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. They can be a valuable means for publishing your content as an e-book, workbook, case study, guide, or white paper. And they are also useful for forms, product data sheets, and other documentation that requires consistent formatting for printing purposes.
Even if the content is ideally suited for the PDF format, consider how you might repurpose all or parts of it as HTML web pages to gain better control and use of it for SEO considerations.