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PDF Best Practices for SEO


Many websites have PDF files for visitors to download, and these PDFs often contain important subject matter – content, instructions, infographics, etc. As search engines can now read a PDF as a web page, these files should be optimized for indexing. So let’s ask ourselves some questions and talk SEO best practices.

Questions to Ask Yourself for PDF SEO

Are the PDFs text-based?

  • PDF optimization should be handled much like a web page.
  • As search engines understand text more so than images, ensure the words are text.
    • Click and try to highlight a sentence – if you can’t select the text or you end up selecting the entire page or document, the file likely isn’t text-based.
  • Incorporate relevant keywords in the body.
    • Just as you would for an HTML page on your site, include keywords in the PDF where applicable.
  • Images are encouraged, but images should not have words imposed over them.
    • Use text-based descriptive captions that include keywords.

Do the PDF file names contain relevant keywords?

  • PDFs can be crawled by search engines and should contain relevant keywords in the file name, title/heading, and body.
  • For example, check out the Overdrive Social Media Map and view the free PDF. The file name is Social-Media-Map-2016.pdf.
    • As a marketing agency, obviously we care about social media and this is a relevant keyword for us.

Do the PDFs include meta data?

  • The average marketer probably doesn’t know that PDF files can have meta data. Surprise, they can!
  • How does one include meta data? Go to File > Properties > Description and you should see the fields below.
    • Treat the Title and Keywords fields like you would the meta tags for an HTML page, with the intent of the title to appear in search results.
    • For the Author field, either list the author of the PDF document as the person’s name, or simply the company/organization.
    • For the Subject field, use a short, descriptive phrase that aligns with the PDF’s title and topic.



Do the PDFs have embedded links?

  • Include links in PDFs that point back to your site.
    • For example, in the image below of the Social Media Map PDF, the Overdrive logo in the center is click-able and will direct you to the homepage. There are also two links in the bottom right corner that direct the user to the page where the map can be downloaded.
  • Link to pages which users may find valuable, as well as pages important to your SEO efforts. Give the user a way to get into your site rather than having them click the back button in their browser.
  • Use relevant keywords as anchor text of links.

    Search Marketing Map
    Search Marketing Map

If your site has an XML sitemap, are PDFs included?

  • An XML sitemap should contain links to every page on your site, enabling search crawlers to easily find and index pages.
    • Only include URLs and PDFs that are not blocking search engines and return a 200 OK status code.
    • How do you create an XML sitemap? There are several tools out there, and I love Screaming Frog – it has a free version too.

Does your site have crawl issues with PDFs?

  • Use that handy crawl tool, Screaming Frog, to uncover potential issues.
  • Are any PDFs using NOINDEX or being blocked in Robots.txt?
    • Content-rich pages, including PDFs, should not have a NOINDEX tag or be blocked in Robots.txt since this tells engines to effectively ignore the page.
  • If content is sensitive or private, consider an SSL solution.

Is content in PDFs also in HTML?

  • If both HTML and PDF versions exist (i.e. if the entire contents of the PDF also exist on an HTML page), be sure to use canonical tags to declare the preferred page. For SEO purposes, the HTML version is typically preferred.
  • As PDFs can be large in word count, are any files a candidate to be turned into valuable, paginated HTML content? Pagination can occur in several formats:
    • Article pagination – a single article spans across two or more pages.
    • Infinite scroll pagination – data is pre-fetched from a subsequent page and added directly to the user’s current page as they scroll down.


Overdrive Interactive is an SEO company in Boston that drives measurable ROI. Our search engine optimization programs not only drive natural search traffic – they connect prospects to high quality user experiences that encourage desired behavior. Our SEO services and the resulting search engine presence connects visitors to content that satisfies their needs. As an award-winning Boston SEO company, we are passionate about your success!


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