SEO for PDFs - Optimizing PDF for Search

2010-03-23 - I have a new client who has provided me with an extensive library of PDF documents. These are technical documents that are well formed and utilize proper markup from the originating source. The client have provided the documents already converted to PDF. I wanted to share with you the steps that I'm taking to make sure that each and every PDF are Optimized for Search.

Tutorial and Pictorial - Optimizing PDFs for Search

This quick Tutorial assumes that you have Adobe Acrobat and/or a similar authoring program for the editing of PDF Documents.

Note that you DO NOT need the publishing program originally used to create the documents e.g. InDesign. I'm using Adobe Acrobat for this Tutorial/Pictorial.

My example uses the Google Guidelines for Quality Raters PDF which is optimized for search.

Let's get started! From Adobe Acrobat go to the File menu and select Properties.

File Properties Table of Contents

  1. PDF Document Properties - Description
  2. PDF Document Properties - Additional Metadata
  3. PDF Document Properties - 5 Examples
  4. PDF Document Optimization - Just The Basics
  5. PDF Document Properties - Initial View
  6. SEO for PDF Summary
  7. SEO for Office Documents (Extended Article)
  8. Community Comments

PDF Document Properties - Description

The Description Tab is where most of your search optimized content resides.

Document Properties

  1. File: quality-rater-guidelines-2007.pdf

    File = <title> - If a Title is not present (see next), the file name is used by default. This is why it is imperative that your file names are relevant (suggest hyphens as keyword separator) and that you've crafted an optimized document title.

  2. Title: Guidelines for Quality Raters

    Title = <title> - This is the single most important element of your PDF Document Properties. This is used as the title in the SERPs. Remember, if this is not populated, the file name e.g. quality-rater-guidelines-2007.pdf is used by default.

  3. Author: Google

    This can be a company name or an individual's name.

  4. Subject: General Guidelines for Quality Raters: how to evaluate web pages and search results (2007)

    Subject = Snippet - The Subject serves as the META Description for your PDF Document. It is the second most important element after the Title.

  5. Keywords: google, quality raters, evaluation process, web spam

    The Keywords dialog is here for a reason, use it effectively. I keep them brief, usually 3-5 primary keywords, no fluff.

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PDF Document Properties - Additional Metadata

Once you've populated the Description information, you can build Additional Metadata into your PDF Document. Click on the Additional Metadata button and you are presented with this dialog window.

Additional Metadata

Notice how most of the information you entered in the Description Tab is already populated in this dialog. The Additional Metadata you can enter are;

  1. Author Title
  2. Description Writer
  3. Copyright Status
  4. Copyright Notice
  5. Reference to your Copyright Info URL

If you look at the left menu, you'll notice an Advanced selection at the bottom. If you choose that, you'll see a good overview of how your PDF Document may be interpreted by crawlers. See the 5 examples below.

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PDF Document Properties - 5 Examples

PDF Properties XMP Core Properties Dublin Core Properties
Photoshop Properties Adobe PNG Properties
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Just The Basics

The above covers just the basics of PDF Document Optimization for Search. Once you start to optimize PDFs on a regular basis, you find out how important they can be in the overall equation.

There are a variety of strategies that can be utilized when working with a library of PDF Documents, the above is first and foremost with ALL documents, not just PDFs. This applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and/or any publishing software.

While we're in the Document Properties dialog, we might as well optimize the document for our visitors viewing pleasure.

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PDF Document Properties - Initial View

These are the default settings for the Document's Initial View, what the visitor sees when they open the PDF from a link. In many instances, this is really not the best setting as the user ends up with a document that is not optimized for viewing.

Initial View
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PDF Document Properties - Initial View - Optimized for Viewing

Most of the time we're working with multi-page PDF Documents. If there are too many pages and the document can be broken down into logical mini-documents, we may suggest that. It's like taking really long web pages and breaking them down into groups of highly targeted pages.

I like using the Pages Panel and Page as Initial View.

Initial View - Navigation Tab
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PDF Document Properties - Initial View - Single Page

I assume that most users have a viewport that may not display two-up pages large enough to read on initial open. In fact, I've had to make adjustments myself when opening PDFs that are configured using the two-up options. I suggest the Single Page Initial View.

Initial View - Page Layout
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PDF Document Properties - Initial View - Fit Visible

I like fluidness in layout. Using any of the Fit options provide a fluid experience for the viewer. I prefer using the Fit Visible as most users have their browser viewports set to a comfortable width and height that allows them to read most content without changing the size of their viewport.

Initial View - Magnification
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PDF Document Properties - Initial View - Window Options

I'll choose the Resize window to initial page and Center window on screen options. Be sure to choose the Show: Document Title option.

Initial View - Show
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SEO for PDF Summary

That's it for optimizing PDF Document Properties. This article discusses just one aspect of SEO for PDFs. The actual document itself can also be optimized for search. Use PDFs to your advantage. Think about taking larger multi-page PDFs and breaking them down to their least common denominator then offer them up as a group of PDFs from within an HTML Document that is well formed and semantically structured.

Review the first page of your PDF Document and make sure that it best represents the content of your PDF. In many instances, this may be a Table of Contents which usually isn't the most optimal page to have as the first page, not from a search perspective. That is why using the Document Properties to their full extent is imperative when Optimizing PDFs for Search.

If you can, I'd suggest making an introduction page for the PDF that contains a Heading and an Abstract of the document. Use an Inverted Pyramid Writing approach when constructing the Abstract and I typically suggest a target of 140 to 160 characters per paragraph.

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