How to Optimise PDF Downloads for SEO

Sarah McInerney

Head of Content

Sarah has almost three decades of experience in crafting compelling, engaging content specifically designed to boost sales and enhance brand loyalty. She’s also an expert in developing unique tone of voice that helps brands connect with their audiences. Her marketing and client service background has given Sarah a natural understanding of how to write content that makes readers take action. Whether it’s signing up to a mailing list, making an enquiry or donation or clicking the buy button, Sarah knows precisely how to convert with words. Pen down, Sarah is a proud member of the Essex Wildlife Trust and spends most of her free time enjoying inspiring walks through her local woodland and nature reserves, admiring everything that flaps, flutters and flowers.

How to optimise PDF downloads

You’ll no doubt know how important it is to optimise your website pages for SEO. But if you’ve added PDF downloads to your site, maybe as e-Books, guides, manuals or whitepapers, have you thought to optimise those too? If not, you could be missing a trick, because PDFs, just like regular website pages, have the potential to generate huge volumes of traffic.

In this post we’re taking a look at how to optimise PDF files for SEO to help you enhance their findability in search. Let’s get started.

Optimising PDF downloads for SEO is a bit different from optimising web pages. But the same general principles come into play.

1. Name your PDF file something SEO friendly

The filename of your PDF is usually shown in the search results, which means it needs to show visitors what it is they’re going to download.

So include keywords. And don’t make it overly long.

Say you’ve produced a PDF e-book download about how to lay turf in a small garden. A good name for your PDF could be: guide-to-laying-turf-in-small-garden. Hyphens are important to indicate spaces between the words.

2. Give your PDF download a good meta title and description

Meta tags, such as meta titles and descriptions, are used by search engines to better understand what the content on a web page – or a PDF – is about.

The meta title tag is the first clickable element of the search result, letting users know what the page is about and helping them decide whether or not it’s the information they need.

The meta description tag gives more insight into what the content is about. Poorly written descriptions lead to lower click through rates, so it’s important that the description does a good job of informing the user that they’re in the right place.

So for our turf laying guide, our meta title might be something like:

How to Lay Turf in a Small Garden – Ultimate Guide

And our meta description could be:

FREE turf laying guide for small gardens. Learn how to lay turf like a pro, for stunning, long-lasting results. Download today for expert tips and advice.

Remember, it’s vital that your meta titles and descriptions are unique across your website. So be sure to make your PDF file’s meta description different to any page on your website that’s covering the same subject.

How to optimise PDF Downloads

Make sure your PDF downloads have an SEO optimised meta title and description.

3. Make your PDF downloads reader friendly

Just like best practice dictates when writing web pages and blogs, you should do what you can to add headings to structure your PDF files.

Headings make content easier to read, both for users and for search engines.

The same rules apply with PDFs as with web pages. Only use one H1 heading per file, and don’t copy it from another page or PDF file. Use your primary keyword in the H1, and then drop them in to your H2, H3, H4, etc. subheadings too. Don’t overdo it though. You don’t want to over-optimise.

4. Include links in your PDFs

Because search engines consider PDF files as similar to web pages, this means they also carry page authority. Page authority is an indicator of the ability of a page to rank. It’s based on age and trust, how recent the last update was, and the amount of value received from links.

Both internal and external links pointing to a page pass on link authority, which can heavily influence page authority.

Linking to relevant pages of your website from the PDF is good practice, as is including links to external links if they’re useful and relevant.

5. Link back to your PDFs

Just like you share links to your web pages from other pages and blogs on your site, and from external sources like social media (or so you should be), that’s exactly what you should be doing with your PDFs too.

Whenever the opportunity arises, include a link to your PDF. It will pass on link authority to the PDF, helping it rank for relevant keywords.

6. Don’t duplicate content

Duplicate content is a total no-go for Google. So make sure you don’t create a PDF download that’s an exact copy of one of your web pages.

If you do, this will lead to the two competing against each other for rank.

How to optimise PDF downloads for SEO

Never duplicate content on your website, including PDF downloads.

7. Be careful of your PDF file size

Huge great PDF files are a no-go for Google too, and visitors don’t appreciate waiting forever for files to download either.

You need to be careful that you don’t slow down your page loading speed. So make sure your PDF isn’t larger than 5MB. Be mindful when using images in your file to compress them if they’re overly large, as these are often the main culprits when it comes to oversized files.

8. Never save PDF files as images

Sometimes you might be asked if you want to save your PDF as an image file. Whilst these files are readable by visitors, the text in them isn’t selectable. This will make it impossible for the search engines to figure out what the PDF is about.

So always save the file in text format rather than image format.

9. Optimise PDF files for mobile

There’s no such thing as a responsive PDF file, as yet. But what you can do is format your PDF so that it’s easier to read for mobile users.

For example, left aligning your text rather than centring it will help reduce the amount of scrolling across that mobile readers will need to do. And rather than wrapping images around the text, keep them in line so that the images don’t push the text out of sight.

Remember, 60 per cent of Google searches are made via mobile devices, and with Google’s mobile first indexing, it’s vital that everything on your website works for mobile as well as desktop users.

Need help with SEO?

PDF guides are a great way to engage readers and build marketing lists. And as long as you optimise them in the right way for SEO, they’ll help boost your search rankings too.

Need help with SEO? Our results-driven managed SEO campaigns are designed to help businesses achieve the growth they’re looking for. Get in touch with our professional SEO services if you want to find out more with our team to discuss how we could help you move your business forward with improved online visibility?

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