SEO optimization

How to optimise PDFs for web search engines

Quick guide about how we optimise PDFs for search engines

The good news is that it’s easy to optimise a pdf and, as well as helping your website gain traffic, it also improves usability.

As an SEO consultant I see companies in highly competitive markets implementing content marketing and link building strategies to improve their search rankings to increase visibility and sales.

To improve search engine visibility (and avoid Google penalties) they target links from trusted, powerful websites that are in similar or complementary fields to their own. These links are valuable but sometimes hard to obtain – many websites have a policy of not linking to external websites, or implementing nofollow links, even when they mention an organisation.

This is where the optimization for web search engines becomes important. While many organisations have policies to not link externally, some of them are happy to upload relevant external PDFs to their websites.

Because Google treats PDF very much like a webpage, optimising for search gives you an excellent opportunity to gain both exposure and link authority from external sites that upload your content and optimise pdf to boost your website.

Optimising  for search engines is very much the same as optimising a webpage.

Your first priority should be usability. Google has been designed to work like a person when it crawls and ranks webpages “content and links” are crucial.

Note: You can complete most of these actions in the base document you are creating your PDF from. Sometimes the names of the different sections referred to change but it should be quite straight forward.

optimise PDFs for search engines

How easy is to optimise pdf’s for  search engines ?

There are a number of things that you can do to ensure that you are giving your business the best opportunity to benefit. These include:

  • Link back to your website from logos and copy.
  • Use a descriptive file name.
  • Use keywords in headings.
  • Complete title and meta data in document properties.
  • Use text (not graphics) for your copy.
  • Use alt text for images.
  • Link back to your website from logos and copy

Links from PDFs hosted on other people’s sites count as an external link to your website and help you website rank for key phrases.

Link back to the website homepage via your logo, and any other relevant pages where appropriate – i.e. if the pdf promotes an event, include a link to the event landing page or the booking form etc.

Set up email address so users can open a populated blank email when the e-mail link is clicked. Great for maximising conversions!

Use a descriptive file name

Your file name (just like your main heading and properties title) should fully describe the content of the PDF – someone with no idea of the contents should be able to look at the title and know exactly what the content is about.

If this page for a PDF for instance I could call it:

Using hyphens between words is great for pdfs that are going to be uploaded as it reduces the chance of getting “%20” between the words when users download them. Avoid “&, #, £” and other special characters in your file name also.

Note: Your file name should be similar to your title and main heading.

Use keywords in headings with H1,2,3,4,5,6 tags.

Just like a web page, headings that contain relevant keywords are seen as more important and help you rank for those words.

Note: Your main heading should be similar to your file name and title.

Complete title and meta data in document properties

For the title put the most important keywords at the beginning keep it under 70 characters total ~anything more will be cut off by Google in the search results.

Note: Your title should be similar to your file name and main heading.

Use text (not graphics) for your copy and most important don’t copy articles.

Search engines can’t read images, so make sure the words in your PDF are basic copy-and-paste able text, not pictures of words. Where you have words in an image use alt text to tell Google what the image says.

Include a table of contents where appropriate and make sure the headings that will appear in that table of contents include the most important keywords for the document.

Use alt text for images

For all images use alternative text (alt text) to describe your images to the search engines, just like you should on a webpage:

  • Make your alt text and image title slightly different
  • Use SEO keywords that describe the image in the alt text
  • Keep alt text relevant to the image it’s describing
  • Create different alt text for each important image
  • Use keywords in your image file name

Enjoy my article optimise pdf and don’t forget to share the information arround with your friends.

Costel Anton

I’m a staff writer covering SEO Consulting and startups.A short-lived but much-beloved former homepage editor at, I wrote for multiple magazine from 2014-2015 and was a proud IBM emploee before that. I’ve served as a regional manager for a test prep company along the way. My love of tech would’ve been amusing to my college self. Follow me on Twitter at @promoseoireland and email me at [email protected]