How to Rank PDFs

4 Minute Read | Search Engine Optimisation

Steps to ranking PDFs

  1. Find the right software (eg. Adobe Acrobat)
  2. Open document properties
  3. Edit the title (same as title tag)
  4. Edit the subject (same as meta description)
  5. Optimise the file name
  6. Bonus – add authorship

Need more information? Continue reading!

I don’t know about you but I can get quite OCD about how my client’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) look. Everything needs to be in order! Most of us SEOs know how to make the SERPs tidy for standard HTML file types but PDF files are seldom optimised.

You Forgot To Rank Your PDF!

Take this for example, Google: ikea kitchen filetype:pdf and you will see:

  • Title – dream kitchen
  • URL – www.ikea.com/au/en/pdf/Kitchen%20Planning%20Guide%20V4.pdf
  • Description – Take your time to explore our kitchen range. Visit the IKEA store and stroll around our kitchen department (don’t forget to pick up a copy of the IKEA Kitchen
IKEA Kitchen Guide PDF - Google SERPs

As you can see the title is minimalist (by accident) and the description doesn’t really sell the kitchen planning guide. It’s still better than a lot of the PDF results in the SERPs that contain no text early on and instead display encoded text (gibberish to the layman) or files that have been created in Adobe InDesign & the defaults are in place – more on that later – time to find out how to optimise these little suckers!

Simple Steps to Rank Your PDF

1. Find the Right Software

Choose the right software for your PDF. For basic rich text editing you can use Adobe Acrobat but you have to pay for it. There are some free alternatives out there such as Open Office (where you can “Save as PDF”) or if you love Bill Gates, get the Microsoft Office PDF plugin. For higher end super-sexy PDFs you can use InDesign, Photoshop or even Quark. Whichever software you choose, it’s important to keep following the next steps either pre compiling the document or once it’s already been generated.

2. Open the Document Properties

Find the document properties – this is where the META data is entered and contains the important bit of information that search engine crawlers are looking for to help them piece together the semantic nature of the PDF. For example, in Adobe Acrobat go to “File” > “Properties” or hit Ctrl-D.
PDF Document Properties Screenshot

3. Edit the Title

This is essentially the same as the title tag in HTML documents. Limit this to around 66 characters (after that it gets truncated & you get “…”)

4. Edit the Subject

This is essentially the same as the META description tag in HTML documents. Limit this to around 150-160 characters (similarly to titles, it gets truncated & you get “…”)

5. Optimise File Names

  • Try to avoid using company defaults if possible (e.g. don’t use A786554-Document.pdf – that may be good for organising your Intranet but not great for the world wide web)
  • Name files as you would URLs, i.e. include relevant keywords, lower case & replace spaces with dashes.
It’s as easy as that!

6. Bonus – Add Authorship

Add your name, the author’s name or company’s name in the “Author” field. See what I did in the screen shot with my Google+ profile link? Let’s see what happens!

PDF Experiments

I’m going to run a couple of experiments & see if I can get some ugly PDF documents optimised from some random sites with decent domain metrics. Some of these sites have used Adobe InDesign to create the PDFs & the file name is often used by default in the “Titl.e” field. Here’s the new file from the example earlier: IKEA Kitchen Planning Guide

Random .GOV.AU Sites

Random .GOV.AU Sites - Google SERPs
Optimised files:

ANZ Visa Card

ANZ Visa Card - Google SERPs

Optimised file: ANZ Balance Visa – PDF

NAB Superannuation

NAB Superannuation - Google SERPs

Optimised file: NAB – Super Opportunities for Business Owners – PDF

Westpac Super

Westpac Super - Google SERPs

Optimised file: Westpac DIY Super – PDF

In a week or two I will write a follow-up post featuring some screen shots of the SERPs with the newly optimised PDFs. Stay tuned & happy PDF’ing!

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