Optimize PDF Files For Websites and Search Engines

Search engine optimization is a cornerstone of web marketing. Just as strides have been made in PDF accessibility for people with disabilities, improvements in Adobe Acrobat Professional and other PDF programs make it easier to optimize PDF files for websites and search engines.

Search engines read and catalog PDF files just like they do standard web pages. Many businesses create a lot of content as PDF files, and they don’t necessarily have time to convert these into HTML for inclusion on a website. Optimizing PDF files for websites (i.e., search engines) is a good compromise and well worth the trouble.

Using Adobe Acrobat Professional, PDF documents can be optimized with many of the same techniques used to optimize web pages.

For details, check out Eleven Tips For Optimizing PDFs For Search Engines on SearchEngineLand.com.

Not all of these tips make sense to someone with limited or no web marketing / development experience. If you have questions, just give me a shout using the Comments and I will answer them ASAP.

It’s worth noting that some of the most highly ranked web pages you find when you search using keywords like “optimizing pdf files for search engines” are more than two years old and they deal only with optimizing PDF file size.

Where PDFs are concerned, file size has almost nothing to do with search engine optimization. PDF files that have a high number of pages may be less likely to be completely scanned by search engine spiders* because they may have trouble getting through all the pages. So, it’s a good idea to break large PDFs into sections with fewer pages. But reducing PDF file size by compressing images in the file, which is basically what these articles are talking about, is not going to help optimize the PDF for search engines at all.

*A “spider” is web page reading software used by Google and others that “crawls” the World Wide Web, collecting and cataloging information so it can be used to rank a web page’s relevance for a given search.

Comments: 6


A question. If I use all available security measures in a pdf, will the pdf file be encrypted and therefore impossible for the search engine spiders to read?

Good question. If you need to make a decision right away based on the answer, it is best to assume that the answer is yes. I am going to check it out to make sure this is true, so please check back.

Here is an update: as one would expect, if security settings on a PDF document are such that it cannot be opened without a password, then search engine spiders will not be able to read or index the document.

The question is what security settings, if any — other than none — will allow spiders to read a PDF document online. I sent an email to a colleague at Adobe about this. I don’t see anything on their website about it. Will keep you posted.

I publish a newsletter and post it on my site in pdf format. I use WordPerfect (version 12) to write it and it converts it to pdf for sending to my printing and my website. You write and say the document must be in a text and not a total graphic format to be seen by the search engines. Do you know if the conversion made by WordPerfect is true text pdf or is it a total graphic, hence not able to be indexed by the siders. Thank you.

The easiest way to see if a PDF has been indexed by Google (that I know of) is to open the PDF, copy a long part of any sentence — 5 or 6 words should do — paste this into the Google search box with double quotes on either end and click Google Search. If the PDF is indexed, Google will show you a link to it in the results page.

You can try this with any text to see if it’s on the Web somewhere. The more specific to a given document or web page, the more likely Google will find that and that only.

Using the double quotes is important. For example, Google search “web marketing resource for small and medium-sized businesses” without the quotes and you find 200,000 results, mcbuzz.com being one of them. But add the quotes and Google will show you one result.

Here is a follow-up to this discussion: Are PDF Files Indexed by Google?

Maysam Mohseni

Jun 17, 2009

1:38 PM

I have a off-subject question about how to make the large PDF files(50MB) web friendly- meaning that they would load faster. Can you please touch on this.

Also Is there a way to have thumbnails of the pages in the file loaded first and when the user wants to view a specific page then the whole page gets downloaded?


Reducing the file size of PDFs is easy in Acrobat 8 and later. Go to Document > Reduce File Size… I’m sure that most non-Adobe PDF applications have a similar feature, but I have not tried any.

As for downloading thumbnails, I have not heard of this. You could direct this question to Adobe by calling their sales department or sending them an email.

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