Are PDF Files Indexed by Google?

Yes. PDF files are indexed by Google and other search engines.

Following up on a question from a reader (Optimize PDF Files For Websites and Search Engines), as I note there, one way to see if a PDF on your website has been indexed by Google is to copy a long line of text from the PDF, and then put it into the Google search box — with double quotes on either end. You can do this to find any particular document or page available on the Web — as long as it has been indexed (scanned or “spidered” and catalogued) by Google.

For example, if you Google “Enter an estimate of your 2008 nonwage income (such as dividends or interest)” with the double quotes on either end, Google offers you a link to a PDF of IRS Form W-4 for 2008. This shows that the 2008 W-4 PDF document has been indexed. (Incidentally, Google also offers you a link to the page you are reading right now since it contains the same string of text.)

Another way to see if a PDF has been indexed by Google is to use the “site:url” query modifier. This is a handy trick when you want to narrow your search to one domain. If I Google [] – without the brackets, Google lists every page in my site that has been indexed. If I Google [ web] – without the brackets, Google lists every page in my site that contains the word “web”. And, as a helpful reader points out below, you can Google [ filetype:pdf] – without the brackets, to see if there are any PDF files on the website that have been indexed by Google. (Be sure not to put a space between “filetype:” and “pdf”.)

I don’t have any PDFs on my site. Try it with another domain to see an actual positive result. To see if a particular PDF on my website has been indexed, I can Google [ “some word or phrase in the PDF”] – without the brackets. Of course, you can also Google [ myfilename.pdf] to do the same.

Returning to the Form W-4 example, Google [ “Enter an estimate of your 2008 nonwage income (such as dividends or interest)”] and Google lists one and only one result: the PDF on the IRS website.

Something fairly amazing: Google knows every phrase in that PDF and in any other document or web page it has indexed. That’s a lot of information.

The other question in the post mentioned above was whether a PDF would be indexed if it were encrypted or had other security settings applied to it. If you have Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional, you can answer this question yourself.

Open a PDF and then open the Document Properties dialog box (File > Properties…). Click on the Security tab, and you see the various security options. There are different security options depending on which version of Acrobat Reader you want your PDF to be compatible with. The dialog box tells you if search engines will be able to read all or only some parts of the PDF (e.g. metatags or attachments) when you select the various options. If the PDF can’t be read by search engines, it won’t be indexed.

For those interested, here is more information about Google query modifiers like “site:url”.

Click here » if you would like to find out about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services offered by McBuzz.

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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

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.

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