Does Using PDFs for Important Content on Your Website Harm Your SEO?

PDFs, or printed document files, are a valuable resource for sharing information. From photocopies of original documents to easily printable files to ebooks, the PDF format is one of the best ways to present many types of information.

Your business likely already uses PDFs to share information internally and with your customer base in the forms of technical documents, flyers, and more. This has led many companies to incorporate PDFs into their websites, often using a link that will send visitors directly to the PDF for download.  But many businesses also wonder if information shared via PDF on their website may be hurting their overall SEO.

Which PDFs Can Search Engines Index?

The truth is there are some instances where a PDF is the best way to provide information, and as long as you are using it correctly, it can still be valuable for SEO. Most search engines can index the majority of PDF files in the same way that they can crawl and index standard web pages. Google has been able to do so since 2011.

But let us clarify which PDF files can and cannot be indexed. Google can only index a PDF file if it can easily read the text. This means that the PDF needs to be a text-based document created in a visual editor, such as Photoshop, or a word processor, such as Word. 

A PDF that is developed from a scanned document, even if that document was originally printed, is not readable by search engines. This would be considered a PDF of an image. The only way to have this translate for search engines is to use alt text on the PDF as you would an image on your website.

This does not mean you should never use a PDF of a scanned image since they can be highly useful if you do want to share photographs or original documents. But if you want any of the text to be indexable on its own, you should recreate the original file as a new PDF.

To test whether or not your PDF file is crawlable, highlight the text and try to copy it. If you can paste it the same way you would text from a word processor, Google’s robots can understand it.

Are PDFs Good for Website SEO?

Another drawback to PDFs, even if they are indexable, is that they require your customers to go through one extra step. Instead of finding information directly on a product or service page, they have to click through another link. The idea of waiting for a download may also cause some customers to bounce.

PDFs also have limited compatibility with mobile. Unlike responsive websites which will now alter their layout to keep text readable on any screen, PDFs shrink to the size of the screen. This requires zooming and scrolling to read on a cell phone.

For these reasons, it is important to consider where the best placement for the information in your PDF is. If it is something the majority of customers or website visitors will want to see before taking the next step, consider incorporating it directly onto the webpage rather than in a link to PDF.

For some content, however, sharing via PDF is the best way to provide that content. Examples of valuable PDFs on your website include:

  • Ebooks – If your company has put out any type of ebook, you will almost always want this in PDF format. This makes it easy for customers to download and store offline or on an eReader to read at their convenience. PDF ebooks can also maintain formatting if you have images or diagrams.
  • Instruction Guides – PDFs are valuable if you provide instruction guides for your products since they can be easily printed and used alongside your product.
  • Technical Specification Documents – Many companies who specialize in more technical products will have extensive documents listing the specifications for each individual part. A PDF product catalog with your technical specifications enables your customers to compare products and the tables are usually easier to read in PDF format.
  • Fliers – For fliers or posters that you want visitors to display, a PDF version is simple to print and use as they like. 
  • Presentations – A PDF can be a visually appealing way to display text, diagrams, images, and infographics for a presentation. PDFs also work well for sharing presentations as attachments or printed pages, although you can always choose to include parts of your presentation on various web pages for additional content.

If you are using PDFs on your website and want to increase their relevance for SEO, consider embedding them in a page that summarizes and highlights some of the key points. This is especially useful if your PDF cannot be read by search engines, but offers value. 

For companies looking to modernize their business websites or boost their SEO, whether through web content or PDF content, Great Leap Studios can help. Our web design services and content marketing

are based around your goals to assist you in building a website and delivering valuable, evergreen content that appeals to search engines and your customers. Contact us today with your content needs to see how our services can assist you.