How to Optimize and Use PDFs as Online Content?

How to Optimize and Use PDFs as Online Content?

As you probably know, PDFs are a very popular document format – mostly due to the fact that they can be viewed on any platform while preserving the document layout and formatting. Because of this universal compatibility they are often used for distributing or printing documents.

optimize PDF documents as online content

The one area where PDFs have traditionally not been very popular is as online content on websites. Although most web browsers can view PDF documents, the misconception that search engines could not index PDF files meant that many people avoided them for quite some time.

That myth has been completely debunked now, and Google confirmed that they have been indexing and ranking PDF documents since 2001. Still, it is important to understand that PDFs are a very unique type of content and if you do decide to use them online you will need to optimize them in several ways. This is a friendly A-Z guide on PDF SEO and best practices.

Make Sure the File Size is Low

One of the main issues with publishing PDF documents as online content is that their file size can be very large – which is especially true for long documents that have lots of images. That is far from ideal for online content, as it means that it will take longer to be displayed, which in turn could result in readers clicking away rather than waiting for it to load.
Additionally search engines regard page speed as an important metric when ranking webpages, and a large PDF file that loads slowly is likely to suffer on that front too.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, you should try to keep the file size of any PDFs you intend to use as online content as low as you can. That can be done through several means:
  • Avoid creating PDFs that are too long

    Thousand page PDF documents rarely make for good online content, and you’re better off sticking to much lower page counts. Not only will shorter PDFs have a lower file size, but they’ll also retain more readers.
    If you do have a PDF document that is too long, you may want to consider breaking it up into several shorter PDF documents. Alternatively you could extract the important parts and publish them individually.
  • Only use images when necessary

    Don’t go overboard inserting images in PDF documents as each image can contribute significantly to its file size. Initially you should only insert images that are essential to the content, and later add others if the file size permits.
    The quality of the images that you add (for JPG especially) can make a large difference to the file size of your PDF documents.
  • Compress the PDF files

    When you export PDF files you will often find several options that you can use to compress or reduce the file size of your PDFs. It is worth taking advantage of these options, or using other PDF compression tools to reduce their file size.
    If you do compress PDF files (especially using other tools) you should check to make sure their formatting, layout and image quality is still satisfactory after you do.
If you can get your PDF files as low as 15MB or 25MB it should be fairly good. On the other hand if your PDF files start to approach 100MB or more then you’re likely to want to look carefully at them.

Optimize for Search Engines

Just like any form of online content, you will want your PDF documents to be optimized for search engines. Fortunately that is one area that PDFs are actually surprisingly good at, as they have a lot of components that you can treat similarly to normal HTML documents.
When you want to optimize a PDF document for search engines, you should focus on:
  • Descriptive file names

    The file name of your PDF documents should reflect its contents, and ideally contain the main keyword you’re targeting. Generally using the title and separating the words with dashes is the good option.
  • Title and description tag

    In every PDFs document properties there will be a title and description tag. Both tags will be used in the same way as their HTML counterparts and represent the text that appears in search results – and should contain keywords, particularly long-tail ones.
  • Other document properties

    Aside from the title and description there are several other document properties such as the author, keywords, and so on. While these may not have the same impact, it is worth filling them out regardless as they help contextualize your PDF document for search engines.
  • Alternate tags

    It is possible to add alternate text tags to images in your PDF documents, and you should take full advantage of that fact. Just like with webpages, search engines can’t ‘view’ images the same way that people do, so providing them with text that describes the image can help.
If properly optimized, your PDF documents will be able to rank well on search engines. Generally search engines will treat PDF documents in the same way as HTML documents, and so the other factors that influence SEO such as keywords and backlinks will work in much the same way.
In short if you optimize your PDF documents for search engines, you should start to see them get listed and rank just as well as the rest of your online content.

Link To and Link From

As you probably know, PDF documents support hyperlinks – and you should take advantage of that. In particular you can use the hyperlinks to overcome one of the weaknesses of using PDF documents as online content, which is the fact that they tend to be ‘isolated’ from the website they’re published on.
Unlike conventional HTML webpages nowadays that share the same common structure and are part of the Content Management System (CMS) in most cases – PDF documents do not share those elements. When visitors click on a link to a PDF file they are instead ‘downloading’ the PDF document and viewing it in their browser.
While you can’t completely overcome this due to the fact that it is simply how PDF documents work – links can help you to make it less of a disadvantage. In particular you should make it a point to:
  • Link to your PDF documents in your website

    Rather than treating your PDF document as a ‘download’ you should link to it the same way you’d like to any normal webpage. If you want you can add a ‘(PDF)’ excerpt of text to the title, to let readers know that they’re about to open and view a PDF document.
  • Link back to your website from your PDF document

    Within your PDF document, you should try to link back to your website. If you want you could place hyperlinks as part of the content that links back to relevant pages on your website, but more importantly you should link back to your ‘home’.
    One way to do that is to add a hyperlink in the header of every page of your PDF with the text ‘Back to home’ or ‘Back to website’. That way readers will be able to quickly go back to your website, and the PDF will feel a little less isolated from it.
Another reason to establish a network of links to and from your website and PDF documents is because they will appear more as part of its content to search engines as well. That can help your PDF documents to get indexed faster, and give search engines more information regarding their context too.


As you can see there are lots of areas that should be optimized if you want to use PDF documents as online content. Some of the areas are easy, but others can be a bit more difficult to handle.
PDF editor
If you intend to use PDF documents as online content regularly, you may want to try using a simple PDF editor such as Movavi PDF Editor. It is a basic PDF editor that will let you add, remove, and rearrange pages in PDF documents, while also adding and adjusting images and performing other alterations. In short it is a pretty handy tool that will let you tweak your PDF documents and prepare them for online use.
For the most part it is best to regard PDFs as a particular type of online content. It is by no means ideal to replace all your HTML webpages with PDF documents, but adding a few PDF documents as content can be good.
To be entirely honest, using PDF documents as online content works best when it is an article or document that readers may want to download and save later. In that specific situation, the fact that the content is in PDF format will benefit readers as it will make it more convenient for them.
Still, now that you are aware of what you need to do to optimize and use PDFs as online content – you should be able to publish it and make sure it caters to both search engines as well as readers.
Let me know if you have any queries related to this interesting guide on PDF SEO. :)

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