Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner

Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner

Are PDFs really bad for SEO?



Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


Are PDFs really bad for SEO?: Using unethical and antiquated SEO techniques is referred to as "poor for SEO." Indeed, PDFs have not reached this point. It is one of the most popular document extensions on the web.


So let's rephrase the question and ask:


Is creating PDFs hurting your search engine optimization efforts?


As well as…


Are you more likely to hurt your SEO efforts by publishing a PDF instead of putting content on a normal web page?


This is today's focus. We will learn about what makes PDFs bad for SEO and the best ways to optimize them.


But first, here's a summary of the PDFs:


What are PDF files?


The term PDF stands for "Portable Document Format".


Adobe Systems invented this format in the early 1990s and released version 1.0 of Adobe Acrobat in June 1993.


Leonard Rosenthol, the architect of the format, was looking for a way to exchange information between systems, users, and machines in such a way that the file looked the same everywhere.


Early in the 1990s, compatibility and rendering problems plagued computer users. Printing documents that needed to be reproduced without any deviations, such as tax forms, was a pain.


Over the next decade, PDFs grew in popularity because they retained the same formatting when viewed on different devices or programs. Shared documents can be printed with a high level of consistency.


Even today, if you are trying to print a document, you always have the option to print it as a PDF.


Fast forward to the age of search engines and PDFs are still relevant.


Google uses a unique tag to distinguish results that contain PDFs.



Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


You can get an extended result snippet with the information contained in the PDF to answer your query.


Many of the advantages that made PDFs popular, such as limited formatting, work against the document format these days.


Does Google scan PDFs?


Yes, PDFs are indexed by search engines like Google and Bing.


In 2001, Google began indexing PDF files, and today it has millions of them in its database.


When Google crawls the web, it converts PDFs and other similar documents into HTML versions. John Mueller confirmed this in a tweet back in August 2018:


FWIW, we also convert PDFs and other similar types of documents to HTML for indexing, so in theory, there won't be much of a difference.


Many people have also wondered:


Does Google have the ability to scan scanned documents or image-based PDFs?

Yes, Google uses its Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to recognize and convert text from non-searchable PDFs.


In some cases, Google is unable to crawl a PDF file. For example, if it is password protected or encrypted.


You can also exclude URLs containing a PDF file from indexing (more on this later).


Are PDFs bad for SEO?


Many reasons have been given why PDFs are bad for SEO. Let's touch on them briefly:


1).PDF files have second priority over regular pages

Here is the top reason marketers oppose PDFs:


The top ten search results for "Effective SEO Guide" lead to web pages.


Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


No understanding of PDF.


Wait, I noticed a few...


Two PDF results are ranked 33 and 34. And the PDFs are more detailed than many of the pages that rank them higher.


Only after changing the search phrase to “Effective Guide to SEO File Type: PDF” do PDF results appear on the first page.


Because PDFs are often more detailed, some users may add PDFs to their queries to get more results with PDFs.


2). PDF files are not suitable for mobile devices

If you've had the unfortunate opportunity to interact with a PDF file on a mobile screen, you may have had to tilt the screen to landscape mode or constantly zoom in and out.


3). PDF files are not easy to format or update

After creating a PDF file, you may need to access the original document to make changes.


While you can try to export PDFs to a text document, the results won't always be perfect and some of the formattings may be lost.


Compared to refreshing a regular page, there are more steps here, such as loading.


4). Users can't easily navigate to other pages on the site

When someone visits your website, they can easily navigate to your prices or blog pages. In this way, you can even increase the conversion.


Users often view a PDF file with a PDF viewer in the browser. Some people will use standalone programs.


In both cases, additional steps will be required to return to your website.


5). Large PDFs can waste your crawl budget

Google allocates a crawl budget for each website. It determines the possible number of web pages that Google can crawl during a given period.


It is believed that because some PDFs can be large files, they may consume more of the scan budget, which affects how other pages are scanned.


6). PDFs are not reviewed often

Google understands that PDFs are not frequently updated. Thus, they do not scan files as often as HTML pages.


7). PDF files don't support structured data

You can't mark up a page with structured data to help search engines understand things like recipes.


8). PDFs have a limited number of link types

Also, you don't have access to nofollow links or sponsored links.


9). PDF images may not appear immediately in image search results

Images contained in PDF files may not immediately appear in image search results unless they are separately uploaded to an HTML page.


For example, ResearchGate uses this approach:



Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


The figure appears in the image results, but here it is added separately.



Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner

10). PDF makes it harder to track engagement metrics

Tracking engagement metrics for PDFs is much more difficult than for HTML pages. Metrics are often useful when performing SEO optimization.


For example, you don't have access to heat maps to check how users interact with documents. You may not know if they have read to the end of the page.


11). The PDF files can lead to duplicate content

Some blogs generate PDF versions of their posts without proper URL canonicalization.


While Google makes it clear that it does not penalize sites for duplication, it can cause other issues such as backlink blurring.


12). It's harder to mark up a PDF correctly

Many PDF creations or export tools do not provide the ability to define other document properties such as title, metadata, or keywords.


[insert page='schedule-banner' display='Schedule-banner']


How to make PDF SEO friendly?


Despite the seemingly many problems with PDF files, it is impossible to completely abandon them. The alternative is to make them more search engine friendly with the following tips:


1). Create quality content

The advice here is pretty simple and routine.


Your PDF should contain high-quality content that is unique and of great value to readers.


As long as you create great content, Google will index your PDFs and you may have a chance to appear in the SERPs.


2). Convert inefficient PDFs to normal HTML pages

Converting an already existing PDF file into an HTML page certainly has many benefits.


How do you decide which PDFs to convert to standard HTML pages, though?


After the transition, it is very important to use a 301 redirect to show the search engine that it should gradually pay more attention to the new URL.


For the newly converted HTML page to perform well, you must consider all optimization best practices, such as making sure the page is optimized for search purposes.


3). Prioritize HTML Pages Through Canonicalization

Many blogs can create PDF versions of their content.


Now, when Google detects PDF and HTML pages, it considers these two pages to be duplicates.


The scanner will select one page as the canonical version. It will be scanned more often. Sometimes this can give both pages equal weight.


Thus, if there are any instances of duplicate content, it's best to favor an HTML page as it can perform better.


There are various ways to specify a canonical page, including:


  • Adding a rel=canonical tag (only works for HTML pages)

  • Sending rel=canonical HTTP header (suitable for PDF files)

  • Using sitemaps

Dive deeper: check out the recommended ways to merge duplicate URLs.


4). Create a landing page for PDFs

It is not always possible to convert an existing PDF file into an HTML page. Sometimes the file can be too long or contain a lot of visual content.


In this case, consider creating a landing page. You can even use it to sign up for email newsletters.


Similarly, you can post a blog post summary with a link to a longer PDF version.


5). Change the title and metadata attributes

You don't need a paid tool like Adobe Acrobat to change PDF properties. Some online tools provide this feature for free.


  • Go to https://www.sejda.com/edit-pdf-metadata

  • Download your PDF document

  • Make changes to document properties such as Author, Title, and Subject


Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


Similarly, don't forget the filename...


….make it descriptive.


The URL structure must be readable:


Wrong: https://example.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/SAYS.pdf.


Correct: https://example.com/how-to-make-friends.pdf


6). Make sure your titles are formatted correctly and add alt text to your images

Before converting documents to PDF, take the time to label all headings from H1 to H6 as you see fit.


You can also add alternative descriptions to images used in PDF.


First of all, it improves PDF accessibility for visually impaired users. This is because the screen reader announces alternative text for each image.


Search engines may also rely on the alternative description to understand visual content.


7). Link to and from a PDF Document

You can include internal links and external links in a PDF document. Google can follow links and pass SEO juice to related pages.


If you have a PDF with lots of links, don't miss this easy opportunity to improve other pages.


8). Use a Searchable Text PDF

Make sure you have created a text PDF file. If you can copy and paste text, then Google can do it without relying on its OCR algorithms.


9). Use formatting that makes PDFs easy to read on mobile devices

Try taking the extra step of creating mobile-friendly PDFs.


As online publishers, we mistakenly assume that everyone will use desktop devices to access content just because we used a computer to publish it.


10). Start tracking PDF performance metrics

You should carefully monitor the performance of your PDFs and use the data to make the best decisions for your content strategy. Learn how to implement event measurement in Google Analytics.


How to prevent Google from indexing a PDF?


There are times when you want to make a PDF inaccessible to crawlers. At the same time, you may not want to encrypt or password-protect it so that everyone can easily access it.


You can prevent Google from indexing a PDF by adding the X-Robots-Tag as an element to the HTTP header that serves the PDF.



Are PDFs really bad for SEO? - Helpforbeginner


Bottom line


PDFs are very current and many websites still publish them. The main reason is that they offer a way to share long content in a book or report format.


Users can download PDF files and read them at their own pace without revisiting the website.


While this is all good news, use HTML pages instead of PDFs whenever possible. And if you need to use PDFs to share certain content, follow all the recommended PDF optimization techniques.



Do you have questions about how to find your ideal niche? Let us know in the comments below!


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