7 Tips for Optimizing PDFs on Your Website for Searches

February 15, 2023
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SEO for blog posts involves several on- and off-page techniques. Besides incorporating keywords into the text, using headers and images, and linking the post to relevant ones offline, SEO professionals also have to ensure that even things like videos, content pages, and even PDFs perform their best in SERPs. 

PDF, which stands for “portable document format,” is a file type people use to share, save and print information that cannot be easily modified. It is the file type people use to share something that must be reproduced or printed to exact specifications. Google crawls, indexes, and ranks PDFs differently from other web content. Here are some things to remember about keeping PDFs SEO-friendly.

Use Fonts that Readers Support

PDF readers support Times New Roman, Courier, Helvetica, Symbol, Zapf Dingbats, and a few other standard fonts. Other types would need embedding, which increases the file size. If you do not choose to embed fonts, Adobe Acrobat will use one of its standard fonts in its place, but why will you choose to upload a file in PDF if you won’t be particular about the format? Use a standard font from the start, so your document looks like how you want it.

Incorporate Keywords in the File Name

Treat PDF file names like URLs or H1s—make it keyword-relevant. Also, using shorter names is better; ideally, your file name should be between 50 to 60 characters. As much as possible, avoid hashes, punctuation, and stop words like “or” and “the.”

If your file name has separate words, use a hyphen or underscore to indicate spaces, and use lower case for the name. For example, a file titled “Best Practices in Search Engine Optimization” should have a filename like “seo-best-practices.pdf” or something similar.

Optimize the Body Copy

Today, you can format your PDF so that search engines will read the text. So, your PDFs should also follow best practices in writing for the web. For example, you should use short paragraphs of three to four sentences. Having short paragraphs helps drive your point across and encourages people to keep reading. 

Using bulleted or numbered lists also help, especially when you’re enumerating steps. Finally, using subheadings will signal to readers when you are starting a new idea. If you are using H1 tags on PDFs, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Google considers H1 tags as headlines, so there should be only one per page.
  2. The best way to write an H1 is to begin with the primary keyword you are targeting. 
  3. If it is impossible to configure the sentence to start with the keyword, see how you can incorporate it into the text.
  4. Use H2, H3, and onwards to break your paragraphs into sections.

Write Alt Text For Images

The alt text appears in the place of images in case they do not load. This page element helps screen-reading tools enable better web experiences for the visually impaired, and they enable search engines to crawl and rank your website better. You can format your PDF to include alt text. Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Open Adobe Acrobat and select the Tools menu.
  2. Select Action Wizard, and then, Make Accessible.
  3. Click the option “Set Alternative Text.”

These steps should allow you to write alt text. Keep in mind that alt text needs to be short, descriptive, and keyword-rich. Though you do not need to include five keywords in each line of text, it is good to try and fit in at least one per alt text.

Write a Meta Description for Your PDF

Meta descriptions are text that provides more information on a search result. You can have meta descriptions for your PDF. The Properties section of Adobe Acrobat enables you to add one. Generally speaking, a meta description should have anywhere from one to three sentences and be no longer than 170 characters. The best meta descriptions start with action words like get, find, shop, browse, compare, research, and the like. Since they appear in search engine results pages, under the URL and title tag, they have to entice readers to click. Also, include primary and secondary keywords if it is possible.

Incorporate Internal Links

Your PDFs need to be part of the overall information structure of your website. Don’t make them exist in a vacuum—they should link to other content on your site. 

The anchor text you choose for your PDF links, just like those on your blog, needs to be relevant to both the linked content and your content strategy. If you intend for people to download your PDF, include the link URL so that people can visit the website later.

Follow Best Practices for Mobile-Friendliness

Many people consume content on mobile devices these days. As such, you must optimize your PDF for people browsing on tablets or smartphones. It is especially important if you are using the PDF as a lead magnet since you expect people to engage with it. You can ensure mobile friendliness when you follow these guidelines:

  • Keep paragraphs short – use only three to four sentences for each one.
  • Use bold text and bullet points – these elements make it easier to skim your document.
  • Align your content with the left margin – doing this allows users to read your document without needing to scroll horizontally.
  • Be mindful about how you use images – though pictures help make your text easier to digest, they make your files larger. When incorporating images, be selective.


Google indexes PDFs because it recognizes that they can be good sources of information. So, it’s vital to optimize them the way you would a blog post or a web page. The tips here will help you create PDFs that search engines will consider highly relevant. When it does this, your content will be more likely to reach its target audience.

Ensure that your content reaches your target audience and sign up with Ranked. We are an SEO platform and service helping enterprises and agencies build a digital presence in the long term. Book a call with the team to learn more, or start your free trial today!