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The website I am working on has a few hundred PDFs in it. I don't think I have ever seen any of them come back in a search but there are linked to directly from out site. They are also full of keywords because they are product documents.

Is there anything special we need to do to get Google or other search engines to crawl them?

Is there any hard and fast rules for making PDFs to help Google like them more? For instance should I run them through ghostscript to clean up broken PDF tags that Adobe creates during generation?

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Add to your xml sitemap to make sure they're aware of them? –  artlung Jul 21 '10 at 23:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Google definitely indexes PDF files and you can search just for PDF files by adding filetype:pdf to your search query (example).

I would say the main things to do to optimise a PDF so it's easily indexed would be:

  • Give it a meaningful filename
  • Complete all the document metadata properties (title, author, keywords etc)
  • Make sure your PDF is comprised of actual text and not scanned images
  • Ensure you have good content with correct use of headings, just as you would an HTML document

For more tips read Optimizing PDF Documents and Eleven Tips For Optimizing PDFs For Search Engines

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the link labs.justsearching.co.uk/optimizing-pdf-documents-621.html no longer works –  Christofian Jun 23 '12 at 14:40
    
@Christofian Thanks - I've updated the link. I'll leave it to the reader to appreciate the irony of an SEO company renaming their links without having any 301 redirects! –  Dan Diplo Jun 24 '12 at 11:05
    
@DanDiplo in regards to SEO of PDF files I would suggest adding a link into the content when applicable. –  Anagio Jun 24 '12 at 13:03

I'm not sure about other search engines, but as far as Google is concerned the main rule would be to not exclude them via robots.txt

This was their initial announcement of supporting PDF search.

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Just like making a website compliant can't hurt with your SEO, making your PDF accessible can't hurt. The Adobe built-in accessibility checker is far from perfect, but at least fixing those areas will get you started.

I probably spend 5 minutes on each 4 or 5, mostly text PDFs we put online. The time goes up evenly depending on the number of pages, and how complex those pages are.

Assuming you have Adobe Acrobat Pro to do your editing:

  • Run an Accessibility Full Check. (Quick check is pretty pointless to me)
  • Update the meta information in the document properties (keywords, subject, language, etc)
  • Make sure tags are added
  • Make sure the text is tagged as text, images as images, background stuff as background
  • Tag useless fluff (like decoration or design) as background
  • Add good alt text to the images
  • Make sure in the reading order, the text is ordered properly
  • In the content toolbar, make sure the text isn't duplicated or grossly mistranslated
  • Use the OCR scanner on scanned pages

For more advanced editing like tables and really oddball Adobe errors, we use a plugin called CommonLook. CommonLook gets the job done, but I hate it almost as much as I hate the Adobe tools.

Get familiar with the Touch Up Reading Order tool, the Tags toolbar, the Reading Order toolbar and the Content toolbar. My job requires fully compliant documents before going out on the web, but anybody could benefit from some simple tagging and document properties.

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Our site had over 5,000 PDFs that we had to go back and bring up to full 508 compliance. It took a while to learn, the Adobe suggested trainer wasn't any help, but once you learn it you can really zip them out. –  MrChrister Jul 23 '10 at 18:31

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