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I have a site with PDFs and Word documents that I know have been indexed by Google because they appear in search results with filetype:pdf (or doc), and if I search for some very specific terms with quotation marks, they appear as well. But they don't appear for general search terms that do exist in the documents.

Is Google a reliable document search engine? If not, are there other options for managing many documents and making them searchable to users?

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Don't appear? Or don't rank well? There's a big difference between the two. – John Conde Nov 14 '10 at 17:51
They don't appear! They appear if the search query includes filetype:pdf, so they're indexed, but if I do a search for the same term without that qualifier, they just don't appear. – Miriam Schwab Nov 16 '10 at 4:37
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Google indexes certain documents like PDFs and Word files perfectly fine. But it places a much larger weight on regular web pages. This is mainly to avoid "breaking the web" by forcing the user into a different program (Adobe Reader etc). Cross-platform compatibility is an issue too.

The best way to get your documents ranking higher in search engines is to convert them to web pages. You could convert them to static, isolated web pages (there are surely many converter apps around), although integrating them into your site design would be much more effective. You can then include appropriate titles and headings, which aid in ranking, as well as cross-linking documents.

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Thanks so much for that answer! I had a feeling that the problem might be something like that. Your suggestion gave me an idea which could circumvent the issue, which is to put every PDF online as HTML, with a link to download the PDF. – Miriam Schwab Nov 16 '10 at 4:36

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