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What is the proper way to deal with a situation where a company (acme.com) is selling and implementing certain kinds of gadgets?

Each product has its own dedicated HTML product page, with only general information about the product. It also hosts data-sheets and vendor provided PDF documentation about the products linked from the product HTML pages. All together this is a setup that seems to be useful for real users.

Since these PDFs are mostly provided by the manufacturers, they appear in other places over the web, including rival websites. Many of these PDFs are detected as duplicate content by Google and the "Google-selected canonical" is the same PDF on someone else's website!

Question 1: Does this mean that link-juice is leaked to those other random websites, even though acme.com is linking to the PDFs under it's own domain?

Question 2: If answer to Q1 is yes, is adding rel="nofollow" to those links pointing to the PDFs be recommended?

To make things more complicated when I check the Links section in Google Search Console, I can see that apparently acme.com have loads of External links, but when I take a closer look, many of those are pointing to identical copies of these PDFs mostly on another site. In other words Google makes it look like we have incoming external links, whereas in reality other websites has links to these duplicate PDFs on their own domain.

Question 3: Is it a bug in Google Search Console that it shows links to PDFs on other websites as incoming external links to acme.com?

Also when I look further I can find some of these PDFs, where the Google Selected Canonical seems to be the one on acme.com.

Question 4: Does that mean that with those PDFs acme.com is stealing link juice from other sites, even when they link to their own hosted version of the same PDFs?

Question 5: If Q4 is yes, does that mean acme.com should examine the PDFs one-by-one and add rel="nofollow" (or prevent indexing in any other way according to Q2) to those links where the canonical is on another domain, but keep normal links to those PDFs, where acme.com has the canonical versions?

PS: I've tried to search for this topic for many days without finding even a mention of this kind of a situation. The closest I've found is this searchengineland.com article, but it is about only a slightly similar topic and it does not offer any solutions to the problem.

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    Is acme the storefront or the manufacturer in your examples? I think it is the storefront, but it isn't entirely clear to me. Sep 5 '21 at 17:39
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    Are there any links in these PDF files? Sep 5 '21 at 17:40
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    Ive rewritten much of the first part of the post to remove parts irrelevant to the question, make it less likely to be closed as opinion based etc. Please check I have not cut out any relevant facts or changed its meaning.
    – davidgo
    Sep 5 '21 at 20:01
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    acme.com is the storefront operator. The PDFs are from a variety of vendors. The PDF files may or may not contain links. But all PDFs are from the vendors, so those links are of no concern.
    – sbnc.eu
    Sep 5 '21 at 20:17
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    Sounds reasonable, but the manufacturers tend to move around these files a lot, so maintenance would ba a nightmare, also they tend to remove sheets of older models, which may circulate in retail for good few more years, but they want their visitors to focus on their newest products. I'm not concerned really about linking to the manufacturer affecting our SEO, however if Google thinks we are linking to concurrent websites, that is an issue!
    – sbnc.eu
    Sep 6 '21 at 8:56
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Google usually tries to index the authoritative, original source for such content. Ideally Google would index the copy of these PDFs on the manufacturer website. Manufacturers that are removing sheets or moving them around is the factor than is causing them to get indexed on other websites.

Even when these documents are indexed on your site, I wouldn't expect them to help the rest of your site in any way. You say the PDFs don't have links back to your site, so any links to them are not contributing to the SEO of your site on the whole. If anything, any links in the PDFs to the manufacture would be helping the manufacturer website, not the store web front.

To help your site the PDFs would either have to have:

  • The ability for you to make money directly from the PDF (like ads or "add to cart" functionality in the PDF.)
  • Links to the rest of your site (such as a header and navigation menu) that direct users and search engines to other pages on your site.

You might be able to squeeze some value out of these PDFs by modifying them to include revenue generating features or links. Otherwise, I would suggest using robots.txt to disallow search engines from crawling the PDFs altogether. That way there would be no way for other store fronts to extract value from your links to these PDFs on your own site.

Google doesn't treat PDF documents very differently from HTML documents. There is no SEO difference between copying full HTML pages from some other site vs hosting PDF documents from another site on your own.

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  • Thanks! What if I'd set up a rule on the webserver to redirect anyone not having a referrer of our site to the product HTML page? Also I could exclude google bots' IP ranges from this rule, so Google would show the PDFs in SERP, and anyone clicking on them would land on the website's HTML page, where they could get the PDF but may navigate somewhere else. Or is that considered unethical or shady to manipulate links like that? I'm not sure... If so I think you are right and the PDFs should be de-indexed. I'm just thinking about ways to maybe recover some clicks we got on some of those PDFs...
    – sbnc.eu
    Sep 6 '21 at 23:23
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    You have to be careful with redirecting googlebot. Google can consider that to be " sneaky redirects ." They've been known to penalize sites for things like that and other types of cloaking. Sep 6 '21 at 23:45

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