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SEO Tutorial - Adobe Acrobat PDF for SEO

Question: My company requires me to use Adobe PDF, especially for our news and new product announcements, but I have heard that Adobe PDF is not "Search Engine Friendly." Is this true?
    - Sierra, Dallas, TX
        27 October 2009
- Answer -
By Jason McDonald, Ph.D.

Adobe Acrobat PDF: Definition

Adobe Acrobat, as you probably know, is a ubiquitous program for maintaining the look and feel of a document (usually created in Microsoft Word), and then publishing it to the Web. Adobe bills Acrobat as an easy way to publish online and share documents, which it is.

Unfortunately, few people at Adobe are familiar with SEO, and search engine optimization isn't the primary reason why people use Adobe PDF in the first place. So, not surprisingly, few thoughts are given to Adobe PDF and showing up on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Indeed, if at all possible, our primary recommendation is not to use Adobe PDF at all, if your goal is to use your news or new product announcement to show up on Google. Why? HTML, not Adobe PDF, is the language of Google, even if the search engine giant does a pretty good job of indexing PDF documents.

In addition to the official software at Adobe (called Acrobat Distiller which is distinct from Acrobat reader, which is free), there are numerous software packages on the web that will allow you to create Adobe PDF formats at the click of the button. But SEO guru beware! That initial click is far from SEO optimized!

SEO Friendly File Names

Your first step, as is true with all SEO, is to create Google-friendly file names. This seems simple enough...

  1. Identify your target keyword / keyphrase.
  2. Name a directory, if possible, with the keyword / keyphrase and or the file name itself
  3. Save this file, and upload to your website
  4. Link to this file

If, for example, you are targeting "marriage counseling in San Jose," and you are publishing a news release on your latest services (perhaps involving hypnotherapy or guided imagery for couples, for example), then name your PDF document something like http://www.yourwebsite.com/marriage-counseling/new-hypnotherapy.pdf - which would optimize you for the keywords marriage, counseling and hypnotherapy

Setting Document Properties for SEO

Here's where it gets a bit hidden, but not really very difficult. Both Microsoft Word and Adobe Distiller allow you to set the document properties - the name, title, keywords, etc., - the "META" information about the document. Guess what? When Google indexes a PDF document for SEO (search engine optimization) - these properties translate into the dominant HTML tags. So as you create your PDF document, be sure to set the document properties correctly...

You get to this from Adobe PDF maker via File, --> Properties, --> Description. Here is a screen shot of the popup -

Adobe PDF Properties for SEO

As indicated in the screenshot, use the TITLE as your TITLE, AUTHOR as your AUTHOR, SUBJECT = Repeat your title. Curiously, the KEYWORDS is not equivalent to the META KEYWORDS field in HTML but rather to the META DESCRIPTION field. If you fill out these fields in keyword-heavy language, you have a good shot at getting indexed correctly by Google.

Don't believe me? Here is a page that came up on a Google search for "Reverse Mortgage" - remember that the Google SERP page uses the <TITLE> tag as the headline in the serp results:

Adobe PDF Properties Example for Search Engine Marketing

And here are the document properties in Adobe. You can see them for any document on the web, by loading the document in your browser, and right clicking, and selecting "document properties."

PDF Example for Google SEO

HTML Landing Pages and Adobe PDF for Search Engine Optimization

After you have named your document with a keyword-friendly directory and/or file name, and used Adobe Document Properties to set your TITLE and DESCRIPTION so that they are search engine friendly, one other major thing you can do to make Adobe PDF search engine friendly, is to create a landing page in HTML for each Adobe document.

Assume, for example, that you have a company news page, and you want to produce your news in Adobe PDF format for corporate consistency reasons. What you should do is:

  1. Create a news / news release page on your website, with small summaries and links to each news release.

  2. Create an HTML landing page for each release in the format of:
    • <Title> tag - optimized with your target keyword
    • <META DESCRIPTION> tag - optimized with a snappy Google-friendly and keyword-rich description
    • Keyword-dense and page tag dense HTML, about your news
    • Link to the PDF news, using the <A HREF> tag appropriately to embed the title of the news release (which should be keyword heavy).

  3. In that way, you have your cake and eat it too: a keyword-rich HTML landing page that is very attractive to Google, and an Adobe PDF document that is ready for your human readers and consistent to the eye.
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