Don’t want your content found? Use a PDF

“The best place to hide a dead body is on page two of a Google search” Remember that one? Well, there seems to be another way of making your content disappear from the world – use a PDF.

That is a takeaway from an interesting article in Washington Post, highlighting the problem that e.g The World Bank publishes a lot of reports that nobody reads. Is the reason that the content isn’t interesting? Not at all, to the right target audience it is probably fascinating.

a pdfThe problem lies in the format, PDFs don’t rank well compared to other formats, making them difficult to find.

This post from Search Engine Land looks at the pros and cons of PDFs for SEO and another post offers some good pointers on how to tweak PDFs for SEO. To sum it up, even though there are valid reasons for using PDFs is should not be the only way that you present content. Make sure that the content exists in an HTML format as well.

A PDF can play a valuable role on your website, offering an option for the visitor to download and engage with a white paper, a presentation or similar. But it should always be used as an option, not as the only kind of content there is. If you have a lot of PDFs sitting on your website, I would suggest creating HTML pages that either summarizes the content or provides an introduction to the topic. Through using the correct keywords this page will be easier for search engines to index. making it easier to be found via search.

So why do we insist on creating PDFs, even though we know it’s far from ideal from an SEO perspective? Probably because it’s deceptively easy to do so, and it’s a format that’s easy for users to access. But if the price we’re paying is that our content doesn’t rank and as a result of that doesn’t get used, we’re paying too high a price. Like the Washington Post article asks “What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?” And even if our content isn’t as grand as that, we are still creating it to be used, and then we need to make sure it can be found.

This post started out as a discussion on my LinkedIn newsfeed, so thanks to all of you that contributed to that.

What’s your take, are PDFs the right way to go or do we need other options?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn in May, 2014

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