Last year, Google revealed the top three factors that influence organic search rankings. Content and links pointing to a site were the top two, with Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system, RankBrain, the third most important factor.
Most often, the discussion centers around creating high-quality content that engages your target audience and making sure it’s widely promoted to secure those coveted backlinks. It’s true, exclusive, authoritative, strategic and original content is absolutely essential to break through the clutter of mediocre content today, increase sharing among your audience and improve your search rank.
We also now know that Google can index PDFs, the typical format for posting content online. As long as PDFs aren’t password protected, gated or encrypted, Google can find and index them.
There are, however, further steps you can take to help boost your content’s visibility in organic searches. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. While you’re making plans to develop high-quality content, you should also be thinking about optimizing your PDF content so more eyes see it — and share it.
1. Conduct Keyword Research. Even before you begin creating your content, conduct keyword research and determine what keywords or long-tail keyword phrases you want to optimize for. Choose just a few and use them sparingly — only every 500 words or so in your content.
2. Use Top Keyword in PDF File Name. It might be tempting to post the PDF with the file name as it was sent to you. But that file name might be based on internal nomenclature or completely off topic (e.g. Project X_final.pdf) Add your top keyword/keyword phrase as close to the beginning of the file name, capitalize each word and separate words with hyphens.
3. Optimize PDF Title and Subject. Fill in the document properties of your PDF using one or two of your keywords/phrases. Having an optimized title and subject can raise the rank of a PDF is searches. You can also add numerous keywords in document properties, though this is believed to be of low value due to keyword stuffing practices in the past.
4. Use Alt Tags to SEO Images. Search engines can’t index images, so they need some extra help to be visible in searches. Use keywords (if a natural fit) in alternative text tags (alt tags) to improve the chances of visibility in a search. Alt tags are typically 10 to 15 words in length.
5. Include Headings Tags. Heading tags draw attention to the sections of your content, much like chapters of a book. The H1 heading is the title of your content, with each subsequent section of your content following with H2, H3 and so forth. Include applicable keywords in the heading tags as well as the subheads for the various sections.
6. Use Links to Convey Importance. Sometimes, Google needs to be nudged to index your content. Adding contextual links to the PDF content in other areas of written content on your website that has already been indexed (where it would be a natural fit) tells Google your PDF is important. Another way to get Google’s attention is to include outbound links within your PDF to relevant areas of content on your website.
7. Link to Credible 3rd Sources. Outside sources lend credibility to content with your target audience—and they catch the attention of search engines. Include links to 3rd party sources in the body of your PDF content where they are referenced (minimally) or if you have many sources, hyperlink them in the footnotes.
If done well, content will resonate with your audience, turn prospects into customers and keep them coming back again and again. But first, it needs to be seen. By making SEO an integral part of content development, you can improve your ranking in searches and get more eyes on your content.