Don’t use PDFs as Web Pages

June 11th, 2011
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I routinely provide SEO audits as a part of my services and a common situation that I encounter is the use of PDF files as web pages. In general, using any non-web file such as .pdf, .doc, xls, etc. as primary content on a website is a bad idea. When people enter your site on these pages, they have no logical way to find information about related products and services (say they land on a page about blue widgets and need information on red widgets) or navigate to your Contact Page.

In addition, when unsuspecting searcher clicks into PDF content directly from a search result it creates several undesirable situations.

  1. Jolting – When someone clicks an unidentified link to a PDF, there is a jolting effect on the user. It can create that moment of ‘oh crud, did I just click on SPAM, or is this ad popping up or ??.
  2. Slow Load Times – If someone clicks into PDF content directly from a search result, they may experience extended download times and leave before reaching the
    content.
  3. No Navigation – If someone clicks into PDF content directly from a search result, there is no navigation to the rest of your website.
  4. No Tracking – You cannot install tracking codes in a PDF, so if someone clicks into PDF content directly from a search result, you have no way to identify the frequency or success of visits to these pages.

Best Practices:

  • Never use a PDF as a primary source of information on your website.
  • If a PDF is needed, link and identify the PDF as a “print version” of the material so the user can anticipate the lag to download and display the document.
  • Code any links to pages with “rel= no index” tags.
  • Place PDF files in a common folder (such as /pdf) , and include a ‘disallow /folder’ (and/or use ‘Disallow: /*.pdf$’ ) in your Robot.txt file to keep that content out of the search results.

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