A PDF document is for life

Website owners tend to treat web pages and PDF documents on their sites as two very different things, but that’s really not the case. A PDF document is just another file. As we discussed the other day, it needs to have a good title on it, and will appear in the Google results just like a web page. Now, you’d never remove an ordinary web page from your site without setting up a redirection to its replacement (please tell me you wouldn’t!), and the same thing applies to PDF documents. Never just delete them from your site. If you do, Google may take weeks or even months to delete the result from its index, and all that time, anyone clicking on the result will get a “file not found” error and will be an expensive wasted opportunity. Other sites which might link to that PDF will now show a broken link forever. And any “link strength” which your site gained by having those links from other sites will have been thrown away.

Redirecting any references to a PDF document towards its replacement is really easy – it’s a standard “301 redirect”, and if whoever runs your website doesn’t know how to do that …well, they ought to. If the retired PDF document doesn’t have a replacement, then redirect any references to a message explaining why, or even to your home page. You don’t have to redirect to another PDF document. Just don’t leave a hole where it used to be.

Again, bringing together a couple of recent discussions, if you’ve recently removed any PDF documents from your website without covering for their absence, you can get a list of all your PDF documents in the Google index by searching for:
site:www.[whatever.com] filetype:pdf
Then take a look and see if Google is still indexing the dead documents. If so, it’s time to set up those redirects …quickly.

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