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How to make your PDFs look smarter in the Google results

Have you ever thought about the implications of Google indexing PDF documents? If you’ve got readily-downloadable brochures or datasheets on your website, the chances are they’re in the Google index. You can get a list of what’s been indexed and is being offered to the world by putting a query like this into Google:

(obviously, substitute your website for ours)

Now, the first thing you might notice, and the one I want to address today, is how messy these results can look in Google. If that’s the case for your PDF documents, you may wish to get them tidied up, because your PDFs are probably coming up in the Google results – and being clicked on – more often than you think. Clicks on these won’t appear in your analytics reports, in case you’re wondering. To get the results looking nice, and therefore making them more appealing to Google users, you’ll need to dive in and edit them. And for that you’ll need a good PDF editor, preferably Adobe Acrobat. If the £150 cost of that puts you off, your web designer really should have a copy. Or there are free bits of software and online applications which can do the job, although I haven’t used any (someone has suggested BeCyPDFMetaEdit).

Whatever you’re using, the key item to edit is the document title, which (as with a web page) is attached to the document and is not part of the document itself. In Adobe Acrobat, you need to find the “Document Properties” screen:

Many PDF documents have no title, some others often mistakenly have the filename in the title box. If something is there, Google might well use it as the main title in its results, which is why you can often browse through Google and be presented with documents apparently called “version-for-pdf.qxd” and other unintentional disasters. Of course, Google is improving all the time, and that’s quite unusual nowadays. Normally if there’s no title, it’ll choose the headline on the front page of the PDF document, but that’s not always what you’d choose to call the document. Why leave it to chance when you can be in control, and get those keywords in, and write a nice Google-friendly, 65-character title?

6 thoughts on “How to make your PDFs look smarter in the Google results”

  1. Chris,

    I once worked with a graphic designer who would name the .PDFs she produced for client approval, print and online using phrases like, ‘.PDF for that hateful cowbag at XXX who doesn’t appreciate good design when she sees it’. In fairness this was a long time ago now but still. She thought that as long as the file name was in place all would be fine. Sigh…


  2. It’s a good point well made. I’ve just taken a look at mine and the vast majority are not even files I want to see indexed for that site. The perils of having file libraries and multimedia libraries loaded up with stuff that’s more intended for other sites.

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