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PDF documents: handle with loving care

A recent article I write about optimising PDF documents for the search engines attracted quite a bit of feedback, so I thought I’d expand on that over the next few days. For many engineering and scientific companies, PDF datasheets, brochures and catalogues form an extensive part of the substance of their website, and usually their contents haven’t been rewritten in a more web-friendly HTML format. While this is an opportunity missed (as I don’t believe the search engines like PDF documents as much as HTML web pages), it’s understandable given most companies’ incredible reluctance to fund their website adequately.

So the first point I’d like to make about PDF documents is that they’re not fixed, uneditable items. Sure, you may have been given them by head office, or a manufacturer you distribute for, but that doesn’t mean you’re obliged to dump them on your website with no further thought. Printed documents might need to be 4, 8, 16 or 32 pages, but PDF versions don’t, and there’s no reason at all why you can’t add pages on to the end giving important information such as contact details, offers or your company profile. Highly technical documents such as datasheets often have almost no real text content at all other than dimensions, and tables of data. Why not liven the document up a bit with something Google can get its teeth into? Don’t forget that unlike web pages, PDF documents can get separated from their parent website, and whoever’s downloaded them, or (worse) printed them out, should be given a link to get back to your site.

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