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Why do PDF documents appear in the Google results?

Ever wondered why sometimes the first few results in Google for important product searches in your market sector include PDF documents? So have I. To be honest, it’s always strange when the 10 results for ‘blue widgets’ include 8 suppliers of those products, and 2 seemingly random PDF data sheets or brochures. But it’s not uncommon.

I’m going to guess why. It’s to do with links. A recent study by the best people in the field showed that links are as important as ever in defining how high up in the Google results your pages appear. But here’s something which is not often mentioned: PDF documents can get some very influential links, and can be rated very highly as a consequence.

Think about it for a moment. Suppose somebody was discussing your products in an online forum. If they linked to your website, sure, they might link to the product page. But I suspect they’d be just as likely to link to the online PDF data sheet. They might be even more likely to link to a PDF manual or installation guide. And Google takes note of what the web considers to be important.

The two things you should be considering now are as follows:

1. Make sure your PDF documents work as ‘landing pages’ for outside visitors. They may be seen by people who haven’t visited your normal (HTML) website at all. So they must include company and contact details, and live links to your website. A cover sheet added to all PDF documents may be the solution.

2. Make sure your PDF documents have proper titles and meta data, so that they look as good as possible when presented in the Google results.

Note: It can be helpful to record views of PDF documents in your Analytics service just like normal web pages. Your website manager should be able to set this up quickly and easily, using Google Tag Manager. However, please remember that this actually records clicks to PDFs from within your site, and will not record external direct clicks to PDFs. For that, it might be necessary to undertake log analysis.

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