Creating PDF documents that work online

PDF documents have been in Google’s index alongside HTML ones almost since the beginning. I’ve written complete guides in the past on how to create PDF documents in an SEO-friendly way, but there’s much more to making them work online than SEO considerations. Think of the following next time you’re saving a document as a PDF which is likely to end up floating around online.

People might be reading it on a mobile device. What a wasted opportunity if someone finds your document while on a small screen, opens it, but then closes it again because the text is too tiny to read. We’ve all been there. To solve this problem, I’d take one of these approaches:

  1. Use the largest font size that doesn’t look daft in a printed A4 document, possibly in conjunction with a wide right margin; or
  2. Create an HTML version (which may already exist) and link to that prominently at the start of the PDF document as an alternative for mobile devices.

People might find it in isolation. A PDF document appearing in search engine results, or passed around by email, is disconnected from its original context (unlike a web page which comes with navigation around its home website). So always ensure PDF documents have working links embedded, to get people to the website where they belong. If you’re putting other manufacturers’ PDF documents online, such as brochures and data sheets, make sure you’ve added a cover page with links to your website.

People might be on limited data. Always compress PDF documents as fully as you can without losing quality. There are various online services which you can try, but there’s no real substitute for having Adobe’s Acrobat program.