An SEO Minefield – How Do We Solve a Problem like PDFs?

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    PDFs are a great way to allow your potential customers access to detailed information about your products, especially if your offering involves a lot of technical specs or detailed diagrams.

    From an SEO point-of-view, however, PDFs can be a minefield.

    SEO issues posed by having PDFs on your website:

    Invisible traffic numbers

    It’s not possible to put Google Analytics tracking code on a PDF file. Therefore, if a PDF on your site is ranking well for one of your keywords and getting a lot of traction, you won’t know about it. It is possible to track PDF downloads via Analytics (more on this later), but this is only the case if a user clicks on the link to the PDF from your on-site landing page, not directly from search engine results pages (SERPs).

    pdfs in serps

    Low conversion rates

    Another issue with PDFs ranking well and acting as the initial landing page for potential customers is: where do they go from here? For the most part, users can’t navigate through your website after entering through a PDF. Tech-savvy users , who REALLY, want to get more information about your business or contact you MIGHT think to edit the URL in their browser to make their way back to your site (i.e. by deleting the end of the URL leaving only your homepage and hitting enter.

    pdf url edit

    But this will only happen if a) users know they can do that, and b) they are really that bothered to do it, instead of jumping back into the search results and finding a competitor who won’t make them work so hard.

    Poor usability / Directing users offsite

    Similar to the point above, even if a user clicks to download a PDF from your website, it’s essential that you ensure the user is taken to a new tab to view the PDF, or it downloads to their computer. The PDF should not open in the same browser tab instead of your website as it makes it difficult for them to continue browsing your website and ultimately convert to a sale or lead.

    On mobile this issue is even more pronounced. Depending on the phone and how your PDF download is set up, to view a PDF users may be taken out of their browser and into a PDF-viewing app (such as iBooks). The probability that they will close out of that app and reopen their browser to contact you is slim.

    Solving these issues

    Of course, however, there are benefit of including PDF resources for customers on your website. But in order to minimise the issues outlined below, take the following steps:

    Make onsite landing pages rank higher

    Do a search for your top list of keywords and check out what pages of your site are ranking for those keywords. If you notice a PDF is ranking higher in SERPs that the onsite landing page, you will need to improve the SEO content on the landing page to rectify the situation.

    Migrate as much content as possible from the PDF to the onsite landing page. The PDF download can still be offered as an additional resource, but it’s not the star of the show.

    When doing this keep these tips in mind:

    • If the content in the PDF is highly technical then try to use the information but work it into the context of what makes those specifications useful. For a hairdryer product page for example you could include the specs throughout the product description – i.e. ‘packing a powerful 2100 watt voltage this hairdryer heats quickly and dries hair in seconds, giving a sleek finish where other hairdryers would leave frizz’
    • If you are a distributor of a brand of products that is also sold by other distributors or directly by the manufacturer then bear in mind they will likely have access to the same PDF resources. To avoid inadvertently duplicating content from other sites don’t copy and paste content directly from the PDF – make it your own

    Set up event tracking on your PDF links

    While you still won’t be able to track direct traffic to the PDFs, you can at least track how many people clicked to download it. This requires adding a relatively simple piece of code around the PDF link on the onsite landing page.

    Before the code is added the link will look something like this:

    <a href="/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/product-tech-specs.pdf">Download the full technical specs</a>

    And after it should look like this:

    <a href="/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/product-tech-specs.pdf" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Brochures', 'Download', 'XXXX Product Technical Specs']);">Download the full technical specs</a>

    You can change the name of the ‘XXXX Product Technical Specs’ section to a unique name for each PDF so that you can track the download numbers for each PDF within Analytics and see which are doing best.

    Once this is implemented correctly you should see results being tracked in Google Analytics under ‘Behaviour -> Events -> Overview’

    Ensure PDF links open in a new tab

    Further to the above, ideally you should add an additional piece of code (target=”_blank”) to the link to ensure it opens in a new tab and doesn’t take users completely off-site. So ideally, the full link should look like this:

    <a target="_blank" href="/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/product-tech-specs.pdf" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Brochures', 'Download', 'XXXX Product Technical Specs']);">Download the full technical specs</a>

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