Search engine users and researchers are finding a lot more PDF files than ever before, which can be useful for those looking for government and technical documents. However, there can be problems when accessing the various file formats as many of these files were not prepared with search engine robots in mind.
Limitations of Alternate File Formats
While it's nice to have many different file formats available, they may not be as convenient to access as HTML. Some file formats aren't always safe to access. They can take time to download and require special software. Below are the limitations.
Google has anticipated some of these problems and provides an option to view the documents as HTML. Users selecting this option can view the document in HTML (without formatting) on Google's server. This gives you a rough idea of the document content so you can decide whether or not it's worth downloading.
Optimizing Alternative-File-Format Documents
As the major search engines show more and more documents in various file formats in their search results, it's a good idea to start optimizing the alternative-file-format documents that you want indexed. Don't include those that could cause user frustration (use the robots.txt file).
Title and Description Tags: A good way to start is to ensure that you have a meta title and description tag for every file. The document title is one of the first things search engine spiders encounter when indexing your pages. If they don't find one, they'll create one that may not be as advantageous as your own.
Sometimes you can embed meta information that is read by search engines when creating your files in the various file formats. For instance, MS Word lets you select a document title when you create the file. If you don't select a title, the first words to appear can be saved as the title, but this may not be your best choice. Keep in mind that title selection is possible in MS Word, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat 5.0, and other software programs.
It's wise to provide a good description for PDF files because many users hesitate to download them unless they really want the data. This can be done by creating an HTML version, which can then be converted to PDF. There are free tools available that will perform the conversion for you. HTML Doc 1.8.20 from Easy Software Products is an example of such tools, but there are others. This way, you can create a good title and description that will be picked up by search engines while taking advantage of PDF format for document delivery.
Optimizing Image Files: Another good strategy is to index your image files, which is simply another good opportunity to promote your site without much extra effort.
Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.
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