PDF is still the most popular format in technical writing. It has many advantages: It can be read offline on almost any computer, protected against changes, with a clear (sometimes even sophisticated) layout, and in a “book look” that customers are used to. But what about the search engine optimization of PDF instructions?
Instructions Are Ideal Content For Search Engines
The PDF format usually gives marketers a headache because although search engines can index PDF – i.e., collect and consider it for their search results – they still have a hard time with PDF even after almost thirty years. The problem even has three aspects:
- For one thing, PDFs are less easily found by search engines.
- On the other hand, they are often classified as less relevant and thus end up on the bottom result pages.
- And in addition, PDFs are often rendered less precisely on the result pages than web pages, e.g., suitable descriptions are then missing. This reduces the click rate and, thus, the relevance.
From a marketing point of view, this is a disaster because technical documentation is highly relevant content that precisely reflects the crucial issues of the company. This may surprise some at first glance. On closer reflection, however, it quickly becomes clear:
- Each documentation deals with the product portfolio of the company.
- Documentation is also usually optimized for readability, which is rewarded by search engines.
- The fact that most companies often produce relatively long instructions is also quite helpful for search engines.
- In addition, instructions are mostly translated into many languages: which is another plus.
From a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, instructions are almost ideal content.
SEO-Optimized PDF – Is That Possible?
Of course, the ideal solution would be to provide the instructions as HTML to feed the crawlers. But there are good reasons why this is not possible in many editorial offices. Even if instructions are published as HTML, it can make sense to offer them as PDFs, e.g., B. for downloading, which brings us back to our problem with the visibility of the PDF documents.
However, there is a trick that can make things easier for Google and Co.: Search engines evaluate the PDF properties, i.e., metadata of the PDF documents, and also take them into account when displaying them on the results page. With this, we solve the three problems mentioned above: The probability that search engines increase will record PDF files, and the content is assessed as more relevant and recommended more often. In addition, the entry looks better in the search result list and is, therefore, clicked on more frequently. And that, in turn, influences the probability that Google & Co will list the PDF as a search result.
What Information Belongs In The Metadata?
What should now be stored in the PDF metadata? The title should be the title of the manual, including the version. It also doesn’t hurt to name the manufacturer here. The company should also be in the standard PDF field” author” and not – as is the case, for example, B. created automatically by Word – the last editor. In the “Topic” section, it is best to store texts similar to what you would list in the meta information of a website. Of course, what should appear under the “Keywords” field differs from company to company.
The following information is almost always useful: product name, product type (e.g., hydraulic press), the industry of the manufacturer (e.g., “special machine construction”), and industry of the customer (e.g., “plastic injection molding technology“). In addition, typical activities that are done with the product can be listed. The type of instructions (e.g., “transport instructions”) is also relevant information. Experience shows that once you start thinking, you can quickly think of a whole series of topics that should be mentioned here. Sales area? Why not? Sales hotline? Why surely. Incidentally, your terminology database is a vital help because many relevant terms for your company are collected there. It is even better, however, that the terms you do not use in your company and your instructions are also collected here, but your customers do.
PDF Metadata From The CMS
I’m probably not giving away a secret when I say that we at doctrine like to use SCHEMA ST4 to create such optimized PDF documents. From our point of view, this has some clear advantages. With SCHEMA ST4, the PDF properties can be filled in automatically when creating. Any content units can be read out and entered in the required fields: document type from the node type, relevant products from the metadata, the version number from the version information, and much more.
In addition, you can then use the powerful translation support of SCHEMA ST4 and thus generate SEO-optimized PDFs for the source language and all target languages. This multiplies the marketing effect. The search engine optimization of PDF instructions also works with other tools. In principle, this can even be done with MS Word, but you will have to think about your workflow for filling the properties. In principle, nothing stands in the way of PDF instructions that are easier to find.