Conventional wisdom will tell you that whitepapers written in PDF format do no favours for your SEO score. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about the times you’ve had a downloadable PDF link show up on Google’s search results while searching for research papers in university. The myth that Google does not index whitepaper PDFs has been debunked by their own developers who came out all the way back in 2011 to unequivocally state that:
Google first started indexing PDF files in 2001. Today, there are hundreds of millions of indexed PDF files online.
So as long as your PDF files are not password protected or encrypted, Google will be able to crawl the textual content written in them thanks to their nifty optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Designed to identify and sieve out potentially harmful content, OCR allows artificial intelligence to extract text from scanned passports, receipts, invoices, and yes, even PDFs.
PDFs wouldn’t show up in SERPs like this if they didn’t rank for SEO.
How to optimise PDF whitepapers for SEO
For the most part, fundamental SEO practices that apply to landing pages and blog posts work with PDF whitepapers as well. This includes everything from using the appropriate meta tags for titles and making your copy keyword dense by weaving high volume search phrases into sentences naturally.
Image file optimisation
The difference is that whitepapers, especially B2B ones, are typically a lot longer than the average blog post. They are also usually filled with images and graphs to enhance readability and comprehension. Visual elements, however, can take a long time to load. So you’ll definitely want to optimise them to prevent your audience from clicking away in frustration.
Images can be easily optimised by:
- Compressing their file sizes
- Resizing them into smaller dimensions
- Using vector files that appear high resolution on any device
OCR is becoming scarily good at understanding context within images. That makes the alt text that accompanies your images that much more important. As a rule of thumb, the more accurate and in detail your alt text is, the better.
“Working mom” will pull up millions of pictures.
But “Working mum taking notes while two children play in the living room” gives Google a much better idea of what’s being illustrated in this image.
But with all that said, we must admit that PDFs aren’t the best option for SEO purposes. Between a comparable web page and PDF file, Google will nearly always rank the web page higher because they are much richer in terms of metadata that search engines use as ranking criteria:
- It’s harder for Google Analytics to track PDF engagement metrics
- It’s harder to format PDFs for user experience
- It’s harder to earn backlinks with PDF files
The one saving grace that B2B whitepapers have is that they often require original research, and will therefore be less likely to clash with duplicate or competitor pages. All the more reason to invest in good copywriters who know how to conduct good research to create informative pieces instead of piecing content that is already out there together!
Making up for SEO disadvantages with PDF whitepapers
The slight SEO disadvantage that the PDF format has behind web pages does not erase the fact that B2B whitepapers are great assets for building a relevant contact list and converting warm leads into sales. And with a little bit of finessing, there are plenty of tactics that B2B marketers can use to circumvent said disadvantage and bring more eyeballs to their painstakingly written research reports.
Downloadable content landing page
The most straightforward way to boost your B2B whitepaper is to place its download link on an SEO-ed landing page. Not only will this give your website one more indexable page, it will also give you an opportunity to collect your viewer’s contact information through sign-up sheets. Just make sure that your landing page isn’t overcrowded with CTAs. The general consensus is that the highest-converting forms ask for just three pieces of information.
Consider web-based whitepapers such as Turtl (not sponsored, although we have used it for our clients and love it) are some of the best ways to maximise the text-rich nature of long-form ebooks and research reports. With built-in HTML5, web-based whitepapers allow B2B marketers to keep their ebooks and research reports gated while still allowing Google’s spiders to crawl through their text and drive organic traffic.
They are also a lot more interactive compared to PDF files, which users have to tediously pinch and scroll on their mobile devices to view properly. Not only are web-based whitepapers designed to fit nicely onto any mobile screen for consumption on the go, they also make it much easier for B2B marketers to track audience behaviour on individual whitepaper pages. By helping you identify which pages your audience is interacting with the most, this is a literally game changer for content optimisation.
If you sense a slight bias there for web-based whitepapers, you’re absolutely right. When you can get the best of SEO, content optimisation, and lead building, we think the choice is very clear.
Don’t just take our word for it, see the SEO results for yourself
One thing that we always tell our clients is that they should run away from anyone who claims to know Google’s ever-changing algorithm inside and out. You see, it’s not just the algorithm that we’re all competing against. With so many factors at play, B2B content marketing will always be an experiment to find out what type of content works best in a snapshot of time.
All this to say, though we personally prefer web-based whitepapers, we do see the value of PDF whitepapers accompanied by landing pages. Whatever your content marketing and SEO needs, we’ll be happy to provide you with personalised recommendations and content strategy to help you achieve your ranking and lead building goals.
If that sounds like something you could use, get in touch with us by filling out the form below. You’re only three mandatory fields away from an optimised marketing funnel!