How to Optimize PDF Files for Search in InDesign

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Since two decades, Google is indexing PDFs. Today, I’m sharing three small tweaks you want to consider in order to improve the search appearance of your PDF:

  1. Add title tag and meta description to PDF’s
  2. Add a descriptive filename
  3. Add alt tags to the images in InDesign

Add title tag and meta description to PDF’s

If you want to influence how your PDF is displayed on the search engine result page (SERP), you should maintain a title tag and a description for your PDF file.

Screenshot of a PDF on SERP
That’s where title tag and meta description of your PDF are displayed

If you are using InDesign, here’s how to add a title tag:

  1. Click File > File Info
  2. Edit the Title field

A title tag should sum up the content of your PDF in just about 50-60 characters. Google advises using the same title tag as title of your PDF. You wonder why? Users see your title tag on the SERP. They click on it and expect the same or a very similar title for your PDF. If the user sees a completely different title they might quickly leave your page.

Here’s how to add a meta description in InDesign:

  1. Edit the Description field
  2. Click File > File Info

A description is a 120-150 character long summary of your PDF. Make sure to invite the user to click through to your article

Have you properly set your title tag and meta description, but they are not appearing correctly on Google? Don’t fret. You haven’t done anything wrong. Since August 2021, Google has frequently been overwriting title tags and meta descriptions with their own snippets.

Add a descriptive filename

If a PDF does not have a title, the filename appears on the SERP. Make sure to add a descriptive filename such as user-manual-kitchen-machine.pdf. If your PDF has a cryptic filename such as ma-s343-de.pdf Google (and the user above all) won’t understand what the PDF is all about.

Here’s how to edit the filename in InDesign:

  1. Click File > Save As
  2. Edit File Name

Add alt tags to the images in InDesign

As on normal HTML pages, for the images in your PDF file, you should also provide an alt tag.

To do so in InDesign follow the following steps.

  1. With the Selection tool, select the image.
  2. Choose Object > Object Export Options.
  3. Select the Alt Text tab in the Object Export Options dialog box.
  4. Choose Custom from the Alt Text Source menu.
  5. Enter the description in the text field, and click Done.

The alt tags are important for accessibility. They help users with visual impairment to understand what is shown on the image. The person’s screen reader will read out the alt tag aloud.

As opposed to HTML pages, the images in PDF files are currently not indexed on Google image search. (See more on that subject on Developers Google)

Hope that helped!

Want to know more about PDF and SEO? Read my study on comparing CTR between PDF and HTML files.

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