Ask Yoast:

PDFs on your website

There are many occasions when you may want to put a PDF on your site. For example, when you’ve made an online magazine, when an article you wrote was featured in a book or magazine, if products you sell have useful manuals, or if you’ve written detailed instructions for a DIY project. As you can imagine, many users find it convenient to save a PDF on their computer and refer to it later on.

Unfortunately, to you as a website owner, there are some disadvantages to PDFs. Today, we’re answering two questions on using PDFs on your website. First up: what are the disadvantages to PDF files, and are there any risks to placing PDFs on your website?

Stijn Vogels asked us the following question:

In my current mission, I’m confronted with many links directing to PDF files instead of HTML pages. There are some clear disadvantages of PDF files, but I was also wondering if there are any risks. What risks do links to PDF files pose?

Risks of links to PDF files?

“There’s no real risk in terms of links to PDF files. But PDF files are generally just not as useful as web pages. They indeed have some disadvantages: you can’t have easy links on them, you can’t make them as interactive, you can’t track them and you don’t really know what the user is doing when he is looking at a PDF file.

If you can turn that into a web page, you can see what users are doing, and you can guide them to other content on your site, or make them convert more easily (buy something, subscribe to your newsletter etc). That becomes a whole lot more useful, than just having a still bunch of PDF files on your site.

So my suggestion is, if you have the choice, to always use web pages instead of PDF files. Good luck!”

PDFs and canonicals

On to the second question! Things can get a bit more complicated when you also have the content from your PDF somewhere else on your site, or on another website. To avoid duplicate content, you need to set a canonical URL. But how do you do that for a PDF document? And what is the best way to do that?

Karen Schousboe emailed us her question:

I plan to publish a PDF magazine under medieval.news. Some of the articles in each issue will also be freely available on a sister website. How should I handle that? Do I link canonical from the articles to the PDF magazine or from the magazine to the website?”

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for the answer to this question!

Canonicalization and PDFs

Well, you can have a canonical HTTP header and what I would suggest doing is canonicalizing from the PDF magazine to the sister website, because HTML pages just rank a lot better than PDFs, usually.

In fact, I would suggest publishing everything in HTML and not necessarily in PDF because PDF is just not very easy to land on from search. You can’t do any tracking, you can’t do a whole lot of things that you can do with HTML. So I would seriously consider doing all of it in HTML pages and then canonicalizing between them. Good luck.”

Ask Yoast series

Ask Yoast series

In the Ask Yoast series, we answered SEO questions from our readers. Check out the other questions!


8 Responses to PDFs on your website

  1. James Anderson
    James Anderson  • 6 months ago

    Thanks so much I always learn something new from these tutorials

  2. Raza Kazmi
    Raza Kazmi  • 6 months ago

    It seems pretty clear to me from the post that there is no way of having friendly url of pdf file. I have a website in which a user, if he clicks on Read More, redirected to the pdf url.

    Aren’t there other ways of embedding PDF files on wordpress website?

  3. John Monyjok Maluth
    John Monyjok Maluth  • 6 months ago

    Well, what if I’m selling e-books, and pdfs are the best choice for that?
    Do I upload the entire e-book as an html?

    • Melina Reintjens
      Melina Reintjens  • 6 months ago

      Hi John!
      Good question! This Ask Yoast mostly covers the disadvantages of PDFs over HTML pages when trying to rank, but in your case, the PDF is actually your product. I imagine the search engines don’t have access to those PDF files anyway, and you’re not trying to rank with the content from those PDFs. As you’ll understand, there’s no use in optimizing content that’s ‘behind a paywall’, since Google won’t see that content.
      Offering eBooks in PDF format is probably most convenient for your users, so you’re fine keeping those eBooks as PDFs. Hope that clarifies things! :)

  4. Taisa
    Taisa  • 6 months ago

    And how about lead magnets? I am surprised you didn’t mention them (at least in text, with kids sleeping I can’t hear the video).

    The PDF is used very often for that, and I asked myself if it could be a problem if people found the PDF looking into google. Some plugins seem to hide them as I saw. But sometimes I indeed found a PDF when I searched for something. So I am not quite sure of how this thing with PDFs in search results work.

    • Angelique
      Angelique  • 6 months ago

      I’d also like to know the answer to this.

  5. Alex Mathew
    Alex Mathew  • 6 months ago

    Hey There!
    Thanks for the post.
    I just wanted to upload a PDF file to my blog for being downloaded by a user when clicks the PDF file destination link but instead, it opens up in a new tab.

    How can I prevent the file from being opened?

    Thanks in Advance!

  6. Michael
    Michael  • 6 months ago

    really good information, thank you, very timely as I was looking at PDF offers and how best to serve them to interested clients, much appreciated!


Check out our must read articles about Technical SEO

  • WordPress SEO: the definitive guide »

    This is the ONLY tutorial you'll need to hugely increase your search engine traffic by improving your WordPress SEO. Want higher rankings? Read on!

  • rel=canonical: the ultimate guide »

    The canonical URL allows you to tell search engines that certain similar URLs are actually one and the same. Learn how to use rel=canonical!

  • hreflang: the ultimate guide »

    This guide discusses what hreflang is, what it is for and gives in-depth information on how to implement it for your multilingual websites.

  • The ultimate guide to robots.txt »

    The robots.txt file is a file you can use to tell search engines where they can and cannot go on your site. Learn how to use it to your advantage!