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.”