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PDFs or HTML Pages - Which is better for SEO and Usability?

Posted by fusionbox on Aug. 3, 2011, 6 p.m.

In a face-off between HTML pages and PDF documents, who would win? Hands down, HTML pages. 

This isn't to say that optimized PDFs aren't useful - they definitely are, for search engine rankings and even your sites' visitors in some cases. It's just that HTML pages are much more user-friendly and search engine-optimizable in general. Here are three succinct topics to consider when you are forced to make the Web page vs. PDF call:

Usability - it's just easier for most users to look at the Web page than to download and view a PDF. A few users will prefer this method, but they are a much smaller audience.

SEO & Rankings - links to a PDF are not as valuable as links to a web page (for overall site ranking), so it's a missed opportunity. Also, there is much more to optimize on a web page than there is in a PDF. PDFs have search engine optimization limitations that are greatly surpassed by HTML pages.

Intended Use - it makes sense for a product "user guide" to be both on the site, and in a more extensive PDF format for a user to download, save or print, than it does to have a privacy policy in PDF format. As a user guide the PDF is useful; as what would normally be considered a basic page of your website, the PDF becomes bothersome.

Please: avoid posting the PDF and using the content from the PDF on a Web page - this will create duplicate content on your site. Google sees duplicate content as sub-par (and less valuable to their users) and will therefore lower rankings for sites that have issues like this. If certain pages make sense as both PDFs and HTML pages, you should alter the content enough that it becomes original again.

If you have any Internet marketing questions for the Denver SEO team at Fusionbox, be sure to contact us!