Are you leaking your gated content in organic search?
Personally, I’m not a fan of finding portable document format (PDF) documents in the search results.
There are multiple reasons why PDFs are not ideal for an organic searcher to land on:
- Most PDFs do not have navigation, so users are forced to read through to find what they want.
- More often than not, webmasters don’t link to their website from the PDF.
- If there are no links in a PDF, so the opportunity for a call to action is lost.
- PDFs can’t house analytics tracking code.
- PDFs aren’t as malleable as web pages. You can’t add many fancy enhancements to a PDF.
- PDFs generally do not contain lead generation forms.
I could go on forever about my dislike of PDFs, because I believe they are a problem for marketers. While they are easy and fast to generate, they can be problematic when it comes to SEO, tracking and conversion.
Do you have a leaky lead generation funnel?
If you’re using PDFs on your site for any type of lead generation and you are gating that content (requiring registration via a landing page), you need to find out if the PDF has been indexed and is available in the organic search engine results pages (SERPs).
If the PDFs can be found in the SERPs, potential leads are bypassing your sign-up form, since they can find the content directly. A simple way to test for this is to use the site and filetype search operators together. For example, for my own website, I would perform this search:
A recent search for a client’s white papers found they have 633 white papers produced as PDFs in Google’s index. Yikes!
How do you know it’s a problem?
Because lead generation filetypes like PDFs are not trackable in Google Analytics, you may be wondering, “Are these exposed PDF resources really that big a problem?” Using Google Search Console (GSC), you can get some idea of just how impactful these PDFs might be.
Using the Search Analytics report in GSC, set the data type to “Pages” and filter to show those with .pdf in the filename.
Over the last 90 days, the client with 633 white paper PDFs had over 12,075 clicks from Google organic search to the PDF pages.
If you compare the 12,075 clicks to all reported organic clicks for the website over the same time frame, the PDF-generated traffic accounted for 35 percent of the site’s organic traffic!
In comparison, the gate pages for the PDF white papers only received 264 visits from Google SERPs in the same time period. While the ungated PDFs sent more traffic (12,075), they can be perceived as being less valuable than the 264 visits from the gated pages. Why? The ungated PDF pages did not require an email sign-up, which means a substantial number of leads were lost.
Fix your leaks
If you are facing a similar issue with PDFs, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth tackling this problem. You may decide the organic traffic you’re generating from the PDFs trumps the need for leads. Or you may decide the sales team would benefit by having the leads, so you’ll add the sign-up form. Either way, if you decide not to gate the PDFs already in the search index, be sure to optimize each of them with links and conversion actions to drive traffic and support SEO efforts.
I recommend fixing the leaky lead funnel by adding a gate page and collecting an email to view the PDF content. Once you have the email address, you can use a marketing automation program to email the PDF to the person requesting it.
So you don’t sacrifice the hard-earned organic traffic that currently exists for the PDFs not tied to a gated page, use a permanent 301 redirect from the PDF to a gated landing page. I would also consider beefing up the PDF gate page by adding snippets or preview text from the PDF to the HTML text on the landing page.
Stop leaking your PDF content through organic search! You’ll likely generate more leads if you fix the process, and your sales team will love you for it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.