Can PDF & HTML Duplicates Cause Problems for Your SEO?

Can you publish the same content in HTML and PDF format without causing duplicate content issues?

Can you publish PDF and HTML content without causing issues with duplicate content? It’s a question that most SEO experts will ask themselves at some point in their career. There is a strong use case for both HTML and PDF content. However, when it comes to assessing the SEO implications, there are some things that are worth considering. 

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What Google Says

In the #AskGoogleBot video posted on December 12, 2023, John Mueller addressed the question, “Is it OK to publish content twice, once in HTML and once as a downloadable PDF file?”

Mueller provided a straightforward response in saying:

“It’s absolutely fine to do this. In general, Google systems can find both kinds of pages and index them separately, even if the words in them are technically duplicates.”

He advised that it was up to webmasters to exercise discretion when implementing directives, saying, “You have control to manage this if you want to. For example, you could use a no-index HTTP or robots meta tag to block indexing of one, or use the rel=“canonical” link element to tell us about your preference.”

Watch the “Can my site publish content in both HTML and PDF?” video published on the Google Search Central YouTube channel below here:

Use case for a PDF page

PDF pages show what an article would look like in a hard copy format. They retain standard formatting features such as page numbers, graphs, images, and allow users to print a copy of the article. They are also a useful way to secure information and ensure that it is not easily copied in the same way that HTML content can be copied.

John Mueller explains one use case for a PDF format being, “If you have a specific form that you want users to fill out as a hard copy, then using a PDF file can make sense”

Use case for an HTML page

An HTML web page, otherwise known as the standard web page, that we view every day from our phones or desktop devices, are computer formatted versions of content that do not require any additional content or third-party apps to read. They are flexible and easy to access across a range of different device types.

So, what is one example of the use case for having an HTML version of a page? John Mueller explains that, “If you have a restaurant menu, folks will want to look at it on their phones, so a normal HTML page is best”.

When should you use PDF & HTML?

When looking at the use case for HTML and PDF versions of the same content, John Mueller explains, “Some kinds of content might work well in both formats, such as a guidebook or a study available to review in paper form.”

So, if you have duplicate versions of the same content, which one do Google’s systems prioritise? According to John Mueller, “If our systems see these as duplicates, they’ll usually defer to the HTML page version.”

Mueller also addressed one of the most common pain points when navigating PDF content – finding your way back to the site where it was published. He advised, “It’s good practice to include a link to your website so that folks can find their way back.”

Final thoughts

Google can index and publish HTML and PDF versions of the same content. Even though they are technically duplicate content, Google realises that each document format can provide value to readers in different ways.

As a webmaster or site manager, it’s your job to decide whether it is worth publishing the same information in different file formats and whether these can provide value to users in different ways. Just like anything in SEO, it’s important that the intention behind the action is not malicious (i.e. an attempt to occupy more SERP real estate) and instead is done with the purpose of providing value to users.

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