Linking to PDFs (in depth)

Web accessibility has brought some long overdue changes in the web structure at MSU and has created some new challenges to overcome. This article addresses the best practices and relates those practices to web accessibility and how organic search results affect the design and implementation decisions regarding PDF files. Creating web pages that are meaningful and communicate relevant information is the first step in planning and creating accessible content. This includes how you think about PDF files and the overall effect that the design decisions possess, including how search engines find the information.

W3C is the governing authority that we strive to uphold and the standards defined in WCAG 2.0; MSU is in the process of conforming to those standards and specific requirements. The way PDF files are presented and structured is affected by the WCAG standards. When dealing with these design issues, understanding how Google and other search engines will find and index the information is important.

Creating a web page to convey relevant information regarding the PDF files you need to present is the best way to think about design. Linking to raw PDF files can cause some issues with accessibility and how the PDF is indexed with Google. When you create a web page that contains PDF files, you are presenting keywords and link information that will be considered higher priority to search engines. When you remove a PDF from the page, the web page itself is still intact and doesn't have a dramatic affect on the search results sure, the PDF file will still be returned by Google but, it won't be the first result, the web page will be. The other option is (and is not the best practice) linking directly to PDF files on your site. When no other content in the domain matches the query, the PDF file itself will be indexed first and returned in a higher order within the results. In this case, when the PDF is no longer needed and removed from the site, Google will be returning a link to a document that is no longer available.

Below are some additional links for further reading including the W3C standards. There are also support articles for creating accessible content that may be helpful.


W3C WCAG 2.0 Standards

How Google Works

Introduction to Web Accessibility






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