Creating Engaging Catalog PDFs

So, you’ve just completed your latest catalog and it is headed off to your printer. If you are content to be like a good number of your competitors, you can just crank out a PDF and merely post it online. In the next few min-utes, I’m going to show you how to turn the electronic version of your catalog into an powerful engagement vehicle. Remember, you are not selling catalogs, you are selling goods. Think of the “hottest” items available in your catalog. For instance, if you were an equipment distributor, you may categorize your most popular line: Electrical -> Pumps -> 2-phase.

Until your print catalog lands on the desk of your potential client, along with those of your competitors, how can you tip the balance in your favor? I’m suggesting that you use your PDF to its full potential. If someone enters specific terms into a search engine, could your PDF end up on the first page of a search engine result? The answer is yes. To enhance your chances, I suggest that you read a little further.

Conduct Your Own Test

What if you enter “2-phase electrical pumps” in the search engine of your choice? Do the same in multiple search engines, and notice differences in the result. This shows slight variations in the “algorithm” (a word I use more often since the advent of spell check) each entity uses. Now, enter two or three words that describe your company, business or personality. Don’t think in terms of “search.” Instead, think in terms of “return.” Do you see anything relevant on the first page? More important, do you see anything related to your company?

Think of your company and services as a campaign. While mounting your campaign, you will create several publication pieces. Are you doing everything you can to improve the “relevance” of these documents, especially the ones that you want your current and potential clients to download? Do us all favor, and crack open any PDF that you are currently circulating.

Go to the Adobe Acrobat® File menu and choose the Properties… dialogue. Touch the Description tab and look at the missed opportunities, or take a bow, as the case may be. This may be a good time to project this on the wall and invite the rest of the team in for a discussion. I’m not suggesting that I know how each search engine prioritizes their list of search-able fields (I didn’t say “algorithm”) to return results.

Since search engines were designed by brilliant humans, I figure they add more relevance points do a docu-ment that you described here, instead of having to read it all to decide the subject or the keywords.

Skilled marketing folks and copywriters (who are grossly underpaid, I might add) will judiciously add “key-words” to the content. Remember, the Search Engine moguls also identify cheaters using the same formula (notice that I tried not to use “algorithm” this time). Back to your laboratory…

I guarantee you that this is a genuine discussion starter. To add a goodly dose of incentive, download a docu-ment from your competitor and compare. Most often, you’ll be amused by the Author: field, that often displays the name of the computer where the document originated. Needless to say, that is not relevant to your company or your message. If you are lucky, there will be nothing too embarrassing there. Now, get to work.

If you have a crowd around you by now (what, no friends?), start brainstorming. Even if you are in business for yourself, invite someone over and show them what you discovered.

File Name

Maybe “zxrqWhb.pdf” (I checked before using this) means something to you internally. To the rest of us, and to your search engine of choice, you just wasted our time. Search engines are designed by people committed to valid returns. So, If I’m creating a search protocol (without saying “algorithm”), I might say “This file name means nothing in any language.” You will need to work your way upward from the very bottom of the list of “returns.”
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My search engine is working on my behalf and may say something like, “If someone prefers that I open the document and read it, instead of just telling me up front, you lose relevancy points.” If you can’t change the file name and you won’t tell me what need to elevate your status, I have nothing to work with here.” I held off talk-ing about metadata until now. As you can see, impartial (and ruthless) search engines are deciding your rele-vancy.


Fuzzwoobby’s Laptop may have been the exact location where your latest marketing incentive may have crossed your consciousness. Your board of directors couldn’t care less. The rest of the computer universe has already moved on. You are still mired in the realm of least relevant. BTW, finding a comical combination to illustrate my point was a little harder than I thought. My apologies to any other Fuzzwoobbies (not my real nickname). Bottom line, these are invisible, but search-able, fields that are important to search engines.


Sometimes the Subject and title can be similar or identical. Most times, you will find subtle or glaring differences between these two fields. Think of these a “cumulative” parameters to your search engine. Let’s think of positive keywords here. The vast majority of consumers do not create “negative” search terms. Your best customers think positive.


You’ve discovered the data that is invisibly affixed to your document. Believe it or not, less is more. Here is where decide what you “don’t” want to include by simply omitting it. From a search engine perspective, de-signed by perceptive and brilliant humans, seven chosen keywords (proven by the fact that there is something in that metadata field) are better than 250. You may be penalized for choosing a shotgun, rather than a rifle for your particular target.

What’s the Point?

Let’s say that you are very diligent when managing your keywords (search parameters) on your website or blog. Your collateral documents can vastly reinforce your message. At the very least, they should not work against you. Let me give you a real-life ‘frinstance.

Let’s say that you sell office supplies. One of these may be acid-free paper. You ask your marketing team to create a two-pager that lists all of the advantages of making that choice (environmental, etc.). Let’s assume that it is researched and informative, and not just “hard sell.” Now, maybe a grad-student is researching (search term) acid-free paper. What if a large law firm is doing the same and entering the same term. One has buying power. Maybe the student will refer to your company when crediting his published piece. Fill in your own scenario. Don’t limit your impact by neglecting metadata. From a search-engine perspective, if you have ignored these fields. If they are not important to you, duly noted.

I like my choices, if my document looks like this to client’s search engine:

File: EnvironmentalBulletin-AcidFreePaper.pdf

Title: YourCompany Commitment to the Planet – (doesn’t need to be the same as your headline)

Subject: Acid Free Paper

Keywords: Environmentally-Friendly, Printing Paper (your keyword choice, without cheating)

Additional Metadata… At least acknowledge the copyright.

Every single document (even those not intended for external distribution) contain metadata. Everybody “knows” enough Microsoft Word® to start a new document and type. Far fewer are aware that using a company template can reinforce your brand, or at least prevent embarrassing oversights. I really like this idea. If you in-troduce this scenario, you may be able to persuade folks to use a company template to reinforce branding.

Maintaining InDesign Metadata

Let’s agree on the fact that maintaining metadata will strengthen your branding efforts and, at least, be a factor in strengthening your relevancy rate with search engines. We have to determine the best place (and most) consistent place to “infuse” the most comprehensive metadata. I like to use the word “infuse,” almost as much as I like “algorithm.” As we’ve seen, the head of marketing should, at least, add the appropriate material manually, before making the final PDF available for search engine “crawling” and public consumption. It’s out of the scope of this blog post, but once you identify the need to do this with a bunch of documents in your company, you can create a Batch Processing scenario in Adobe Acrobat Pro® (the function is called Actions in Acrobat XI Pro, by the way / for more info

Here, we want to show how you can maintain or infuse this document information into your InDesign file. This will insure that any document that you export will contain the prescribed information. This will this save valuable time for PDF. Even more important, any “derivative” exports of this document, like an iPad (.epub) version will have this “required” info already. Without getting too technical, the Adobe® document “engine” allows for transfer or over-write of metadata between applications. I think maintaining your brand at the document level is always important. So here’s how I maintain this information at the InDesign Level. To start, we will access the interface and make changes for a single document.

Go to the InDesign File menu and choose File Info… to access the dialogue.
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I filled in the metadata fields with some example data. At the very least, you can fill in the Author and Copyright fields and save this information as an InDesign Template (.indt) file. What if you want to use this metadata in another InDesign document? At the bottom of the dialogue (second button from the left), you will see a drop-down arrow. Click there, and you will see an Export option. The resulting (.xmp) file will can be imported into any other InDesign document once you access the File Info… dialogue. You will have the option to replace any existing information or merely add to it.

Don’t Stop There

Consider exporting your catalog into multiple PDFs. This will give you more precise keyword combinations. This will enhance your potential for raising the relevance quotient for the web searches that your potential cli-ents will choose.

Coming Soon

Enrich your PDFs with interactive features, like a hyperlinked TOC and Index. Your PDF version document should me more than a mere “snapshot” of the print version. Learn how to engage readers with minimum effort.