There’s something to learn from black hat SEO tactics for PDF files

Go search Google for “free tiktok followers” and you will see some brilliant, although dirty #blackhat #SEO. Most of the top ten results belong to a spammer who has hacked into dozens of sites and created fake profiles and uploaded .pdf files to public directories with spun content.

That scam is surprising, but what’s particularly interesting is why it works. It demonstrates that, in spaces with emerging volumes of low competition, competitors can win by just having one or two solid ranking factors despite featuring absolute garbage content.

For example, the City of Neehaw, Wisconsin, runs a WordPress site that should be trusted. It’s a government site with lots of links pointing to it. In this corner of the internet, Google doesn’t care if the content screams spam because if the site is trustworthy, the content ranks.

Can you apply this tactic?

If you’re like me, you’d at least play with the idea…

When you get past your moral objections, you can apply this “insight,” by hosting .pdf files in the static directories of public hosting sites. Let’s look at an example.

This might blow your mind. The subdomain that hosts the static assets that belong to the sites hosted on Squarespace has a Moz Domain Authority of 80! To put that in context, YouTube is 100, and 80 is about the score of itself!

No surprise, with that monstrous domain authority, and thousands upon thousand so hosted .pdf files, the site ranks for a ton of keywords.

And the traffic? About two-thirds of a billion visits per month.

Can a PDF outrank a page?

The short answer is yes. These PDF files rank #1 for dozens of searches and top 10 for millions. And that’s just from one site.

Granted, they are mostly very low competition keywords, so take that with a grain of salt. The highest competition search term that has PDF file ranking #1 has a keyword competition of 48. Not super high but volume doesn’t always equal value!

The thing to note here is how many of these searches are related to shady or illicit activities. Lots of them promise social media followers, different types of “hacks,” and copyright infringing activities.

And finally, I couldn’t find any instances where a Squarespace-hosted static PDF outranked a page on the Squarespace-hosted site. I can think of one big reason that Google would prefer a responsive page over a PDF: mobile devices don’t give a damn for PDFs.

Can a PDF file get a featured snippet?

Again, the short answer is yes. In the absence of competition, the quality and relevance of the content (and let’s not forget the domain authority) give the PDF file the edge.

Explore how relevant your content is to search keywords with my Unique Word Counter

The interesting thing here is that the snippets lack any structural formatting. Because a PDF is much like a big .txt file in Google’s eyes, there is no option to create a table or bulleted lists. It’s just text or anything.

Should you apply this tactic?

Look, I’m not the SEO police; I’m just a fractional SEO who loves competition and is fascinated by search.

Should you hack a site just to upload some spam? No.

Is it worth hosting a PDF on a public hosting domain if it’s your only chance at ranking for a target keyword? Maybe…

I love thinking about #minimumviableSEO, and sometimes you have to be creative to rank for terms that your site isn’t ready to rank for.

But keep two things in mind. You won’t have tracking in Google Search Console or Google Analytics because. As you might have guessed, you can’t upload Google Search Console’s HTML verification file to the static hosting domains. (Of course, I tried it!) This means the only tracking you’ll get is any tracked links that point to your site from a PDF.

So consider your costs and benefits. If you’re not just some spammer and you’re really thinking about SEO strategy, you’ve probably got better things to do with your time.

I hope this was interesting and it scratched your curiosity as it did mine!

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