Publishers: How to format your PDF metadata

Maybe it’s just me, but it really bugs me when I download a professionally-published PDF and open it only to see that its properties aren’t correctly tagged, and that the views and layouts haven’t been set up properly, or at all.

Not only is this formatting helpful for the readers—both the human ones and their ebook apps—but it can also help with search engine optimization (SEO), provided that your PDFs are publicly available for free download somewhere that’s not protected by a paywall. Even better, formatting these metadata and view options is very, very simple.

So, here’s my own little 12-step program to help you improve your PDF publishing. (These instructions are specifically for Windows users, but the process is functionally identical for Mac.) Images utilize my Corporia RPG core rulebook as an example.

Step One: Open your PDF.

Step Two: Go to File > Properties. This will open up the Document Properties window.

Step Three: Click the Description tab (see Image 1, below), if you’re not taken to it automatically.

Step Four: Complete the Title and Author fields as appropriate for your product.

Step Five: Complete the Subject and Keyword fields however you prefer. For the Keyword field, I put my name, the title, and some keywords appropriate to the book. I usually repeat the book title in the Subject field.

Properties (click for larger view)

Image 1: Description (click for larger view)

Step Six: Now, while we’re still in the Document Properties window, go to the Initial View tab (see Image 2 below). This tab is where you’ll set how you want your PDF to appear when the reader opens it.

Step Seven: Under Layout and Magnification, you can set what Navigation tab (if any) you want to appear along with the page. Experiment to see which one you like. I personally recommend either Page Only, or (if you included bookmarks – which you should) Bookmarks Panel and Page.

Step Eight: Next under Layout and Magnification is Page layout. Most of you will probably want Single Page. Again, experiment to see what looks best for your project.

Because Corporia was roughly 7 x 10, I chose Two-Up (Cover Page) so that once the reader was past the cover, the PDF displays a ‘spread’ of two pages, so it looks just like it would if you had a copy of the hardcover open in front of you. If you use this option, you’ll need to insert a blank page (or, as I did, a Preface) to appear immediately following the cover. Otherwise you won’t get that nice two-page spread. I’ve seen some publishers insert the back cover as this ‘filler’ page, but I don’t like that, myself – I prefer to keep the back cover at the end of the book.

Initial View (click for larger view)

Image 2: Initial View (click for larger view)

Step Nine: Also under Layout and Magnification are Magnification and Open to page:. These are pretty self-explanatory. I prefer Fit Height and, of course, Open to page 1.

Step Ten: Next are Window Options. I ignore most of these options because they may override the reader’s natural PDF viewing preferences, but the last one, Show: File Name/Show: Document Title, is very important. Be sure to always pick Show: Document Title, since this will cause the PDF header to display the title you entered on the Description tab, rather than a file name that might include numbers or notes that make sense to you but that don’t need to be visible to the reader.

Using the title is GOOD (green arrow). Using the file name is BAD (red arrow))

Image 3: Window Options. Using the title is GOOD (green arrow). Using the file name is BAD (red arrow). (click for larger view)

Step Eleven: The last item on this tab is User Interface Options, which I also ignore. I don’t want to hide any options that the reader is probably already accustomed to using.

Step Twelve: Finally, save your file with an appropriate file name. Be sure that it’s clear and concise, so that your buyer knows instantly what the file contains simply by reading the file name. For instance, “Corporia-RPG.pdf” would be fine, while “CRPR-final-v1.4.pdf” or “12346636.pdf” would not be. Note also that if you’re going to be releasing multiple PDFs in this same line, be sure to keep your file naming style consistent.

Okay, that’s it. Now go forth and publish!

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