3 easy ways to hide your PDFs from Google

Can this furtive cat hide from Google? Wait... I'm getting cats confused with PDFs again.
Can this furtive cat hide from Google? Wait… I’m getting cats confused with PDFs again.

Last month you learned how to set up and deliver a file for your followers to download after they opt in to your email list. Now, I’m going to teach you how to protect that downloadable file so that search engines don’t index it, which will keep people from finding it through Google and downloading it without first signing up through your email signup form… which is probably part of the reason you created your free offering to begin with, right? To help you build your list so it will overflow with lovely people who want to eat your brains! I mean crave your knowledge and thus want to hire you or buy your products.

Brian Griffin

Or maybe that file — a PDF, perhaps — is part of a paid program or product you’ve launched, or perhaps you just want to keep it private because your talking dog asked you to. You never know. And who’s judging? (Everyone.)

As you may remember, there are two options when it comes to hosting your file: you can host it on your email management system (MailChimp or Aweber, for example) or you can host it on WordPress. MailChimp automatically keeps nosy Google from indexing your stuff. However, I recommend hosting it on WordPress for a couple of reasons: first, you won’t have to transfer your file to a new email management system if you wish to switch, and second, if your file is larger than 10MB (which is the upper limit with many email management systems, including MailChimp), you can simply call your host and have them increase the allowed file size on WordPress.

So let’s assume your file is hosted on WordPress.

Now what, Nat? I can’t stand the suspense!

All right, sister, keep your hat on. I’m going to make this as painless as possible for you, and for this I have three options: two rely on a plugin and the third on protecting your file with a password. You only need one, and feel free to choose randomly, because isn’t that the most responsible way to go through life?

These methods will work if the page or blog post linking to the file has not yet been published.

If your file is already being shared through your website, you’ll want to either a) delete the page or post and include the link to your file in a new page or post, or b) use the second plugin below (WordPress Meta Robots) and follow up by removing the URL from search results via Google Webmaster Tools. You can also have a web developer insert code into your back-end to take care of this issue in the cleanest and simplest way possible.

All in one SEO pack

Plugin option #1: All in One SEO Pack

We’re going to employ the “nofollow” tag with both of these plugins. This tag will keep search engines from following (or “crawling”) specific content.

You’ll want to download and install the free plugin All in One SEO Pack, which, as you might expect, automatically optimizes your site for search engines.

To install a plugin, log into your site, go to WordPress admin > Plugins > Add New > search for “All in One SEO Pack” > find it in the results > click “Install Now” > Activate Plugin.

Once this plugin is installed, whenever you want to create or edit a page or blog post (in this case one containing a link to your downloadable file), all you have to do is scroll down to the box titled All in One SEO Pack (see image above). In that box, you’ll have the option to click next to “Robots Meta NOINDEX,” “Robots Meta NOFOLLOW,” and “Disable on this page/post.” Click the hell out of them. Then publish the page or post. Done. *Applause*

WP meta robots plugin

Plugin option #2: WordPress Meta Robots

This step is similar to #1. Download and install the free plugin WordPress Meta Robots. We’re going to use it to block Google from finding your file. You will not need to touch any code here either. It’s going to be epic. To some degree. Depending on what you mean by “epic.”

Navigate over to the page or post you’re working on (and which has not yet been published). Look on the right for the drop down menu (see image above) and choose the “noindex, nofollow” option, which will tell search engines to neither follow nor index the content in question. Presto.

password protected page

Option #3: Password protection

If you have a membership site, your members will need to log in with a username and password, which will automatically keep your file accessible only to your members. But if you don’t have a membership site, all you have to do is protect the page hosting your file with a password, such that only people who have this password can view the page and thus download your file.

The major search engines, including Google, won’t bother trying to guess passwords, so you’ll be all set. It’s like going to one of those annoyingly hip bars in New York City, where you walk through a phone booth and need to know a phrase like, “I’m too cool for school so I’m going to pretend I didn’t even want to come to this lounge where every cocktail costs $20, but I’m still going to pay an inordinate amount of money for a mediocre drink (and complain about it).” Or maybe something shorter, I don’t know, because I don’t go to “lounges” in Murray Hill where frat boys rule supreme.

Here’s how to make a password-protected page or post (see image above): On the right, you’ll see the box named “Publish.” You’ll have the option to make the visibility of the page Public, Password Protected, or Private. Guess which one you wanna go for and get… one zillion dollars! (Disclaimer: not really. Also “zillion” isn’t a number. In case you weren’t sure.)

I wasn’t expecting this song either.

If you want to leave it to the geeks

Of course, a web developer like myself can get down and dirty to apply more sophisticated ways to protect your content (without the use of plugins, which is always a plus — just click right here to set up a free chat with me), but any of these three options is a good start if you’re going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route and the idea of coding gives you a rash.

Tell me: Did you know you had to protect your downloadable content from search engines? Which option works best for you?

25 Responses to 3 easy ways to hide your PDFs from Google

    • Hahaha that’s wonderful. I intend to blow minds whenever possible. Let me know how it works out :)

  1. Yay!! Thanks for the info, Natalia!
    My page is already posted, so I’ll need to do the 2nd option & check out the Google Webmaster Tools.

    My other issue though is that on the Not Found, Error 404 page, all of my pages are listed included my opt-in offer. Is there a way to remove the link from that page?

    Thanks for your info, Natalia!! Very helpful!!!

    • Hey Jennifer!

      So glad it’s very helpful! :)

      That sounds like a theme issue, and many themes let you customize your 404 page, so see if you have an easy way to do that from your WP Dashboard > Appearance > Balance/Genesis theme (something like that). If not, I’d try their support forum.

      OR, if you wanna get a ‘lil messy, go to Dashboard > Appearance > Editor, look for the 404.php file (or something similar) on the right, and if you can figure out what’s making your pages show up, copy and paste it into a notepad file (just in case) and then delete it from the PHP file. HOWEVER, I DON’T recommend this because a) screwing up the PHP can break your website depending on the theme, in which case you’d have to go into your FTP and fix the PHP file, and b) if you do it and it works, it won’t stick because it’s not in a child theme, so you’ll have to do it again when you update your theme. But if you were getting into PHP you could do it, and I’m only telling you because I know you’ve been teaching yourself some code :)

    • That’s great to hear, Marsha! Always happy help over here :) Let me know if anything pops up that you need help with and if it can be tackled in a blog post, I’ll write about it!

  2. Helpful, I write web copy and maintain blogs for business and I wondered how to keep some samples secure from the big G’s prying eyes. Thanks.I think I”ll double up on security to be sure. I didn’t do B School yet, but I do love and respect Marie Forleo-she’s awesome.

  3. All in One SEO pack lets you disable SEO on existing pages as of August 2016 – and I know this because I just followed these instructions and it worked on an existing page that was hosting my PDF!

    • Hmm great question, Emily! I know it takes Google 45-60 days to refresh things, but I’m guessing that if you resubmit your sitemap to Google Search Console, Google will re-index your website’s content minus the PDF and it’ll take less :D (Let me know if you’re confused about what all this means because I’ve been thinking of blogging about it!)

  4. “It’s going to be epic. To some degree. Depending on what you mean by “epic.” And I just snort laughed. LOL. Thanks so much for this. I upload all of my printables to WP and didn’t want them to be found. Doing anything with code scares me to some degree so the plug in recommendations are way helpful. Kudos!

    • So glad you enjoyed that, Cynthia ;) And very happy to hear it’s useful! I want to add: if the printables are heavy (say, over 100kb) and you have more than a few, it’d be worthwhile to host them on Dropbox/Google Drive/etc. instead of on your website to keep your website loading fast :) Let me know if you have questions! And thank you for reading, Cynthia!

  5. Hiya, I have a client with some files they wanted to hide from the world, but allow to be downloaded by their staff. I password protected the page on WP, and hit the nofollow etc on All in one SEO settings for the page for good measure. However the files that the page list are not protected since they are files uploaded as media, not pages or posts, it seems they are still indexed by Google (if you search for some text specifically in those files, they appear in SERPS) Any ideas how to stop that?

    • Hi Sara!

      If you tried the methods outlined in the blog post and they didn’t work (how odd!) …What about installing a membership plugin? You could keep those files behind a subscription wall, and have the “Create an account” link be a complicated string of letters/numbers that only the company and staff have. Another option would be to just put the files on Dropbox/etc. and provide links to download from there. And of course redirect those SERPS from within the website to a 404 page or something else, plus remove the URLs from search results via Google Webmaster Tools. I hope that helps :)

      • Thanks I have ended up using the Download Monitor plugin, which places the files in a secured folder rather than them being in the wordpress uploads folder. Files in the DM folder will not directly be accessible, returning a HTTP 403 error, so won’t be indexed by search engines. And thanks for the other point, I’d forgotten to go into webmaster tools and remove the old URLs, though I have re-submitted a site map since updating the site so fingers crossed all will be well!

        • That’s great, Sara, thanks for that tip on the Download Monitor plugin! And thank you for reading :D

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