Document Properties in PDFs – More Dish

Continuing last week’s post, there’s dish to be found in the PDFs you receive from partners, customers, vendors and prospects. Here are some ideas on what to look for.

In my last post on file properties in Microsoft Word docs, I described ways to interpret some of the metadata that lives in those files. As a marketing manager, you probably read and create PDFs almost as often as you do Microsoft Office docs, so keep your eye on metadata in these files too.

Reading document properties in PDFs

First of all, you realize (don’t you?) that PDF is NOT proprietary to Adobe. It’s a standard format, and there are plenty of non-Adobe products for creating and viewing them. Nevertheless, consider Adobe Acrobat, which is representative of most readers. And free.

When you open a PDF in Acrobat Reader, you can select File > Properties, or hit Ctrl-D to open the Document Properties dialog:

Adobe Reader Document Properties

Title, Author, Subject, Keywords: Fortunately, these fields populate themselves from the application in which you created the document. If you don’t like the values, you can change them here before publishing the document to your website or checking it into your content management system.

In particular, you should introduce keywords. To the extent that the bots pay any attention to keywords, they will find them in this field, in the same way that they will find them in the <meta> tags of HTML pages.

Application: If you’ve used a real layout app like Adobe InDesign or Illustrator or Quark XPress to create your brochure, case study or white paper, then this field helps show that you’re a serious marketing professional. But if you’ve done it on the cheap, using Microsoft Word or – heaven forfend – Publisher, this field will rat you out and inquiring minds will see it. Yes, there are a lot of good-looking Word templates around, but they aren’t the ones that most people use.

Location: You have no control over this field. It updates itself with the location of the PDF on the reader’s computer, not on the computer on which the PDF was generated. The field is a hyperlink, by the way, and if you click on it, it will open the handy Temp folder in which your operating system stores jillions of files you view and read on the Web. Throw away some five-year-old PDFs, if you’re in the mood.

Security tab: Did you know you can protect the content in your PDFs?

Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF security properties


Unscrupulous people might want to take your work and pass it off as their own. Or, if you want the document to be read only on a screen, they might want to defy your wishes and print it out. They may want to fill it with nasty comments about you and slander your name all over the place. Isn’t it nice to know you can prevent all that?

For this, you need the professional version of a PDF generating application, like Adobe Acrobat Pro or Nitro PDF Professional; you can’t do it with the free reader application. After generating the PDF, visit the Security tab and head off all of those miscreants at the pass by setting restrictions on what they may and may not do with your white paper or eBook. You can also configure your PDF add-in to apply the restrictions when you first generate the file.

Marketing managers, note: There is some cachet to applying at least a few restrictions. It demonstrates that your team knows that these options exist, and that you’re savvy enough to want to protect your work. There are probably plenty of ways for a determined thief to hack into your PDF, but at least you can make it clear that you tried, and that you do place enough value on the content to want to protect it.

So, that’s why I like to hang out in the document properties. Do you? What have you found there?


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”