How to Search Google for PDFs

Most often, you use Google Search to find web pages, and image and video results are also popular. However, sometimes it’s helpful to do a Google Search for PDF files. 

Maybe you’re looking for a specific PDF that you’ve seen online before. Or, you could want to download content in PDF form so the formatting is easy to read and use. For example, a downloadable PDF of a checklist is more useful than reading the checklist in a blog post.

Luckily, there are a few ways to search Google for PDFs.

What Are Google Search Operators?

A search operator (also called a “search parameter” at times) is simple code you use in your Google Search to tell Google the type of results you do or don’t want. For example, if you want to search for “reality TV” but don’t want any results from the Bravo network, you would search for reality TV -Bravo or reality TV -site:bravotv.com.

You can use one search operator at a time or combine a few for better filtering.

For our purposes, we’re going to tell Google that we’re looking for a PDF file instead of another file type. The search parameter we’ll be using is filetype:.

How to Search for PDFs With Google

You’ll only be able to find PDFs that have been indexed by Google. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t index everything that’s online , so it’s possible the PDF you want (or that you would find useful) won’t turn up in search results.

That said, if Google knows about it, this is the best way to quickly find a PDF you want.

Search Google for PDFs by File Type

To look for a PDF on a specific topic, use filetype:pdf followed by your keyword or phrase. For example, filetype:pdf travel packing list.

Example of how to search Google for PDFs.

Clicking on a search result link should bring you to a PDF page instead of a regular web page. You can use more or fewer keywords to get closer to the results you want. For example, below are some of the results for filetype:pdf travel packing list beach.

Google Search results when looking for a PDF.

Exclude Words or Phrases When You Search Google for PDFs

To narrow down the results when you do a Google Search for PDF files, combine the file type search operator with ones for excluding words and phrases:

  • To exclude a word: Use a minus (-) sign before the word. For example, filetype:pdf packing list -beach
  • To exclude a phrase: Use a minus (-) sign before the phrase in quotation marks. For example, filetype:pdf packing list -“road trip”

You can also use several different kinds of parameters at once. For example, if you want a packing list PDF that’s not for a beach vacation or a road trip, you’d Google filetype:pdf packing list -beach -“road trip”.

Search for a PDF by Name

If you know the name of the PDF you’re looking for, you can search for it by combining the file type parameter with the title: filetype:pdf title. Here are the results for my filetype:pdf ultimate guide to budgeting:

Ways to search Google for PDF files.

Sometimes, enclosing the title in quotation marks will help. For example, filetype:pdf “ultimate guide to budgeting”. However, when I tried that with this example, I got less-targeted results. Still, it pays to try both ways if you’re having trouble finding what you want.

Search Google for PDFs on a Specific Domain

If you want to find a PDF on a specific website, you can narrow Google results that way. For this, you’ll use the site: search operator. Your search will look something like this: filetype:pdf site:URL. Here are some of the results when searching for PDFs from smartertravel.com:

How to search Google for PDF files example.

If you’re looking on a website that has a lot of PDFs, you can narrow results by adding a keyword or another search parameter. For example, here are the top search results for filetype:pdf site:moz.com seo:

Example of searching Google for a PDF.

Exclude PDF Results From a Specific Domain

Want to look for PDFs but exclude a certain website? You’ll use the same parameter as in the last tip but with a minus sign: filetype:pdf -site:URL. You can do this with more than one website, too — just add multiple instances of the minus sign and site parameter.

For example, if you want to search for packing list PDFs but don’t want results from smarttravel.com, you’d search for this: filetype:pdf -site:smartertravel.com packing list.

This is also a good strategy if you want to do competitor research and don’t want PDF results from your own website.

How to Search Google for Other File Types

In addition to being able to search Google for PDFs, you can also look for other file types using the filetype: parameter. Common file-type searches include:

  • Microsoft Excel documents: filetype:xls
  • Microsoft PowerPoint presentations: filetype:ppt
  • Microsoft Word documents: filetype:doc
  • Rich Text Format: filetype:rtf

You can use more than one file type search operator at the same time to expand your search, too. For example, if you wanted to look for PDF and PowerPoint files for “travel tips,” you would search for filetype:ppt OR filetype:pdf travel tips.

Final Thoughts

Using Google Search parameters to find PDF files can speed up the search process. And if you’re trying to fill in a gap that your competitors aren’t covering, it can help you figure out which download files to offer your audience.

Including downloads and PDFs on your website is a great way to better serve your visitors. You can also make sure your site is optimized by following our free SEO checklist for new websites .

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