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October, 2018, PDF is at 68. March 2022, PDF is at 100, October 2023, PDF is at 98.

How Google Trends saw “PDF” in 2023

It’s difficult to find other search terms that share PDF’s continuous upwards trend. Few technologies show this resilience, especially over such a long period of time.
About the author: As CEO of the PDF Association and as an ISO Project Leader, Duff coordinates industry activities, represents industry stakeholders in a variety of settings and promotes the advancement and adoption of … Read more
Duff Johnson

Duff Johnson
December 18, 2023


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Top Google searches of 2023.Google Trends reports on the frequency of search terms relative to all Google searches (more about how Google Trends works). As such, the Trends service offers a simple metric for a search term’s mind-share. Google likes to celebrate this capability with its “Year in Search” page.

Using proportional search-term frequency as a proxy for mindshare has its limitations, but the sheer scale - at 8.5 billion queries per day - means that Trends data cannot be ignored. Google Trends results are recalculated over time, so you may not get identical results when you recheck. 

Five years ago we looked at "peak pdf” - the moment when global interest in the portable document format relative to other search terms was highest. As of October 2018 “peak pdf” had come in September, 2015. When we checked again, in late October, 2022, “peak PDF” was recorded in March of that year. 

As of our check on December 12, 2023, March 2022 remains the peak but PDF’s all-time score remains extremely high, and higher overall than in 2022:

"pdf" 2004 through Dec 12, 2023. 

Worldwide, although the increase in searches for PDF relative to all searches began to flatten in 2014, an upward trajectory remains. Google notes “an improvement to our data collection system” starting January 1, 2022, the result of which was a dramatic increase in PDF’s “interest over time” metric. The overall trend remains consistent with our observations in 2018 and 2022: in 2023, “pdf” is more popular relative to all Google searches worldwide than in any other year to date.

Why look at searches for “pdf”?

Of course, 99.9% of those searching for “pdf” have no interest in the format itself. Although it’s true that “PDF” is also used to refer to Myanmar’s People’s Defense Force it’s safe to say that the vast majority of users worldwide who search for PDF aren’t looking for information about Myanmar. Instead, it’s reasonable to infer that when a user includes “pdf” in a search they are seeking some sort of publication, form or other document they expect to find in the portable document format. Likewise, including “PDF” implies that they are not thinking about a web site... except, perhaps as a place from which to download a document of interest.

Web pages are more capable and dynamic than ever, but they are no more “documents” than they were in 2018 or 2022. 30 years since the format was launched PDF applications and usage continue to grow. That’s because PDF technology; as a self-contained, reliable and flexible portable document format, is key to digital transformation. PDF does what other web technologies do not. Accordingly, PDF does not compete with HTML; it complements HTML.

So how is PDF faring in internet searches since 2018 and 2022? What follows is a series of screen-shots, as Google Trends does not (yet) facilitate sharing a snapshot of a given search (PDF would work well for that 🙂 outside social media. These searches were conducted on December 15, 2023.

The big picture

Web technologies keep on growing and increasing in capability, allowing users to read, bank, sign, comment and more online, but Google records that searches for “PDF” remain strong relative to all searches.

October, 2018, PDF is at 68. March 2022, PDF is at 100, October 2023, PDF is at 98.
March 2022 remains the latest "peak pdf” worldwide.

Just how popular is PDF compared to, say, "Google", which, along with "YouTube", was the term most Googled worldwide in 2023?

PDF vs. Google shows Google dominant but losing ground while PDF gains.

Answer: PDF is (slowly) catching up!


In 2022 we reported that the proportion of searches including “pdf” has changed over time, with an increasing correlation with holiday cycles in the western world, with the predominant low-points aligning with December and July of each year. That trend remains.

PDF worldwide 2018-2023.


Having established that interest in pdf continues to grow worldwide it’s worth asking: where are searches for "pdf" increasing relative to all web-searches, and where are they not?

In 2018 we reported that “peak pdf” in the United States occurred in September 2015 - four years later peak pdf has moved to February 2023. 

USA since 2004, 100 in  February 2023.

By contrast, pdf's popularity in Germany has continued relatively steady, although Germany sees much less seasonality as compared to the USA. Perhaps PDF is more fully integrated into German’s personal lives? 

Peak PDF in Germany since 2004: 100 in June 2018.

The German “peak PDF” occurred in June, 2018. If we zoom in on that month we find that Germans were searching for “wm spielplan pdf” (World Cup schedule pdf) and variations thereof. The actual peak occurred on June 14, the day the World Cup opened… and a day that, in retrospect, Germans probably prefer to forget.

Searches for PDF in Germany during June, 2018. 100 on June 14.

"PDF" vs ??

What other tech concepts or products compete for user’s searches? As noted above, Google and Youtube dominate Google searches worldwide.. But both are falling relative to all searches, whereas PDF continues to rise.

“iPhone” remains a popular search, but the proportion of searches for iPhone relative to all searches is down. 2023, in fact, marks the first year in which searches for PDF exceeded searches for iPhone, excepting the annual ritual in September, when new iPhones are announced.

PDF vs iPhone in 2023 shows that iPhone only beat PDF during September.

It’s difficult to find other subjects in technology that share PDF's continuous upwards trend. Interest in material that searchers clearly assume to be in the portable document format is impressive. Few technologies show as much resilience, especially over Google Trends' entire available timescale.

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