Our Plea Against Using PDFs on Websites

Our Plea Against Using PDFs on Websites

Just say no.

Recently I went on my gym's website looking for the schedule of yoga, pilates, power circuit and Zumba classes. Not that I intended to attend them all, but I like options.

I clicked my way through the site until I finally found the words “class schedule.” I was elated! I had successfully navigated my way to pay day. Alas, when I opened the page, there it was. The dreaded PDF. I had to download the PDF if I wanted to know the schedule.

At one time, a PDF on a website had its uses. I could print it out and post it on the refrigerator for future reference. But, if I hadn’t been at home within easy reach of a printer, it would have been a challenge to download the PDF on my phone or tablet and navigate my way through the document. Lesson learned.

But more importantly, I don’t post information like this on my refrigerator anymore. I keep track of things electronically. A PDF is no longer the most viable way to make key information available on a website.

We must make it as easy as possible for people to access information exactly when they need it. There’s an art to it and PDFs tend to throw a monkey wrench into this beautiful user flow.

Before posting a PDF, evaluate your reasons for including that content. Then determine the best and most user-friendly way to make it accessible.

Why NOT to use a PDF instead of a Web Page infographic

Here are some scenarios to consider:

Scenario 1: The PDF has the exact same information already available on a web page.

Like the aforementioned gym, I used to work for a company that posted PDF versions of all web content and linked it on the site so that a printable version would be available. Because people didn’t always tote their smartphones or laptops into business or board meetings, bringing in the paper was the way to go.

That time is no more.

Today smartphones, tablets, and/or laptops are constant business props in our technological society. In fact, for most people, their smartphones are (practically) permanent attachments to their bodies.

How many of you sleep with your smartphone on the night stand or under your pillow? We are becoming very comfortable handling things electronically and it feels good to eliminate the paper. The need for a pdf version of web content has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Scenario 2: You’ve created a digital or print newsletter and would like to reuse it on your website.

Reusing content is extremely smart. For one thing, people need to see things many times before it really sinks into their psyche. For another, it’s hard work writing and developing articles. We believe in working smarter, not harder! So yes—repurpose and reuse content to your heart’s content.

Keep in mind, people consume print and digital newsletters differently than they consume website content. They expect to have to take the time to carefully read and understand the newsletter. But, when they are on your website, they want quick and highly accessible information at their fingertips.

(Don’t forget. There’s still no need to post the additional PDF of the web content anymore. See Scenario 1.)

Instead, repurpose that newsletter content and spin it into a blog post or a resource page. A testimonial would fit well on a sales page. Or other key ideas could serve as a great springboard for a podcast or Facebook Live broadcast.

Scenario 3: You’ve linked a press release as a PDF on your website

Do not convert a press release from a Word doc into a PDF and link it on your website…unless you really don’t want people to read it.

A press release can, and should, be its own web page. It is a simple matter to make a few minor formatting changes to ensure that your audience reads it.

What do you think?? Are you for or against the proliferation of PDFs on business websites?

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April Mann

April Mann used to be co-owner and Digital Marketing Strategist for Magnified Web. Now she currently works at ESRI as a Web Content Specialist. Get more from April on the Magnified Web blog.

April Mann, Co-owner of Magnified Web
April Mann, Co-owner of Magnified Web

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