Why you might want to rethink distributing PDFs on your website

September 16, 2015


Most offers such as white papers, e-books, datasheets and brochures are distributed as Adobe PDF documents. Why do we do this? Adobe PDF is meant for documents that are to be printed. The file format solves the problem of documents being created in a word-processor being mangled by loss of fonts, images etc.. So if we distribute documents and PDF, we should assume that the document will be printed and read offline.

Is this actually the case with your offers? Because if you suspect that your offer is being read on a computer screen — or worse, a tablet or smartphone — then you might want to rethink your use of Adobe PDF.

PDF documents often have complicated layouts

Because the PDF is designed for print, the documents often have callouts, columns and other print tactics to make the page look interesting. These features make reading on the screen difficult if the user has to scroll right, click to new pages or zoom in/out to read the content.

PDF documents require extra software

PDF documents are loaded via Acrobat, a plugin. Its rare to encounter a computer that does not have the Acrobat plugin, but many computers run older versions of the plugin. You might be crashing a user’s browser or confusing them with downloads, plugins etc.. and distracting them from your message.

PDF documents are not responsive

The strongest reason not to use PDF is the fact that your visitors are probably looking at your content on a device such as a mobile phone. PDF documents on tablets and phone are downloaded to the downloads folder on the device. The user then needs to locate the folder and open the PDF in the phone’s PDF viewer, assuming that they have one.

Once they get the document open on their device, they will need to scroll, pinch and do other manipulations to get the content to be readable on their phone. Compare that experience to a browser page that responds to the size of your screen.

When to use PDF

You should only use PDF for documents that you intend for the end-use to download and print. Users are likely to print when:

  • A document is very long (over 15 pages)
  • Is a high value document that they will gladly jump through the hurdles of working with PDF (some analyst reports fit this category)
  • The user will print and share the document (an event flyer)

Consider using standard webpage formats for your white papers, e-books, datasheets and brochures. HTML offers enhancements like responsiveness and hypertext that your user will appreciate when consuming your content.

More reading on this topic:

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