Should You Use a PDF For That?

Illustration of a person using a laptop in front of pumpkins

The PDF is among the most popular file types on the internet. Almost every computer or mobile device can open a PDF and authors of PDFs have a lot of control over what the end result will look like. But there are some significant drawbacks to the PDF. Companies who utilize this file type, particularly when it comes to marketing materials, should ensure that they are using it in the correct context.

PDF downloads can be a good option if the content is intended to be printed or viewed offline. A good example of this would be a brochure or an infographic. These types of short, visual documents are well-suited for the PDF format. However, longer documents such as catalogs may be better presented in more dynamic and interactive formats.

Is Your PDF Too Big?

PDF’s are often big files, as they are intended to contain rich images.  Even users with very fast internet may see noticeable load times with larger PDFs.  And unlike web content, which is loaded on a page by page basis, PDFs need to be downloaded completely before they render. So if you’ve got a long catalog, your customer or prospect might end up waiting for a decent chunk of time.

For larger documents, like catalogs or long product manuals, consider breaking the content up into multiple documents. Not only will this help with load times, it will help prevent your document from wasting storage space on your end user’s device. After all, if they don’t need large sections of your document, they probably don’t want them taking up space.

Is Your PDF Easy to Read?

As we mentioned, one of the benefits of the PDF format is the control it gives the author over the visual structure and style. Your end-user can open up your PDF using just about any software that opens PDFs and your design and layout choices will still be present. But this is also one of the downfalls of the PDF format. Because of this rigid structure, PDFs do not allow text reflow. This means if something is too small for your end-user to read, they will need to zoom in on it as opposed to just making the text larger. It also means that users on smaller screens, like a mobile phone for example, will have a lesser experience with your document, as the content will not reflow to fit their device.

For longer documents such as catalogs and manuals, consider also whether your document has any kind of navigation. Looking at a page number on a table of contents and manually navigating to that page is an antiquated solution. Web content often provides much better user experiences when it comes to navigating larger blocks of content like this.

Is Your PDF Accessible?

Accessibility has quickly become one of the biggest topics of web development. And companies that wish to utilize the internet in their business can no longer afford to ignore that fact.  Otherwise they risk excluding potential customers or even facing legal consequences. 

There is a process to make PDFs accessible. However, most PDFs are not accessible from the start. And certain types of PDFs, such as a scan of a document, cannot be easily made accessible. If you haven’t consulted with an accessibility specialist or there isn’t already a process in place to make your PDFs accessible, there’s a good chance that they aren’t.

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