Intelligent strategies for using pdf's

A street sign with the words 'a better way' with a blue sky background.
There is a better way of using pdf's

The web is littered with un-usable pdf's. Enlightened usage of this format will increase usage, usability and keep your users engaged with your site. It's about time the best web managers' are recognised for implementing intelligent strategies for pdf's.

Lazy web managers' abuse the use of pdf's. They don't ask the basic questions relating to the purpose of the content. What is its objective? What is it meant to achieve? What are we trying to communicate? What do our users need to do and how will this content help them do it?

Rather than dump your users into an unwanted or unexpected pdf, spare them the misery by implementing the following strategies:

  • Reformat the more complex information (such as annual reports, large white papers or product information) for online use paying particular attention to search engine optimisation, calls to action and writing for the web.
  • Create landing pages with short summarises of the information and then give the user the option to download the pdf if they wanted the more detailed information. This way you are giving them the choice and managing their expectation if they open the pdf.
  • The landing page should clearly warn users that they'll be getting a pdf file. It should also state the file's page count and download size.
  • Break big pdf files into sections and offer separate links into each one, with a brief summary of the content next to each link. Also, provide a link to a single file that includes all pages, and tell users to use this link if they want to print the document.
  • Consider adding instructions for how to download the pdf file without the annoyance of having it open in the browser. Unfortunately, this is difficult for average users to do with current technology; it would be nice if there were a special type of link that would always download a file rather than displaying it.
  • Launch pdf documents in a new browser window.
This page was last updated on Monday, 26th April 2010.