Posting PDF files allows you to publish digital representations of printed documents. Before you post them, however, you should be aware of potential PDF performance and design issues. The following guidelines will help you write posts or pages that use PDFs effectively.
Potential Problems with PDF Files
There are times when posting PDF files makes sense; however, there are some potential pitfalls. First, let’s see what usability problems there are with PDFs.
- PDF files can be slow to load due to large file size. A browser may “hang” while waiting for the PDF reader to open, especially if the file size is large and the user’s connection speed is slow.
- Links to PDF files can look just like links to other webpages. Users expecting another web page to load may be surprised if the link actually loads a PDF. Adobe Reader behaves differently than a web browser which may cause confusion.
- PDFs, if not formatted properly, may not be fully accessible to visitors accessing your site by use of assistive technologies (screen reading software, for example).
- PDFs are not usually written for reading on the web. For example, a tri-fold brochure in PDF format will not have the same on-screen reading experience as it would have when printed out and folded appropriately. Pages will be presented out of order on screen and will only make sense when printed and folded.
- Newsletters in PDF format have low granularity; in order to read any individual article you need to open the entire PDF file.
Appropriate uses of PDF files on the Web
There are many great reasons to use PDF files on your site. PDFs can be great for content that you think your readers will want to download or print, or to provide an easier way for readers to use certain kinds of content (forms, long publications like catalogs, etc.)
That said, before you post a PDF consider if it might be better to publish the content as a web page instead. For example, if you have an event flyer in PDF format, it is certainly quick and easy to publish that flyer as a PDF; however, it may easier on your readers to view that content as a web page or post without having to go through extra clicks to download a one-page flyer. It’s also easier on you — the web publisher — to update a web page or post than to go back and update a PDF file. (You may want to consider publishing the content within a page or post and also provide a PDF version in case readers also want to print out the flyer.)
When PDF is the best option, design your PDF well
Most PDF files are designed for printing and are not written or optimized for the web. By optimizing for the web you can reduce the file size of your PDFs to increase their download speed (and save user frustration!).
- Optimize your PDF appropriately so the file size isn’t unnecessarily huge. To reduce the size of existing PDFs use the PDF Optimizer. A tutorial is available from the Adobe Acrobat User Community: Optimize PDF files with better results.
- Make sure your PDF is accessible.
- Creating accessible PDF from Word (Acrobat accessibility training resource from Adobe.com)
- If you create the PDF from a Word document, make sure the Word document is accessible before you convert it to PDF. You may want to read PDF Accessibility: Converting Documents to PDF (help article from WebAIM).
- Provide a descriptive title for the PDF on your post or page. For example, if your newsletter pdf has a convoluted file name like “news7-2012.pdf” then you need to provide a much more descriptive and user-friendly title to the file on your webpage. As you know, when you are uploading your PDF file, WordPress gives you a space for the file’s title.
- Identify the file as PDF file and provide info about how big the file is and how many pages it has.
- Don’t just post the PDF. Provide some context for your readers. For example, if you’re posting a newsletter in PDF form, your post or page could give a few introductory sentences to describe what readers will find in the PDF. “In this month’s issue of our 4-H newsletter you’ll find…”
Here’s an example of a post containing a newsletter PDF link. Note the descriptive link title, the bulleted list giving context to the file, and supplementary info (file type, number of pages, file size) following the link:
See an example of best practices when posting a PDF file on the Lorem County demo site 4-H Newsletter page.
Need a review?
For basic information about how to post PDF files, see our help article, Link to a file.