PDFs are killing your reputation


If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

Almost one third of PDF reports produced by the World Bank have never been downloaded. Another 40% have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

This Washington Post article suggests that “the solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.”

And don’t think for a second that you’re the exception.

PDFs are not very web-friendly. Their purpose is to retain formatting (mainly for printing), and they can be a useful tool to bridge the offline and online worlds. However, their usefulness has serious limitations, especially as more people access the web through their mobile devices.

PDFs make it hard for visitors to search for information and aren’t very SEO-friendly. People using mobile devices or tablets will have to download the PDF before they can view the information – a task that many are unwilling to do even  on their desktop.

That means that the resources spent researching, organizing, writing, and formatting information for PDF documents are largely going to waste. If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

When you write a report you may have a vision that the information will help people solve problems. The truth is, the information is hidden away like the change in your couch cushions. Information in a report that you think will make an impact and be shared widely among your networks will likely go unnoticed.

If your organization uses PDFs, you also need to use other ways to share the information.


To do:

Think: Why do you use PDFs on your site?

If the main purpose of using PDFs is so people can print information and tools (such as activities, agendas, worksheets, etc.), PDFs can still be a good option because you’re using them for the purpose they were designed for. However, you need to make sure that you have a good description of the document so your visitors understand what kind of resource they’re downloading. For large files, it also helps to include a few highlights from the document on the download page.

Another option is to eliminate the PDF and have your information only available as articles on your site. Work with your web developer to help format your pages for printing so you can remove things like the sidebar or the navigation for a clean print version.

If you decide to continue using PDfs, you need to have a way for people to preview the documents so they know what they’re downloading. I recommend using Scribd to upload your PDFs and then embed the documents into your website.

For reports, you should get a little creative about presenting the information so that it’s easily digestible and shareable. You can still have the PDF available to download in case people want to print the information or access the full report, but you’ll get much more traction if you format the information in a different way. Here are some ideas for other ways you can share information from your reports:

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