Never, ever, use PDFs on your website

By January 15, 2016Tuesday teardown

Tuesday teardown – In summary: 

  • PDFs deliver a terrible user experience – there’s no menus, cross linking or ability to subscribe and share
  • Have you ever tried reading a PDF on mobile? It’s a terrible user experience
  • Google will penalise you for using PDFs as a primary content format – so people won’t be able to find your content

Websites referenced in this teardown:

Transcript of this teardown:

Hi, I’m Steve Pell. I’m here to do another one of our B2B marketing teardowns where we look at a practical example to give you some quick ways that you can improve your returns on digital and content marketing.

Today, I’m going to use Schroders as the example, who are an Australian fund manager.

We’re looking at the right times and the wrong times to use PDF’s on your website. The practical takeaway is don’t use PDF’s as your primary format for content. PDF’s have a purpose on a website and that is only for printing, so minimise their use otherwise.

I’m going to talk through just how damaging it can be if you’re relying on PDFs as the general content format on your website.

I’m going to look at one of the blog articles here on Schroder’s website which is ‘Coming, Going and Throwing’. Perhaps not the best name for a blog article but we’ll talk about that perhaps on another Tuesday Teardown. The article is quite in-depth. It’s clearly expert content. It works through in quite a lot of detail. It’s a long format content so it should be performing pretty well for these guys. That said, there’s some big issues with the fact that it’s a PDF.

As you saw, we clicked through straight from their blog page and you get this two-page download. The reason that PDF is such a bad experience is because it’s just pages.

Think about all of the ways that you get returns out of your blog: by building credibility, by getting people to subscribe, through them navigating back to find out more about your products because you’ve got them so interested in your expertise. You have no of the ability to do any of these things in a PDF. There’s no menus. There’s no ability to subscribe. There’s no links to click through.

You lose a lot of the usability and if someone finds this article without coming via your website, the chances are they’ll never ever make it back to your website. They’ll never convert, get deeper into your funnel and potentially become a customer over time.

You’re damaging the ability for your content to earn any return by publishing as a PDF. That’s reason number one not to use PDF.

Reason number two is it’s a terrible user experience on mobile. If you’ve ever tried to read a PDF on mobile, you’ll know what I mean. You can click the link down below and try and do it but let’s just have a look here on screen.

When we bring this down to a mobile sized screen, you can see that if you want to read across, you’ve actually got to scan across every line to read the entire line. It’s a really poor user experience. You have to scan across maybe 80-90 times to get to the end of the article. That’s not fun. Someone’s not going to keep reading if they’re on mobile, which is the time when most of this content is actually going to be read.

As we’ve talked about before, on B2B websites today, anywhere up to 50% of your traffic is going to come from mobile. Especially with busy executives, you’re losing a lot of your potential audience by just not being mobile friendly. That’s reason number two not to use PDF.

Reason number three is focused on the ability for people to find you via search engines. Content like this (that’s clearly expert content, that has a strong perspective and has lots of data), should do really, really well in search engines.

Search performance still matters in a B2B space. If you’re looking at funds allocation and you’re searching for information about small resources index performance versus perhaps the small industrial index, this article should appear front and centre. It’s very contextual and relevant to what these guys do, and a search like that could potentially lead to sales.

But let’s have a look at how this performs in Google. I’m just going to search here for “small resources index versus small industrials index”.

You can see that none of these links are taking me back to that Schroder’s website. In fact, I’ve actually got quite a lot of their competitors appearing here, like BlackRock and others. This is not the outcome that I’d be looking for if I’d written that content on that website. Someone is searching for expertise, and they’re not going to find you.

I’ve been through to page 20 on Google, so first 200 results, and this article wasn’t in there. It’s just not getting found the way it is and that’s got a lot to do with the mobile usability experience.

Google doesn’t like sending people to bad usability experiences and that’s one of the reasons that this content is getting penalised.

The caveat to all of this is the time that it makes sense to use PDF’s on your website is if someone wants to download it, to print it out, fantastic. Give them the option, give them the alternative to download as a PDF, but PDF should never be your primary content format.

So the key takeaway for today is don’t use PDF’s as your primary content format. Make sure all of your content is accessible out of PDFs and in straight HTML on your website. It leads to a much better user experience and it’s going to lead to a much better engagement and lower bounce rates.

All of the key measures that predict whether you are going to get someone to subscribe and join your funnel and potentially become a client down the track will be predicted by the engagement measures that are damaged by PDFs.

If you found this interesting and you’d like to find out more about how you can improve the returns on your content and digital marketing, we have a service at TLP that we call the Content Audit. It’s a process where we’ll work through your website in detail. We’ll give you a 30-page report within 14 days. It really does look at, from a 360-degree perspective, all the key ways to look at it with a real focus on identifying some low hanging opportunities that you can use to improve your returns.

If you’d like to find out more, there’s plenty of information in the link below, so you can click to have a look. But until next time, I’m Steve Pell. That’s been another one of our TLP content teardowns. Thanks a lot.