Blog posts are a great way to share public or exclusive content, extend thought leadership, create brand awareness, earn leads, and build up a website’s SEO. However, we’ve seen some business choose to simply post a link to a PDF file (or Portable Document Format) instead of offering HTML text (with a title and body) in their blog posts.
Here are 6 reasons to use HTML text over simply linking to a PDF file:
A Poor User Experience
By offering blog visitors a PDF file to download instead of providing the immediacy of HTML text that they can read right then and there establishes a less than great user experience. If you are trying to attract leads, the user experience is a pivotal part of making a positive first impression on a lead. You want to your information to be immediately accessible and you want to impose the least number of clicks and required actions from the user to get it.
Many visitors harbor an apprehension of downloading attachments that could carry potential digital viruses. A PDF version of a post can tactfully be offered as a “printable courtesy” at the end of a blog post, but it is not recommended as a total replacement of the blog’s HTML text.
The Security Illusion
Contrary to popular belief, a PDF is not more secure than HTML text in a secured website.
Offering visitors a PDF file to download will not minimize file sharing, even if it is being presented as exclusive content. A PDF attachment is actually more shareable than text content within a secured blog post. A file can be forwarded via email, whereas a secured webpage is not easily shared.
If content theft is a concern, keep in mind too that simply locking a PDF document of modifications does not mean that the document is necessarily more secure or easier to protect. Many businesses with PDFs fail to include a logo or branding of any type, making the content easier to “hijack” and pass off as another’s work.
One of the biggest security illusions that people have is thinking that their content is “locked down” in a PDF file – it’s not. Adobe software products offer the ability to very easily edit PDFs downloaded or received.
The fact is that it is ultimately easier to defend, protect, and secure HTML text content on a website than a PDF attachment alone.
A typical website that offers downloadable PDF files require those files to be stored on the website server. While small, A PDF file takes up a lot more space than text alone. Now, imagine if you are uploading multiple PDFs to your web server, day after day, eventually there will come a time when your site may experience a slow-down due to the volume of PDFs on the server – or you may run out of available storage space on your web server, causing you to have to delete old files. This is one hassle that can be avoided through using HTML text.
Search & Retargeting Issues
A PDF does not index well in search engines like HTML text does. HTML text is the fuel for search engines to scan and classify. If that text is boxed up in a PDF attachment, no matter how keyword-rich it may be, it will not get the optimal attention from search engines that HTML text receives.
Additionally, if you are running a retargeting campaign, such as Google AdWords, and your ads link to a PDF — this is trickier and more complicated to set up, and those clicking on your ad may be fearful of being immediately directed to strange attachment download as most retargeting ads link to web pages.
Editorial Busy Work
A popular argument of those who produce PDFs is that it is a hassle to convert them to HTML text, or it takes up too much time to offer their PDF format in an alternate text format, but this isn’t necessarily a good reason not to take the time. The few minutes it can take to transfer PDF content into a reader-friendly text format will be worth it in creating a better user experience.
Additionally, if you (as the author) find an error or need to update information in a PDF, it is much more time-consuming to fix and re-convert the PDF file, then re-upload it to a website than it is to go directly into the website’s HTML text to make edits and updates almost instantly.
A Lack of Mobile Responsiveness
Most digital consumers these days turn to their phones and digital devices to view information. HMTL text in a responsive website will easily resize on mobile devices for easy viewing, whereas PDFs do not respond well.
If you only make a PDF available, users accessing your content on a mobile device will typically be required to download the file to their phones to open it. This is not an ideal user experience. Not only are they taking an extra step to be able to see your content, and will likely need to zoom in multiple times to view the PDF, but your file is now eating up precious space in their device. This adds to the problematic user experience.
In summation, while PDF files have their place in the digital ecosystem as useful file formats, they alone do not make an ideal replacement for HTML text in blog posts for the 6 key reasons we outline here.