no pdfIn study after study, 100 percent of journalists – 100 percent – say they use the web to research stories. And something like 80-90 percent of journos writing about businesses visit company websites to dig for information. While there (according to my own approximate calculations), about half are stopped dead in their tracks because companies still insist in making press releases and financial information available only as PDF downloads.

For me, and a plethora of fellow-journalist Facebook friends who thumbed-up a whinge I posted on this topic yesterday, the arguments against PDF press releases are a no-brainer. Like, it’s 2010. Web 2.0 has been around for a while (basic HTML even longer). Yet a few befuddled marketers asked what all the fuss is about.

So herewith, five reasons why those PDFs have got to go.

1. SEO OK, so most PDFs can be read by search engines. But they way they’re read is analagous to the way a 5 year-old reads: haltingly, with lots of pauses (white spaces) and errors. “Read” hardly qualifies as “optimized.” If you’re releasing news, release it. Set it free. Don’t just post press releases on your site’s newsroom page in HTML, but do everything else in your power to get the news out there. Use wire services. Offer RSS feed subscriptions. And if you’re a larger organization, parse these subscription options by different subject matter, corporate divisions, or whatever makes sense for your audience.

2. Accuracy Some marketers argue PDFs are the only way to ensure accuracy in press releases. And certainly you can take fact-checking and copy editing measures to ensure the content of a PDF release is accurate. But again – you want that information “out there,” and out there means opening yourself up to risk. It’s just a fact of life that mistakes will be make. One marketer asked, “We post financial releases as PDF because it removes some opportunities
for errors. When there are financial tables, PDF becomes essential.
Would you agree that’s a valid reason?”

No it’s not valid. In fact, PDFs necessitate that journalist transcribe, rather than copy-and-paste, highly detailed information such as financials and quotes, throwing opening the door to human error. (There’s are workarounds, such as opening PDFs with Preview on a Mac, for example. But not every journalist is a tech-savvy journalist.) Moreover, there’s no reason why graphics can’t be posted in HTML as image files, and tables are easily rendered in basic HTML.

3. Compatibility You’re making a big assumption when you post releases as PDFs, namely, that your audience is accessing your site on a PC, or a Smartphone equipped with the software necessary to download and decode those documents. That’s probably usually the case, but not always. The world is increasingly mobile, and you don’t want key influencers to have to pull out secret decoder rings when they need information on-the-fly.

4. Findability If Google can barely cope with the content in PDF documents, it’s unlikely your own site search mechanism is any better equipped. Don’t make journalists download 16 releases just to see if the information they’re seeking is in one of them. Companies that invest small fortunes to insure they’re found on the first SERP page somehow don’t hesitate to hide news and public announcements in non-searchable PDF databases. Go figure.

5. Don’t make them hate you Sensing a pattern here? Making news and press releases available only as PDFs is just plain frustrating. You want your news out there, but at the same time you’re making your target audience work, and search, and click and download, and read (lather, rinse, repeat) to get to what you’re trying to give them. Good user experience isn’t a concept limited to ecommerce sites.

Disagree? Then consider another tactic, suggested by a veteran journalist. “Password-protected PDF are the best…then you have no incentive to
cut and paste any PR garbage and are more likely to ignore it
completely.”