{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

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."

Rebecca Lieb

Published 22 January, 2010 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

Follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

160 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Moe Rubenzahl

I mostly agree. The corporate website I manage uses PDF only where formatting requires it. We did an interesting experiment. We posted technical articles as both PDF and HTML and provided links so a customer could choose. Guess which one they preferred?

Answer: Both. Both links were used and our technical documents are all posted in both formats. A common behavior is to read the HTML, then click the PDF (so they can save, print, or e-mail it.)

We post press releases in HTML with one exception: financial releases are PDF. The reason is that it guarantees the version on the web is unchanged from what Finance sent us. We could lay them out as HTML but there is some risk -- and when there are balance sheets, those risks are substantial, with all the footnotes and caveats that are included. 

The most essential point is number 5. In all business matters, we should try to solve customer problems and deliver what the customer wants. 

over 6 years ago

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb, Digital Marketing Consultant & Author at self-employed

Interesting experiment, Moe - the proof is in the metrics. You raise an interesting point about offering a choice, and I'm all for that.

over 6 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger, MikeStenger.com

I think a much better idea instead of posting the links to the PDF's which yes, can get annoying, upload the PDF to a service such as Scribd where you can then embed the document into a webpage, within it's own little navigatable window.

over 6 years ago

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb, Digital Marketing Consultant & Author at self-employed

Interesting suggestion, Mike. Still, I think it's more valueable as an alternative solution rather than as a stand-alone only option.

over 6 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger, MikeStenger.com

Oh totally Rebecca.

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

George W Russell

I often deal with international law firms, and many of them offer both PDF and .doc/.docx formats for media releases, client advisories and other useful research material.

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Kevin

Great suggestion, thanks for bringing this to our attention!

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Cliff Tyllick

Moe, it's possible to have a print-friendly html file. It's the same html seen in the Web browser, but the printer uses a stylesheet optimized for printing.

Text in html format is best for search engines as well as for accessibility. And having only one source file for the content is a good way to minimize errors.

That publishing html files would be more prone to error is a ridiculous assertion. It all depends on the quality-control procedures before the content is published.

That a PDF file would be more secure is a fantasy. Anyone who wants to can modify even a locked PDF. Just print it out, scan it, and run optical character recognition and you have all the characters... more or less. If your action is a good-faith attempt to share the content, character misreads during OCR can garble the original message. And if you have a malicious or mischievous streak, you can revise the "protected" information at will, making it say whatever you want.

If you can easily post the same content in multiple formats, that's great. But, as Rebecca points out, html is the most usable for all kinds of customers — especially customers using smart phones and other new devices.

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Davis

Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

over 6 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.