Lately, quite a number of clients have asked us to create eBooks, handouts and FAQs that can be converted into PDFs for downloading.

Is this becoming a standard? And if so, is it a good idea?

Best Practices Are Contextual

If you’re confused about whether to convert your content into PDF-form, it’s a good idea to consider your audiences as well as your business objectives. Why are you sliding your content into a PDF? Is it the most accessible way to communicate information to your target audiences?

Why do it?:

  1. Downloading: If you put your content into a PDF, you can gate it. This means you can ask potential customers to give their email addresses in exchange for content. The benefit? You can now track the ROI for developing the content, as well as potential leads.
  2. Portability and printing: PDFs that are nicely designed can be a great way to showcase content. Easy to print, they retain their designed format, making them an easy way to transfer information. Particularly when you’re trying to make the case for using a service or vendor, having downloadable case studies, eBooks and reports is a great way to share information with your boss or team (or for a consumer to share information about you).
  3. Compatibility: Everyone can download a PDF if they have Adobe, which is a simple plug-in. If you want people to be able to see your content, it’s the easiest way to ensure accessibility.

Why not to do it?:

  1. Findability: Unless your PDF authors metatag the PDFs, it will be hard for users to search and find the content. That means your content is “trapped” inside its PDF container, and hard for people to access.
  2. Usability: According to the Nielsen Norman Group, usability goes down by 300% when you put your content into PDFs to be read online. Not what you want when you’re trying to convince and convert people.
  3. Compatibility: If people don’t have the Adobe plug-in, or for some reason can’t download the PDF, they can’t access your fabulous content. And you know what happens next: You’ve lost a potentially interested audience member.

So what to do?

How about a hybrid approach? Try:

  • Giving up some of the details from the PDF to entice people to download it
  • Optimizing it for search
  • Repeating the content on html pages
  • Allowing people to choose to download the PDF for printing, like we did with this case study for increasing traffic to a blog

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