Michelle Hay

Helping digital teams avoid PDF pitfalls

General Accessibility

As a digital format for publications and documents, PDFs have proved remarkably durable over the past few years. While some digital teams argue (with some justification) that PDFs should be avoided on web channels, PDFs remain commonplace on websites where visitors need to download documents. These could be anything from white papers to user manuals, to brochures to print-based newsletters. 

One of the main challenges associated with PDFs is that they tend to be very difficult to manage from a content perspective and generally fall outside the normal content management activities of digital teams. The result of this is that a website can end up with an archive of PDFs that are out of date in terms of brand, and important elements such as contact names and product details. 

PDFs can also be poor in terms of accessibility compliance and as they are not designed to be flexible, they can require a lot of zooming in and out, and scrolling both vertically and horizontally on small devices such as mobile phones

The content management pitfalls of PDFs

The reason why out of date PDFs don’t always get removed or updated on a website are multiple: 

  • the content is effectively hidden because when digital teams are reviewing or revising pages, they are not always viewing the attachments
  • PDFs are often produced by another function, so the web team feel less directly responsible for the content 
  • there is often a cost and effort associated with producing a PDF document particularly if it was created in a publishing package. When it is neither straightforward or cheap to change details within a PDF to make it current and correct, some teams may not bother. 

Keeping PDFs up to date will not be a priority for all organisations but across some industry sectors it can be very important. For example, if you're in a regulated industry, such as financial services, you’ll need to make sure that your PDFs are compliant with any regulatory guidance around advertising your services. Secondly, if you are a retailer offering products and services, you will want to make sure that details going out to the customers are up to date and accurate, avoiding any risks. 

You may also manage a site with vast amounts of PDFs where managing these assets becomes critical. For example, you may be providing user guides or product manuals or you may simply be in an organisation where your stakeholders love the format and rely on potential clients downloading all your brochures. 

How Sitemorse helps 

Sitemorse can prove to be a highly effective solution to help digital teams manage website PDFs. Because Sitemorse’s powerful automated assessments are carried out across multiple factors such as accessibility, spelling and brand compliance and can be applied to PDFs as well as web content, it means you can set parameters which can help identify when a PDF has become out of date.  

For example, you may have changed the name of a product and you want to identify whether your website pages and PDFs contain that brand name so changes can be made. You might take a similar approach to change in personnel, for example if you have a new CEO. Sitemorse can identify where there are issues within your PDFs so appropriate action can be taken.

Another powerful capability is Sitemorse’s site recording facility and associated LIVEARCHIVE. Because Sitemorse records all your site changes and stores every version of every page and every attachment, you have access to a powerful archive of changes to your website and the ability to access all previous iterations of content including PDFs. 

This helps enormously when you need to enable urgent content changes or where you organise a more focused clean up exercises, easily identifying out of date PDFs. Site recording also means that you can also demonstrate to internal stakeholders and even to external regulators that you have actioned changes to content, including your PDF attachments. If you're working in a regulated industry, this can prove to be very powerful. 

Don’t forget forgotten PDFs

Having Sitemorse’s automated assessment and archiving facility covering PDFs means your attachments are no longer the forgotten content on your website. In turn you’re more likely to introduce processes to ensure ongoing compliance and quality of PDFs.

PDFs are not always the optimal format to deliver digital content, but they are important. Digital teams need an effective way to manage them that doesn’t involve too much effort and that aligns to other content management processes. Sitemorse delivers that capability and means PDFs can be far less of a problem area for digital teams.

To find out more about how to assess PDFs individually within the Sitemorse Service, take a look at our recent service bulletin: https://sitemorse.com/news/2019/06/10/how-assess-pdf/



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