Remove PDFs from your site to save money and increase traffic by 160x – the experience of the Vic Department of Primary Industries

While there may now be accessibility techniques for PDFs, this doesn’t mean that the format is necessarily the most appropriate for displaying information on the web and attracting usage, as the Victorian Department of Primary Industries discovered when they removed all PDFs from their website and converted them to web pages.

As reported in thw case study, Unlock valuable content trapped in PDFs from BriarBird (as brought to my attention by Gian Wild’s blog), the Department of Primary Industries Systems and Technical Manager Mark Bryant found that,

“As we converted more and more PDFs to HTML/web format, the stats just
kept going up and up until we reached around 1.6 million extra page
views per year – it was fantastic.”

Mark also said in the case study that,

“Our users were telling us they wanted to do things in a different
way, and when we converted a few PDFs to web pages we found the web
pages outperformed PDF by as much as 160 to one.

“Initially we tried to create a web page to match each PDF, but in
the end we introduced a blanket rule – no PDFs as it was far too
difficult to manage both formats,” Mark said.

“There was some resistance, but the business case is pretty simple
when you can show that a web page is being read around 160 times more
often than a PDF.

“If you are spending money preparing content for the web, then that
money is essentially being wasted if that content is locked up in a
format people are unwilling to use.”

Over the last ten years I’ve also consistently noticed a ratio of 100:1 or more for views to webpages vs PDFs in the websites I’ve managed.

While PDFs often suit content creators (who are used to MS Word), they are rarely the best format for online content recipients – your audience.

If your organisation is focused on having the customer at the centre it is worth reviewing your content creation and distribution approach to ensure it aligns with customer needs.

For example, where a printable version is required, it is possible to achieve this with a print template for web pages using style sheets (CSS) rather than with a PDF. In effect when people click ‘print’ the web page is automatically reformated for A4 printing. This makes updating much faster and easier as you only have to maintain one version of the content.

So why not save PDFs for when they are most needed and wanted and ensure that the majority of your content is ‘native’ using web pages. Your audiences will love you for it.

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