PDFs - Do they belong on a website?

PDF is a good format for print publishing but, unfortunately, this does not mean it is good for reading on a screen. Our users, particularly those using a mobile device or with a disability, may experience a range of problems accessing PDFs online. It is for this reason that the Australian Human Rights Commission has advised that organisations should:

"make the content available in at least one additional format and in a manner that incorporates principles of accessible document design."

We publish large amounts of online content in PDF format. Usually because:

  • It is quick and easy - no technical skills are required
  • It's a fast way to get content that already exists in Word format onto the web.

Problems for users accessing PDFs online

  • Poorly formatted content which makes it difficult for those using specialised software to navigate the document
  • Multi-column layouts which force the user to scroll up, down and across frequently
  • Having to download a large document when only a small chunk of information is required.
  • Hyperlinks not clearly identified. (This can be annoying for those on a limited data plan, particularly if the link they clicked on did not indicate they were about to download a large document.)
  • Page number references in the text not matching the page number in the footer of the document.
  • Missing out on information. For those who can't see images on a web page, we provide alternative text that describes its function and purpose; rarely is this done for PDFs.
  • Lack of knowledge or skill to interact with and use PDF documents - eg, searching for text within the document, being able to navigate through a long document with no linked table of contents.

We should reduce our reliance on PDFs and only use this format for documents designed for print. HTML is widely-recognised as the most accessible, responsive and adaptable format for web pages.

If you'd like to improve the experience of visitors to your website log a request via ServiceNow; we can identify where PDFs are located on your website and support you to make the content as accessible as possible.