Professionals reading PDF documents

Is the PDF Format Right for Your Business Objectives?

“6 reasons you should stop using PDF for business content.” 
“Avoid PDF for On-Screen Reading.”
“Why you need to stop using PDFs.”

When you read these headlines, it’s easy to think that PDFs are becoming obsolete.

But PDF isn’t going anywhere. The most widely used format for distributing knowledge is as relevant today as it was when Adobe launched it in 93.

Why, then, do some people dislike the PDF format?

When people criticize the PDF format, it’s usually because they are:

  1. Attempting to handle PDFs without a PDF good editor
  2. Working with very complex PDF documents, such as those containing XFA forms
  3. Selling software as a PDF alternative

We recently came across an article titled “6 reasons you should stop using PDF for business content,” written by Daan Reijnders, CEO and co-founder of Foleon

We thought it would be helpful to reflect on the reasons listed for not using PDF  for business content and share our perspective.

Reason 1: “They are not mobile-friendly”

It’s true: PDFs were not designed for small screens. Working with PDFs on iPads and iPhones can be a little awkward, especially when the PDF isn’t optimized for mobile.

Comment about PDF on mobile devices

We wouldn’t recommend editing your thesis on an iPhone. We’re with Nina Smith on this one.

But we do appreciate the convenience of being able to view, markup, sign, and send a PDF contract on the go, which you can easily do using PDFpen for iPad & iPhone.

Reason 2: “They require multiple steps to access”

It’s true that you need a PDF viewer to open a PDF. Luckily, PDF is so ubiquitous that almost everyone has a PDF viewer on their phone, tablet, or computer. Some, like Preview, even come preinstalled.

It’s also true that you need to download a PDF before you can read it. But the popularity of downloadable PDFs suggests that most people are okay with downloading something they want to read. As long as marketers and content creators keep file sizes low.

Reason 3: “You can’t track reader engagement”

You can’t track how much a PDF was read or how long readers engaged with it. But you can track how many times a PDF was downloaded from a landing page.

In this sense, PDFs are less like webpages and more like emails. Marketers don’t usually track email reading time, but they do check open rates, click-through rates, and revenue generated—all of which you can track for PDFs.

Reason 4: “They’re static, boring, and don’t let you embed multimedia”

You can add audio notes and attach images, URLs, and other files to PDFs, but typically, you can’t embed videos, complex forms, or multimedia in them. PDFs are generally static documents.

Though that might seem like a limitation, it actually works in their favor. After all, the main purpose of PDFs isn’t to entertain but to inform. PDF is the universal format for academic articles, legal documents, and other “serious” types of content. 

The seriousness and in-depthness we’ve come to associate with PDFs is likely the reason white papers, case studies, and ebooks are so popular in business.

According to a 2018 survey by B2B marketing publication Demand Gen Report, over 70% of B2B buyers use white papers to research purchasing decisions. They prefer PDFs over video (49%) and interactive content (36%), likely because they perceive PDFs to be more credible sources of information.

Reason 5: “They’re difficult to share”

You can’t share PDFs on social media. That might also seem less than ideal, but it’s in line with the PDF “brand”. Social media apps are for bite-size content, not information-dense PDF documents. 

Sharing a brief description of what the PDF is about and a link to a landing page where visitors can download the PDF is possible and more effective.

We suspect that the non-shareability of PDFs on social media is one of the reasons PDFs are popular for lead generation. Without someone to email a white paper or case study to you, you have no other choice but to provide your contact details in exchange for it.

Reason 6: “You can’t control distribution or circulation”

“If you send a PDF with private or sensitive information, like a proposal, there’s no way for you to ensure those documents aren’t forwarded or shared with someone else who shouldn’t see them,” writes Daan Reijnders.

That’s not entirely true. There are ways to secure PDF documents. You can use redaction to remove sensitive information you don’t want others to see. You can also use passwords to prevent outsiders from opening, editing, or printing your document.

Should you stop using PDF for business content?

No one format is suitable for all platforms, audiences, and types of content. That’s why seasoned marketers use a combination of content types to reach their objectives.

PDF’s unique strengths and limitations make it an ideal format for white papers, case studies, and reports. 

But these downloadable PDFs work best when integrated into a larger content marketing strategy that includes marketing emails, landing pages, and other interactive content.

Should you stop using PDF for business content? We don’t think so. By using a combination of content formats including PDFs, you’ll be better able to provide your customers with the level of information they need when they need it.

Frustrated with PDFs? PDFpen turns uncooperative PDF files into friendly, easy-to-edit documents. Download a free trial.