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5 Reasons Not to Use PDFs on Websites

PDFs allow you to create documents that will always display the same. The Reader is free. And PDFs are harder to rip/steal.

Where's the downside?

Let me start with the obvious, I hate PDFs. Why?

  1. The safest thing to tell new users is to not download anything.

    They have to trust you and your site and ignore advice given to them by whoever helps them with their computer and download the reader. When they view the file, to the newbie, it looks like something is installing on their computer.

    The newbie in my house came running in a panic when this happened to her. She thought she had messed up her machine.

  2. PDFs take too long to load.

    Even if people have a fast Internet connection, waiting for a PDF to load is tiresome. Slow dial up, forget it. Unless it is a form I need from the government, I rarely, if ever bother.

  3. Unless the page is a form, why not offer it in HTML and create a print style sheet to control the appearance?

  4. I need a new version?

    My machine is older and I have noticed lately that my version of Acrobat is not good enough to view PDFs. What's with that? What extra features are needed for what's basically an electronic version of a Viewmaster? Now having Acrobat isn't good enough, it's joined the race of madness to only use the latest version of things.

  5. Did I already mention they are slow?

All 5 boil down to the same two concepts; know your audience and usability.

Knowing Your Audience

Everyone hates to wait, so whether a newbie or a true geek, many people just don't bother with PDFs anymore.

Unless your site is geared towards experienced computer users, you have to assume some visitors will be new to computers. Too many computer geeks seem to think they were born with a mouse and keyboard in hand and were magically imparted with their extensive computing knowledge from birth. Everyone started somewhere. I have worked with many folks who use computers daily for their job, but still couldn't tell you what a PDF is.


It has become too easy to just take the document and save it as a PDF. All the overhead is passed on to the user. Why not offer the document as a webpage and give the site visitor the option of viewing it as a PDF (forms and other highly formatted documents being an obvious exception)?

A Solution

One of the main reasons people use PDFs is to allow the document to be printed nicely. A print style sheet could fix that quite easily. I find it amazing how many webmasters fail to use this simple technique. I use it on all of my sites.

Be sure to check out Help For Web Beginners other HTML & CSS Tutorials.

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