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Why are you still creating PDFs?

Content creation is central to any business. Whether you’re a one-person garage operation or a large enterprise, web, social, and marketing materials to move prospects through your pipeline are central to your efforts. Many companies continue to produce PDFs, in part because their sales organization is asking for documents to leave with prospects. How people find, consume, and interact with content has changed, yet we cling to late 20th-century technology almost 20% of the way into the 21st-century. If you’re still saving marketing materials to PDF, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The biggest issue with PDF documents is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google, Bing, and others treat PDFs differently than other content such as HTML. John Mueller, who works for Google, explained recently that not all PDF content is indexed, in part because Google is, “not ready yet to add a significant batch of more content.” Additionally, your PDF documents need to be optimized to get indexed, and they aren’t refreshed as often by search engines.

PDF documents distributed through Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions such as Salesforce can’t show you customer behavior. There are an array of tools and plug-ins today that can track how a prospect interacts with a webpage, video, or other content. Is it sufficient to know that a prospect downloaded your material, the end? How long did they spend looking at it (which implies engagement)? Did they scroll to the second page? Did other visitors from the same Gateway IP address view the content after they did? An analytics suite attached to your CRM can answer these questions.

One of the most significant benefits of PDF documents is also one of its key weaknesses – they are locked and static. Anyone who has been in marketing long enough knows the scenario. Months of work on collateral, multiple edits, multiple reviewers, signed off up and down the chain and two-weeks later someone points out an obvious spelling, grammar, or content error. The Sales team has saved local copies, the content is already out in the wild, and it is difficult to manage, “please use this updated version.” Another problem with locked content is your material may be perfection but positioning, messaging, corporate boilerplate, even logos change.

PDF documents aren’t mobile-friendly. Reading PDFs on a smartphone requires expanding and shrinking, scrolling left to right and up to down. It is painful at best and isn’t ADA friendly. Most CMS tools employ responsive design, dynamically updating content depending on the viewing device so your materials will look great.

If you’re still generating PDFs, it is time to move your materials to your Content Management System (CMS). Key benefits include:

  • Search engines will index your content and update more frequently, improving your SEO. You can easily block content from being indexed if you want to make it private.

  • You can track who viewed your content, down to the unique user depending on your privacy standards and technology, how long they spent viewing your content, how they interacted with it, and what they did next. If you tie this data into your CRM or marketing automation solutions, you can use the information for lead scoring, remarketing, and 1:1 engagement. Now you can focus on the leads that matter and understand where your content is falling flat.

  • You can quickly update your content while maintaining the same links. You can correct minor, but reputation-damaging errors before a wider audience view them. Significant changes to branding, boilerplate language, or a call to action can be changed mid-campaign.

  • Prospects can still save the content to view or share. They can print to PDF through their web browser, bookmark a link, or if you provide sharing tools within the content, share right from your page.The end-user experience isn’t dependent on the device they are using. Prospects and customers can consume your content on almost any HTML enabled device and don’t need to download a PDF client.

  • The sales scenario of, “what if I don’t have access to the Internet at my prospect,” is increasingly infrequent. Sending a follow-up e-mail with links creates an additional touch for sales, provides insight to the prospect actions (was the e-mail opened, did they click the link) which benefits lead scoring. Prospects and clients can still print to XML or PDF from almost any browser if they need to save a local copy.

PDF documents continue to have their place in the business world. For example, print, sign, and scan agreements, releases, and contracts or sending a proof to your printer. However, when it comes to your marketing content, it’s time to embrace the 21st Century and move your critical materials off of PDF.

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