Limit PDF Usage

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PDFs have allowed people to collaborate and share ideas across devices since 1991. But we have also come to use them in cases where they are not the best choice for displaying content on the web. Rather than creating a page with content, someone uploads a PDF.

This poses a whole slew of issues. From ADA-compliancy to mobile-friendliness, your PDFs could be hurting your school’s website.

Here are some major reasons why you should start thinking about how you are using PDFs on your site.

PDFs are only as ADA-Compliant as they are made to be.

If you have a document with just text or text mixed with decorative pictures, the pdf will automatically be *mostly* compliant. However, there are some bad habits still lingering about:

  • PDFs that are nothing more than an image pasted into them (and a lot of times that image has text on it).
  • PDFs that were created by taking a Word doc (or other format) and printing it and then scanning it to make it into a PDF.
  • Making a snip or screenshot of content and pasting it into a Word doc which is then saved as a PDF.

In the cases above, the resulting PDF is 0% ADA compliant, because all the scannable text has been removed from the document. Also you are causing yourself a lot more work in the long run. All of the items listed can be done much more easily on a web page.

You’re duplicating your efforts.

While at first glance, it may appear easier to upload a PDF — due to limited staff or training — this process is creating a lot more work for you.

When you create a PDF first, and then upload it to your website, you’re essentially duplicating your efforts. In most cases, you already have website tools (and in some cases, content) available to you on your website to make the exact same thing.

  • Calendars – we have a built in calendar feature that already has the district calendar entered into it, which I maintain myself.
  • Forms – We have Microsoft Forms which can be used for one time use forms. We have a forms tool on the websites for creating web forms. Please use Fluent Forms for permanent forms that you have on your website (contact, etc.) and also for fancier forms that Microsoft Forms is not capable of creating. Microsoft Forms is great for quick forms.
  • Supply Lists and Dress Codes – Usually shown as pdf so that they can be shared to social or printed, however, they can be printed from the website too ……and also shared from the website…….which is actually preferable because then they can be updated without your social posts being out of date.
    For instance, if you share a Dress Code pdf on Facebook and then update it two weeks later and publish it again to Facebook, the old post (and PDF) are still out there. If you post the web page link for the Dress Code on facebook, and then post an updated version two weeks later, it doesn’t matter which link they click, because it’s the same link…..and has the up to date version in both cases. Also….it generates SEO to your website!!

Rather than creating a PDF version first, and then distributing it online, think about how you can use your website tools to display this information dynamically. Therefore, if there is a change, you don’t need to edit the original document, re-export, and re-upload.

For example, many schools use Modern Events Calendar to share the school calendars. So, if there is a change, you can edit it in one location online, and publish it everywhere — rather than spending time editing a document elsewhere and re-distributing.

This same theory and strategy can be applied to virtually any PDF you wish to post on your website.

They’re not mobile-friendly.

While a PDF will, of course, scale to fit the size of your device — it’s not actually responsive. This means users need to pinch and zoom around to find the information that they are looking for. In addition, unless you’ve added dynamic links to the document, viewers cannot click to call or visit links you’ve provided in the PDF itself, thus, hindering that seamless online experience we all strive for.

You’re making it impossible for people to act immediately.

While this may not apply to every PDF you wish to create, in many cases, PDFs are intended to promote an event. When you upload a PDF, or use a PDF as your primary source of content, you instead make it hard for your website visitors to act immediately on something — and also adding extra clicks to view small snippets of information.

When you choose to create this content on the web, rather than print, you can incorporate content you want them to view or engage with, such as:

  • Online forms
  • Links
  • Images and videos

PDFs: There is a time and a place.

Of course, PDFs can be of value. We use use them to post school board minutes and student handbooks, etc.

However, it is strongly advised that you consider using them only when necessary.


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