Acrobat PDF is perhaps the best format available to create
printable documents, since it is optimized for letter sized
sheets of paper.
Since Acrobat Reader can be opened within Internet Explorer,
distributing PDF documents through the web has now become common
practice. Acrobat is quickly becoming the format of choice to
distribute instruction manuals, special reports, resumes,
However, all this comes at the price of increased usability
problems when users try to read PDF documents directly from the
screen; for example:
*The web page that links to the PDF file disappears after the
PDF opens. Since PDF files don't have navigation bars some users
may not know how to get back to where they were.
*Scrolling works differently: while scrolling HTML pages by
dragging the scrollbar is linear, PDF files force users to
scroll one full page at a time.
*Usually, PDF files come in small print (and Internet Explorer's
Text Size options won't work on them).
*Since PDF documents are opened in Acrobat Reader, they
introduce Acrobat's own toolbar, which contains menu buttons
that are different from those in Internet Explorer.
These different "rules of engagement" are likely to cause user
confusion. In order to make the user experience as painless as
possible, you must consider three simple guidelines to
effectively use PDF files on your site:
*Use them only to present printable versions of HTML documents
(for example, a long article) or documents that are intended for
print. Don't use them to present content to be read online.
*When linking to a PDF file, you must explicitly indicate that
the destination page is in PDF format. This will tell your
visitors what to expect, for example a longer waiting period
than for an HTML document, or the fact that Acrobat Reader will
open within their web browser.
*The best way to indicate that a link will point to a PDF file
is either to use the Google convention of writing the symbols
[PDF] before the link text, or to use a PDF icon.
*Clearly state the file size (to give users an idea of how long
it will take to download) and the number of pages (so they can
have the printer ready with enough sheets of paper). It is
usually better to present these two pieces of information in a
slightly more subdued font color than the one used for your page
copy (if you're using black text copy, you can use gray).
Finally, even though most computers nowadays include Acrobat
Reader as standard software, it is always good to include a link
to the page where your visitors can download it, just in case
they don't have it installed (the URL of the current download
page for Acrobat Reader is:
About the author:
Mario Sanchez publishes The Internet Digest (
http://www.theinternetdigest.net ), an online collection of web
design and Internet marketing articles and resources. You can
freely reprint his weekly articles in your website, ezine,
newsletter or ebook.