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Time for a reboot on PDFs: Control, alt, delete?

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Control the message

It’s time to consign website PDFs to history.

Yes, PDFs are much beloved by the legal community. The rationale is pretty clear: PDFs provide a safe way to present information without the fear of anyone editing it.

The problem is that that control comes at a massive cost: readership.

People who I have worked with know that I really, passionately dislike a PDFs. I don’t have any on this website. I’m not averse to using them via email, as I think that on a one:few or one:one basis, they work well and protect the intention of the author. They can be useful ensuring that contracts, for example, remain unedited. (Even then, there are much better ways).

Don’t even get me startyed on interactive PDFs: they’re the poor cousin of a WordPress site and just as expensive. If you haven’t come across them, then please don’t bother with them.

Alt(ernative) views

I am not alone, however, in my dislike of PDFs and that’s good news because it proves it’s not a purely irrational dislike. Google has long hated PDFs. In 2015 – a generation ago in internet and SEO years – Google prioritised mobile-friendly websites in its results over desktop only options because peopleBuse their mobiles to access information for the majority of traffic now. And part of what doesn’t work on a mobile is a PDF. They’re clunky, and they don’t work on a screen to navigate around them at a size you can read them. In other words, the end result for users is a disaster.

At one firm I worked at, a lawyer insisted on converting a quarterly update (that we had been doing on web pages for a while by then) back into a PDF format when he took over the running of it. Thousands of people came to the page (because, we knew how to attract traffic) but only four (yes, 4) people opened the PDF in its first week of being published. Four.

Think about that in terms of return on investment. This blog will be read by loads more people than that and it’s not even got a major law firm’s web traffic or brand. If it’s only read by four people, I promise I will stop blogging.

But now, Google has ramped up its dislike for PDFs to a new level. As of the past few weeks, if people find your PDF through a Chrome browser, by default it will not be displayed. The page will not be shown. The user will have to do some technical jiggery pokery to show the page. They won’t. What they will do is navigate away from that page, back to the search results and find someone who has written the information on a web page instead, most likely a mobile friendly one.

Why is this important?

Beacuse Google is the most used search engine in the world. It literally owns the traffic for queries for people that you don’t know.

Its browser, Chrome, may not be used in every law firm, but it is the most used browser in the world. It’s quick and it is fully integrated into Google’s masterplan.


I guess it’s not PDFs that I hate, as such. It’s more the effect it has on web traffic that I hate. All that effort to get people through the front door and then we encourage them to leave immediately.

You really need to get to work on converting that great information that you have hidden away in PDFs. We did it with a major article on a website at one of the firms I worked at and the page stormed to the top of the performance charts. Thousands of views (and people getting in touch each week) as opposed to, what, four?

So the question is, how long will you continue to allow yourself to lose traffic from the world’s biggest free channel of new business?

Next steps

If you’d like to have a website that gets read and produces leads for new business, get in touch. You’d be surprised how quickly we can create one for you that’s as beautiful as the one we did for Himsworth Scott.

And if you’d like us to convert your old PDFs along the way, we can do that too.

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