Winter is Coming for Your PDF! (Or, Why Your PDF Will Soon Be Obsolete)

Brace yourselves—it’s Game of Thrones season. For the next three months, there will be a lot more talk around the watercooler of dragons, violent deaths, and who does or doesn’t lay claim to the Iron Throne.

But even if you aren’t a die-hard GoT fan, you’ve probably heard the show’s most consistent and ominous threat: “Winter is coming!” Spoiler alert: winter hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s been said to resurrect the zombie-like White Walkers, bring deathly cold, and generally wreak havoc on most of Westeros. In other words, it’s not great. And if the season premiere was any indication, it’s closer now than ever. Still, the majority of characters aren’t planning for winter—or thinking much about it—at all.

So what’s all that have to do with your PDF? Here’s the hard truth: PDFs have certainly served us well since they were released in the early 90s. But, (and imagine this in Jon Snow’s voice), winter is coming. It’s coming in the form of a more mobile workplace, a higher need for security, and a general lack of patience with panning and zooming to the right information. Here’s why you should part ways with your PDFs now so that you’re prepared:

1. PDFs are untraceable.

Every time you send a PDF, there’s a risk that it may end up in the wrong hands. You’ll forward it to an employee, they’ll send it along to someone else, and then…who knows? The worst part is, even when your PDF finally does end up in the hands of your competitors, you’ll have no way of knowing.

2. PDFs don’t carry data.

An even bigger question than ‘Who is reading your PDF?,’ is who isn’t? World Bank dug into the former question a little deeper and discovered that nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded. And it’s not just the World Bank—many companies will spend time creating PDFs for sales enablement or employee training, only to discover that their employees are Google-ing the information, instead.

The problem is, PDFs don’t carry data to give you an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Without data, such as average time spent on page or number of visitors, there’s no way to set content goals to iterate and improve.

3. PDFs are frustrating.

Not only are PDFs generally lackluster, but on smartphones or tablets, they’re downright impossible. Trying to pinch and zoom your way to the right paragraph wastes your employees’ valuable time. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the answer wasn’t so obvious—every day, your employees open up apps and websites that have been specifically designed for mobile. Why should your most valuable content be treated any different?

4. PDFs quickly become out-of-date.

Say your sales team is out in the field, scrolling through a PDF in search of the latest product details. The only problem? It’s the wrong one. Except they don’t realize that it’s an outdated version, and you don’t know that they’re reading it. Even if you wanted to correct this mistake, you couldn’t—there’s no way to redact PDFs from an inbox, or all of the places that it has since spread. You can only try to fix the damage that outdated PDFs have done after the fact.

5. PDFs aren’t interactive.

I know, I know, what about the interactive PDF? Sure, there might be some interactivity that you can achieve with PDFs, such as hyperlinks, but it’s a little bit like putting lipstick on a pig. If whatever interactivity you’ve added doesn’t reflow on mobile devices, as it does with content backed by HTML5, your readers will be less than enthused. Interactive elements shouldn’t be restrained by screen size or the capabilities of your proprietary format—you should be able to create new ideas for your content every day.

The bottom line:

Whether you’re thinking of going mobile, or you’ve suddenly noticed that more and more of your employees are using smartphones and tablets for work, it’s best to prepare now. Look for a new content solution that offers mobile-optimization, quick updates, and regular data feedback. This will solve some of your biggest existing pain-points around static PDFs, and help you prepare for the rise of mobile. Because as we know, winter is coming.

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