Appropriate Uses of PDF or Other Files

Online content should not typically be provided in PDF format, but there are still a limited number of circumstances when a PDF file is needed.

In these cases, we must take the time to properly create and tag the file so it meets accessibility requirements.

  • To post material that uses technical fonts and/or specialized characters, or large and complex tables or graphs.
  • To post large, complex manuals or publications that may be difficult to post and less user-friendly as web content.
  • Forms, contracts, or educational material meant to be printed in a specific format instead of being read in a browser or on a mobile device.
  • Specific files that are meant to be downloaded and used as tools (e.g., Excel files

Providing Content in Both Web and PDF Format

There are situations where publications or articles can easily be shared as web content, but we also need a professionally formatted PDF file to print and distribute. In these cases, we have two solutions that will display a "Download PDF" link on the web content.

Automatic PDF Converter

The web content can be automatically converted to a PDF file using a default Extension template.

  • Benefit: If making changes, you can edit the web content and the PDF file is automatically updated.
  • Example: The publication "Geese, Ducks, and Swans" uses the automatic PDF converter. Click the "Download PDF" link on the page.

Manually-Designed PDF

We can "attach" a separate PDF file or link to a file in the publications database. This process ensures that the content is not duplicated in search engines, but you will have to update two separate files if making changes.

  • Example: The Ag Alternatives publication, "Dairy Heifer Production," includes a "Download PDF" link to a separate file that was designed by the publications unit.

Considerations Before Providing a PDF Download

In examining the Analytics data for content with an additional PDF version, the overall ratio of web content views to PDF downloads was approximately 30:1.  In other words, the web content was viewed 30 times for each download of the PDF.

The visitor usage of the "Download PDF" button varied greatly across the individual pieces of content.  Some content was frequently downloaded as a PDF, and some content was downloaded infrequently.

Manually creating a PDF version of web content results in the following issues:

  • multiple places to update content, of which the web is the easiest
  • duplication of content between the PDF and web, potentially affecting search engine results to a small degree
  • updates to PDFs if/when branding standards are updated

Although the automatic PDF generation in Plone reduces many of these issues, it still requires verification of the generated PDF to ensure that the layout is correct.

Please be sure that a PDF version (in addition to the web content) is required before using one of these solutions. The "printed from the web" pages, while not as polished as a dedicated PDF version, are clean, usable, and branded. The web version is much easier to maintain than the PDF version, and receives far more traffic than the PDF version.

Naming Files in Plone

Files should be named in accordance with the AgSci URL Standard. For example, 'the-file-name.pdf' would be a valid filename. 'The File Name (version 2).pdf' would not.

Title and Description

Users need to be able to find your File when searching the web. You can help them by providing an appropriate Title and Description in the CMS. This will also help you when you need to locate the file for editing/linking purposes in the future.

It is a good idea to make the Title in the CMS match as closely as possible the actual title of your file (for example if your file is titled "Graduate Student Handbook: Spring Semester 2014," give it that same title in the CMS, not "blue handbook-latest committee updates" or something similarly vague). Note that this is different than the filename of the file.

Likewise, the Description should be a summary of the file's actual content rather than "handbook updated after March 1 committee meeting" or the like.

If the Title and Description contain terms that users will likely type into a search engine if they are looking for this information, so much the better.

For More Information

If you work in the College of Ag Sciences or Penn State Extension, contact the Web Services Team.