To determine the best format for your website's content, make a list of the reasons for using one format over another, and then reconcile your reasons with the pros and cons of each format. Generally, the HTML format will be the most appropriate. In specific cases, PDF files may work better. And in some cases your customers would be best served if you provide them with both HTML and PDF versions of the same content.
HTML: HyperText Markup Language, commonly referred to as HTML, is the standard markup language used to create web pages. HTML is a standardized system for tagging text files to achieve font, color, graphic, and hyperlink effects on World Wide Web pages. Web browsers can read HTML files and render them into visible or audible web pages.
PDF: Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format used to present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics and other information needed to display it. The free and popular Acrobat Reader software is all that is needed to use PDF files.
What format would your website visitors prefer?
Content presented in HTML format (a typical web page) can adjust really well to users' device settings and lends itself to viewing/reading on a monitor. PDF-based content is best suited for content that visitors will want to download and print, such as forms, documents, etc. It requires additional steps on the part of the visitor to download or view and can be slow, depending on the size of the file and the visitor's system.
Here are the ways some authors and website users will view both formats. A PDF is something you possess. You download it to your device, store it in a file folder, and keep it. A website built with HTML is not a thing you physically have on your computer but a place you visit at any time.
Characteristics of HTML-Based Content
- HTML content integrates seamlessly into the website's architecture and navigation.
- HTML content loads as the user accesses the web page without the need for additional software (a PDF reader).
- It is relatively easy to allow users to interact with HTML contents, such as live graphs, calculators, queries, and so much more.
- Pages built with HTML can interact with the underlying data.
- HTML pages can contain rich media, such as video, audio, or applets.
- You retain the ability to edit or update live web pages. It's particularly useful with content that evolves with some frequency or when you expect to update in the future.
- HTML format is convenient and suitable for quickly discovering content and determining its relevance.
- HTML pages can be “responsive” by working across many devices and screen sizes, making them easy to use by all users.
- HTML pages can be structured for optimal usability on the website.
- Structured markup and the rich snippets of HTML web pages improve search engine visibility and the click-through rate to your website from the search results.
- Properly written and structured HTML web pages can be tracked with great precision by website-access analytical software or services, such as Google Analytics.
- HTML pages are easy to make fully accessible to people with disabilities.
- Building, changing, or adding to HTML pages requires considerable knowledge, unless your website was built to provide you with Content Management System tools that make web-page publishing possible for non-programmers.
- HTML pages give site visitors some control of the layout and other page elements (fonts, font sizes, colors, displaying of images, link appearance, and more), which is a good thing from your customers' perspective but may not meet a website owner's need to retain total control of document properties.
Characteristics of PDF-Based Content
- With Adobe's Digital Signature users can sign documents electronically without printing and scanning them.
- For forms that must be displayed and then printed in a specific way, a PDF file is a good solution. Users familiar with the printed form will immediately recognize the online version.
- PDF files are relatively easy to create in word-processing or publishing-software and then save as PDF files. For certain type of document types, such as press releases and product or safety data sheets, the PDF format is a fast way to publish web-ready content.
- PDF content can easily be saved and then shared offline or online.
- PDF files maintain the layout, regardless of the screen resolution or orientation.
- PDF documents may facilitate sales in a paid-subscription model for content. People may be more likely to pay when the content is packaged as something they can download and keep. For example, a subscription-based newsletter, as opposed to a pay-wall online subscription.
- There is no simple way for visitors to reach other pages on your site from within a PDF-document on the website.
- PDF format limits the audience because the PDF viewer is not integrated into many mobile devices.
- Authors cannot apply structured markup to the content, thus limiting PDF-based content's ability to show rich snippets in search engine results pages. Otherwise the content within the PDF is generally readable and is indexed by search engines, as long as the PDF's textual content was created using an originating program, such as a word processor or desktop publishing software.
- PDF documents lack support for sophisticated tracking mechanisms for analyzing access statistics, e.g., using Google Analytics. Server software or tracking services can measure click-through or PDF downloads, but other tracking is more complicated. PDF files make it more difficult to understand how a visitor is progressing through the website.
- PDF is only supported by Windows and Mac operating systems. Linux and Unix users cannot view PDF files without the extra hurdle of using alternative, non-Adobe document viewers.
- PDF format can be difficult to read on a computer screen. PDF files are laid out in a Letter/A4 or Legal/A3 format pages, designed for printing, but most computer screens fall somewhere between a 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio, which would force users to do lots of scrolling through the pages when viewing them on their screens.
- Allowing people to download and keep your product (PDF file) could undermine ad- or subscription-based business models.