Are PDFs helping or hurting your website? While PDFs offer a convenient way to share documents with consistent formatting, they can also frustrate users with slow load times and compatibility issues. PDFs are not mobile-friendly or interactive and information can become quickly outdated.

Did You Know?

Less than 15% of PDFs on our CAES and UGA Extension websites have been clicked on more than twice over their lifespan according to our analytics data. And, the majority of those clicks were for UGA Extension publications.

Consider these numbers when you are putting the time and effort into creating a PDF document and making it accessible for online consumption.

While most PDFs are not viewed often by the public, our HTML web pages were viewed 9,255,789 times during 2023 alone. Web pages are the best option due to their flexibility, accessibility, and ease of integration with other web technologies. (Note that a user-friendly print option is built into our web pages for those who still wish to create a printed copy.)

When Using a PDF Makes Sense

Remember, a PDF should never be used for on-screen reading. With that said, there are times when it is acceptable to include a downloadable PDF on your website.

Official Documents: For official documents like academic calendars, university policies, and forms that need to maintain a specific format or layout, PDFs are a solid choice. They are advantageous when distributing lengthy reports and manuals that users may prefer to download and read offline.

Printable Materials: When users need to print documents without any formatting issues, such as event flyers, brochures, or research reports that are made available in print from UGA Extension county offices, PDFs are ideal. They preserve the layout and design, ensuring the printed version looks just as intended.

Just keep in mind that once a PDF has been sent, downloaded, or shared, you lose all control over it. There’s no way to update PDFs after you’ve distributed them. There’s no way to even know how many of them are in circulation.

Guidelines for Using PDFs

If you must include a PDF in your experience, follow these guidelines to make it as usable as possible and to lend a smooth transition from a digital to a paper-based experience.

Make the PDF accessible when you’re creating it

Federal law requires our web content (including PDFs) to be accessible to people with disabilities. If you distribute PDFs on a website, by email, over social media, or any other digital means, you must make them accessible. The process of making PDFs accessible requires specific training. Check out OIT’s self-paced PDF Accessibility course to learn more.

Optimize your PDF file size

We recommend that PDF documents be 1MB or smaller for the web so it doesn’t take forever to download.

Create an HTML gateway page

Gateway pages are HTML web pages that summarize the core messages found in the PDF document. The gateway page provides sufficient detail on the landing page so that users don’t have to read the PDF in a browser window to get the information they need. They can get either the full document or key takeaways in a familiar digital format with the option to download the full PDF.


Always make it clear when a link opens/downloads a PDF

Keep the link descriptive and short. Be sure to include the file type at the end of the link text. This lets the user understand that they are about to open or download a different type of file from a web page.


Green checkmark next to hyperlink text that reads "Summer Camp Sign Up Form (Download PDF)"

Need More Guidance?

Check out our Accessibility & Section 508 Articles, or contact the CAES Web Team if you have any questions.

Learn How to Make PDFs Accessible

Our self-paced PDF Accessibility course is available to all CAES and UGA Extension faculty and staff. If you distribute digital PDF documents on a website, by email, over social media, or any other digital means, this course is for you.