Why GOV.UK content should be published in HTML and not PDF

By Neil Williams: For More Info, Go Here…

ngd- This is a major problem with many documents generally and particularly with documents from the State of Michigan. they are images and can’t be read by screen readers…

GOV.UK exists to make government services and information as easy as possible to find and use.

For that reason, we’re not huge fans of PDFs on GOV.UK.

Compared with HTML content, information published in a PDF is harder to find, use and maintain. More importantly, unless created with sufficient care PDFs can often be bad for accessibility and rarely comply with open standards.

Many departments are doing great work to move away from them. For example, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) blogged about how it created and published its strategy in HTML and Public Health England has written about its work to move away from PDFs.

Content managed by the GOV.UK team in GDS is entirely in HTML and the training, guidance and tools we provide for publishers encourage HTML by default. However, we still have around 200,000 PDFs on GOV.UK and we’re publishing tens of thousands of new ones each month. We’ve heard from GOV.UK publishers and we know there are pressures that can make it difficult to avoid using PDFs.

The default should be to create all content in HTML. If you can’t avoid publishing a PDF, ideally it should be in addition to an HTML version and the PDF must meet accessibility standards and archiving standards. We hope this post will help publishers explain the problems with PDFs to their colleagues and support moving towards an HTML-first culture.

Problems with PDFs

They do not change size to fit the browser

On a responsive website like GOV.UK, content and page elements shift around to suit the size of the user’s device and browser. However, PDFs are not designed to be flexible in their layout. They generally require a lot of zooming in and out, and scrolling both vertically and horizontally. This is especially troublesome with long documents and on small devices like mobile phones.

They’re not designed for reading on screens

People read differently on the web, so it’s really important to create content that is clear, concise, structured appropriately and focused on meeting the user need. A PDF document that was created for offline use will not suit the context of the web and is likely to result in a poor user experience.

It’s harder to track their use

We cannot get as much information from analytics about how people are using PDFs. We can get data on how many times a PDF has been downloaded from GOV.UK, but we cannot measure views of the file offline.

In addition, we cannot get data about how users have interacted with a PDF – for example how long they’ve viewed it for or what links they’ve followed. This makes it harder to identify issues or find ways to make improvements.

They cause difficulties for navigation and orientation

Depending on the user’s device and browser, PDFs might open in a new browser window, new tab or a separate app. Sometimes they automatically download to the user’s device. Whatever happens, the user is taken away from the website when they open a PDF. This means they lose the context of the website and its navigation, making it harder for them to go back if they need to.

This is even more of an issue if the user goes directly to the PDF from a search engine. Without the context of the site the PDF is hosted on, they can’t easily browse to related content or search the website.

It’s also worth remembering that although many devices and browsers have PDF viewers built-in – and they are freely available to download – there are still users who do not have them, or cannot download them.

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