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PDF sharing: preparation, usability and file management

Posted: Wednesday, 15 July 2015. Post tagged with: UsabilitySite ManagementTips
Posted by: Leeroy Lugg

As a website owner you may wish to share your files by making them available as digital downloads. The file format of choice is often PDF (Portable Document Format), as it's free to use, easy to distribute and widely supported.

The simplest and quickest ways to publish and share your PDF files is via your website's Content Management System. Before you embark on uploading and embedding a batch of PDF's it's worth taking a moment to think about file preparation, usability and file management.

File preparation

Creating a PDF is a fairly straightforward process, most modern word processors will allow you to write, format and easily embed photographs or graphics directly into your document. It is then simply a case of saving or exporting your document as a PDF.

Importing graphics or photos into your PDF doc can improve your message, however, this can result in very large file sizes. If your individual files end up 10MB or more the following will probably occur...

  • Visitors browsing your site via a mobile device such as a smart-phone or tablet may have limited data allowance. If the files are large they may not wish to download them.
  • Visitors browsing the site on slow connections may have problems opening large documents
  • If you have many large PDF docs (that are popular and regularly downloaded) there is a risk that you may quickly start to use up your monthly bandwidth allowance
  • You may find that your available web-space is running low, this can cause various issues including the serious one of a database crash or your site going down.
  • Some web hosts have an upload limited, for example your host may not let you upload files to the server if they are bigger than 4MB.

Luckily, there is a simple and obvious solution - don't embed huge graphics or photographs into your PDF's.

If you don't have an image editor, use a free online tool such as

Before uploading your files to the server, rename them

It's good practice to ensure that your PDF files are clearly named and saved in lower case without_spaces.

  • 7 2011 Company meeting Minutes 008.pdf [is bad]
  • company_minutes-8_July_2011.pdf [is good]

Naming your files like this will reduce server stress and reduces potential CMS errors.

Writing good links, finding files

To increase the likelihood of a visitor finding a file via the site's search engine it is a good idea to write the link text for your PDF without the underscores, it might also be a good idea to add a few lines of text explaining the PDF's content. At this point we should also add a file size. So ...

  • Company minutes 8th July 2011 (PDF doc - 1MB)

Summary: Company minutes - June 2001 detailing the move to the new offices in London and Cardiff.
Keywords: Office, Cardiff, London

  • Adding a summary and a few keywords will also make the PDF easier to locate.
  • Including the file size is useful for visitors without broadband. For example - someone viewing your site via a Smart-phone may not wish to use up their monthly allowance downloading a 5MB file.

Opening up the PDF viewer in a new widow

It is generally accepted that opening a page in a new window or tab is bad practice, however, when opening a PDF a new window maybe more desirable than opening the file in the same window.

The reason for this is related to the PDF reading software. If your visitors have a PDF reader installed on their computer it will attempt to open it (within the current browser window).

This is absolutely fine, however the problem arises when the visitor forgets or does not realise this, they assume that the previous web page is still available i.e. sitting behind the PDF.

They then close the PDF window and with it the website they were previously viewing. They could of course use the back button on the browser to return to the previous page, but as has been said - some viewers will not make that association.

The simple solution is open up the PDF reader in a new window.

Most CMS's will enable you to do this by using a 'New Window' option or by selecting _blank as the Target.

Once you have embedded your file into your page it's a good idea to add a little more text warning the visitor that a new window or tab will open, so something like this ....

  • company_minutes-8_July_2011.pdf (1MB - Opens in a new window/tab.)

File management

Most modern Content Management System have some file management tools built in. These file management systems will enable you to easily upload your files to the server. By default files are normally placed into the file manager root directory. If you only have a few files this will work fine, however, as time goes by your batch of files may grow, and then managing these resources may become a chore.

To reduce future headaches, it's probably a good idea to spend some time creating a folder structure that reflects your needs.

For example, a folder structure arranged by member of staff might look like this ...

Staff #1

  • Juan's files (root folder)
    • pdfs
      • meeting_file_1
      • meeting_file_2
      • meeting_file_3
      • meeting_file_4
    • msword-files
      • application_form1

Staff #2

  • Sara's files (root folder)
    • pdfs
      • briefing_doc_1
      • briefing_doc_2
      • briefing_doc_3
      • briefing_doc_4
    • msword-files
      • newsletter_draft-1

If there is only one administrator perhaps arranging your structure by file type is better ...

  • pdf (root folder))
    • meeting_file_1
    • meeting_file_2
    • meeting_file_3
    • meeting_file_4
  • msword (root folder))
    • application_form
  • txt-files (root folder))
    • notes-1
    • notes-2
    • notes-3


Don't make you PDF's too big, rename your files before upload, help your visitors find/read the files and make life easier for yourself by creating an easy to use directory or folder structure.

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