ONE of the most common usability problems we see in our reviews of investor relations websites are improperly written links to PDF and other non-Web format documents. In fact, only 20% of the more than 500 companies whose sites we’ve reviewed in the past six months are consistently writing PDF links properly.
When you don’t write proper links to PDFs, you can:
- Disrupt users’ visits to your website;
- Slow down their ability to accomplish their objectives;
- Cause them to lose confidence in the site’s other links; and,
- Possibly cause their computers to crash, which is a surprisingly common complaint.
Obviously you don’t want to do any of these things to people who own your company’s shares or who are thinking of buying them. So here’s a simple tip for writing links to PDF documents and other non-Web formats like Word or Excel:
Indicate the format and file size in brackets after the link.
Like this: Is Boardroom Blogging For You? (PDF 64KB)
You can find the file size of a PDF by looking at the document properties information, as shown in the screenshot below using Adobe Reader 7. To access the document properties window, simply click Control+D while viewing the document. In other software, you can access this information usually by using the file/properties menu.
|Press Control+D in the Adobe Reader to access the document properties window. The file size information in circled in red in the screenshot. If you are viewing other document formats outside of a browser, use the file/properties menu option to access file size information.|
It can be useful to add the number of printed pages in the brackets as well. This can be more helpful to people who aren’t familiar with kilobytes and megabytes, or what they might mean in practical terms.
Like this: Is Boardroom Blogging For You? (PDF 64KB/5 pages)
Telling people they’re linking to a PDF puts them on notice about what to expect. It gives them a choice to avoid the download if they’re on a slow connection, a finicky computer, or simply don’t want to use PDF.
Open PDFs in a new window
Make sure that PDF and other non-Web downloads are coded to open in a new browser window. This prevents users accidentally closing their browsers when they’re finished with the PDF. See Jakob Nielsen’s explanation for why this is good practice, though I don’t like his recommendation that you force non-Web documents to open outside of the browser because that should be the user’s choice.
Most PDF documents on IR websites do now open in new windows, so the practice is conventional and I don’t see a need for you to warn users a new window will open when they click on your links to PDFs. But there’s no harm in doing so.
Finally, some developers like to use link tips to tell people a link is for a PDF download. These appear only when the user places their cursor over a link. (Place your cursor over the preceding link to see the tip appear.)
This approach is not effective, partly because there is a slight delay in the link tip appearing, by which time many users will have already clicked on the link and unexpectedly launched their PDF reader software. It is better just to write the format and size in brackets.
Bottom line: Incorrectly written links to PDFs and other non-Web formats are a widespread issue on IR websites. Following these simple guidelines will make a small but significant difference to the overall experience of investors who use company websites, without any added expense or technical expertise required by the company.