Kill the PDF: Turtl explains why it’s time to update or lose the format

Marketers will struggle to capture people's attention with PDF

In a connected world, what is the relevance of a Portable Document Format (PDF)? Invented way back in 1993, the PDF is from an era of clunky browsers and no smartphones. When you consider that whitepapers and eBook content is buried in a PDF that has no analytics, is static and text-heavy, inaccessible to mobile users, too large to easily download, and not native to the overall inbound marketing web experience, clearly, it is time to kill the PDF.

The Drum spoke to digital content marketing platform Turtl’s chief executive and founder, Nick Mason, to talk about the #KillThePdf initiative, which is encouraging marketers to take control of their content with Turtl’s competitive software. Mason reveals the biggest problems with the PDF and why it doesn’t really work in the context of today’s data-driven, dynamic, mobile-first reality.

The PDF is not fit for purpose

For a format, which was once the internet’s official document publishing format, the PDF has spanned way over two-decades without much change, it is undeniably out-of-date in the digital world, where consumer experience, interactivity and measurability count as valuable qualities for most modern-day marketing.

Unfortunately, the PDF lacks in all three departments, according to Mason. “It hasn't kept pace with the rest of the digital world where it’s increasingly hard for marketers to grab people’s attention,” he says. “If you can’t take advantage of what's going on in technology and see how effective it could be, you're tying both hands behind your back.”

Some examples of the limitations of the PDF include:

  • Too much scrolling: “The PDF is typically created in a portrait format, so users are forever zooming in or out, creating an especially poor mobile phone or laptop experience. Also, when sent as an email attachment, readers will often need to scroll through endless pages of text rather than engage with the document in a fun or interactive way. Ultimately this reduces the reader’s ability to retain information and the likeliness of them reading the full document.”
  • Creating a high-quality PDF requires the skill of a designer: “You need quite sophisticated software like InDesign or Illustrator, and you probably need some training or a graphic eye,” adds Mason.
  • Lack of performance data: Marketers very rarely receive any sort of measurement regarding how their documents have performed. “The PDF provides absolutely no analytics. You can potentially find out the number of people who downloaded it, but you won’t know what they read, what they liked or didn’t like and therefore what you should write about next. It’s unacceptable in this day and age for your content not to provide you with that data.”

Mason says that it’s a mystery why marketers continue to accept the PDF in its current form. The only reason he can think why this format even exists today is “because we've got this hangover from the print world, so people are much more accepting of it.” Turtl, meanwhile, has created a much slicker and more engaging medium which tracks the data around reader behaviour.

Deeper insights, better targeting

Turtl’s software promises the user to regain control and exercise creative flexibility. Mason explains that his team used psychological research to understand how people read and process information to offer a more impactful solution. These studies revealed that the presentation of information affects how users engage with it, so improving the way content is laid out could help to boost engagement.

“Turtl provides a template and gives people the tools to create professional, on-brand content, without the need for specialist design skills or knowledge,” he says. This empowers marketers to take control of their content to deliver a much more meaningful and impactful experience while also helping to drive business process efficiencies.

It also includes the ease of content creation, meaning that updates can be made easily. While this won’t mean that the use of creative suites will soon become redundant, Mason says that it may change the role of designers. “Designers will just start doing things differently. Rather than create everything from scratch, with our technology, the content team can make the content themselves and the designers will then act as a checking and optimising house - which requires them to do higher-value work rather than the grunt work.”

We all know that content tailored to the readers’ individual interests, content is more likely to generate trust and likeability, improving the quality of sales opportunities.

Of course, mass adoption of this new software will take time as it requires Turtl to demonstrate to PDF users that there are superior alternatives available for their needs and encourage their teams to change their behavior. But for all marketers used to operating without analytics when it comes to using the PDF, the fact that there’s a platform that allows them to create professional-quality content with no design skills, publish in a format optimized for reading, and receive performance metrics should be a wake-up call.

Ultimately, Turtl is keen to modernize communication with its digital-first format and make it easier for marketers to create documents that benefit their consumers more – to deliver more innovative experiences, improve content relevance, and achieve deeper engagement.

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