The Easy Way to Add a PDF to Your Website

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One question I am often asked by clients is what format they should use to add documents to their website. In many cases, these documents were created in Microsoft Word, but not everyone has that software. For this reason, and others (file size, files are editable, etc.), you would likely not want to add customer-facing documents to your website as a Word file. Instead, the file format I recommend is a PDF.

Adobe's PDF format, which stands for Portable Document Format, is a great way to add documents to a website. This is especially true if those documents need to be printed, or if they might be overly complex, making it challenging to lay the content out appropriate for a web page. A common example of this would be medical forms that would need to be completed prior to a new patient arriving for an office visit. Allowing a patient to visit the website to download and print that form prior to their visit is much more efficient than having the office mail a physical copy of the form to that patient - and using a PDF that is printed and filled out by hand is also often more desirable than collecting that information via a web form due to the possible sensitive nature of the information being collected (and the stringent security requirements your site would need to adhere to for collecting that data).

This example of a medical form is just one reason to use a PDF. Other common uses I have seen include:

  • Detail board member meeting minutes, where you want to make the content available to readers but do not want it to be easily editable
  • Provide larger documents, like employee handbooks, that need to be readily printable (and also not easily editable)

Ultimately, adding a PDF to a website is incredibly easy to do. Let's take a look at just how easy it is to include a PDF file on your site.

Step 1 - You Need a PDF

The first step in this process is actually creating the PDF. While you can purchase the professional version of Adobe Acrobat to create these documents, you can also do so from many other applications, like Microsoft Word, by using the "Print" functionality and selecting PDF as your option.

If that is not available to you, there are a number of free PDF converter tools available online, including PDF Converter, Online2PDF, CutePDF, and many more. While I do have a full version of Acrobat, I have also used Bullzip PDF for many years to create PDF documents as needed on other systems.

Once you have your PDF file ready, you can move onto the next step.

Step 2 - Upload Your PDF

You will need to add your PDF to your web hosting environment. While some sites that use a CMS may have this functionality built in, in other instances you will simply use a standard FTP program to add those files to your web site's directories. 

f you have a lot of PDF files, it's best to keep them in a separate directory from your HTML files.

Adding these PDFs to a folder with a name like "documents" is a pretty common practice. This will make it easier for future updates and to find where these files are (it's the same reason why your site's graphic files are inside a folder called "images", etc.)

Step 3 - Link to Your PDF

With the PDF (or PDFs) now in place, you simply need to link to them. You can link to your PDF file as you would any other file - just add an anchor tag around the text or image you want to link to the PDF and enter the file path. For example, your link could like this:

<a href="http://www.websiteaddress.com/documents/filename.pdf">Link Text Here</a>

Additional Tips:

  1. In years past, many sites would link to the Acrobat Reader Web site to help people who may not have this software to download it so they could view your file. The reality is that current web browsers will actually show PDF documents in-line. This means that they do not, by default, download them to the user's computer, but instead show them directly in that browser. Because of this, it is not as necessary today to include the link to download the software, but if you prefer to do so, it certainly cannot hurt (it may make your site feel a bit dated, however)
  1. Use Acrobat files for documents you don't want people to be able to edit by making them secure PDFs. Remember, if someone has a professional version of the software, they would be able to make edits unless you protect the document from allowing those changes. 

Original article by Jennifer Krynin. Edited by Jeremy Girard on 10/16/17