Your Higher Education Marketing Link of the Week… PDF Peril at University of Chicago, Safety at the Wharton School… 9 August 2019

Love your website visitors? Don’t force them into PDF peril for important career outcomes info. Especially on mobile.

University of Chicago Historical OutcomesPotential students (and parents) search for career outcomes information on college and university websites that interest them. Some schools provide that content in more visitor-friendly formats that others.

Most often we select “positive” website examples with strong marketing impact for the Link of the Week. Today, we make an exception in yet another effort to discourage lingering fascination with using PDFs as a quick and easy way to transfer print content to online content.

PDFs are not always evil. But forcing people to print and read long online content isn’t the best way to ensure that potential students will indeed see important information that interests them. It isn’t marketing-smart.

It is possible, of course, to extract primary content from a PDF and present that on a website page while also including a link to a PDF containing the same or similar information. Takes more work. But the marketing impact is stronger as the most important points can be seen as soon as the website opens rather than forcing people to take an additional step.

Chicago and Wharton PDF differences…

Wharton School MBA CareersBoth Chicago and Wharton include PDFs on a career outcomes page. Chicago doesn’t offer much content other than what’s on the PDF document. Wharton, on the other hand, puts 4 key content links in a prominent position that lets visitors skip the PDF if they wish:

  • Careers Overview
  • Industry Choices
  • Function Choices
  • Location Choices

In the Chicago case, we have an 11 page PDF that includes sections that are impossible to read without finger-flicking to enlarge the content, then shrinking it again to continue. That’s needed even on a laptop or desktop. On a smartphone it is much more difficult.

The Wharton PDF is only 4 pages long. And most content is sufficiently sized that it can be read while scrolling through the pages. It isn’t ideal but it can be done much more easily than in the Chicago example.

The bottom line: print publications are best read in print format. Preparing content for online review requires a different presentation format. That might sound as obvious as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. But continued PDF use suggests it is not.

A dated content note…

Content like this is best kept as up-to-date as possible. And so we note that the Wharton School outcomes content is from 2018 graduates. Chicago hasn’t yet taken the time to move past the 2017 graduating class.

For people curious about earlier years, Wharton includes a link to PDF archives from 1999 to 2017. We smiled when we saw that the 1999 PDF was 32 pages long compared to the present 4 page edition. Progress happens.

Follow the Link(s) of the Week…

Experience first-hand the peril that comes from relying on PDFs to convey important content. Start at the University of Chicago’s “Historical Undergraduate Outcomes” page and follow the PDF link to “Class of 2017 Outcomes.”

For an alternative example with higher marketing impact, start at the Wharton School’s “Full-Time Jobs Overview, Class of 2018.”

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