Always use HTML content unless there is a very good reason not to.
HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is the standard language of the Web. It is almost always to your advantage to use HTML instead of PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). Here’s why:
HTML is understood by everyone (and everything) on the Web. Anything Web enabled—personal computers, search engines, cell phones, game systems, iPods—will by definition understand HTML. There is no guarantee that other document types will be understood.
Even when people visit your site with standard personal computers, you can’t presume that they will have the software available to read your non-HTML documents. One in ten users doesn’t have Adobe Reader installed; one in ten doesn’t have Microsoft Office installed.
HTML tends to have a smaller file size, so it is faster for your end users. This is especially true if seeing your document requires them to start up another application, such as Adobe Reader or Microsoft Word.
Much of that larger file size comes from “extra” features you may not want your users to see, such as the original author and filename of the document, and any changes made with Word’s track changes feature. (Click on the image to the right to see what one university accidentally sent out.) While you can promise yourself to check all these extra features before posting a PDF or Office document, it is almost inevitable that you will forget to do so at some point.
Although Google and other search engines search other document types, HTML is likely to be better indexed, and therefore more easily found, than other formats.
PDF and Office documents are harder to update using our CMS software
The two most common reasons we hear for not using HTML are:
Every page on our website automatically reformats itself for printing. Most of those pages look pretty good in their printed format. Unless your document has advanced page layout needs, the HTML version is probably going to serve your needs.
(If the printed version doesn’t work for you, let the Digital Team know! We’d like to keep improving our printed versions.)
This can be a real barrier to providing HTML versions. Here’s one solution: let the document live on your website.
For instance: turn your student handbook into a section of your website. You’ll save yourself the printing costs—and you’ll have created a great on-line reference for current and prospective students. If you need to make an update, those changes will be available to students much more quickly than you could get a printed version to them.
That solution won’t work for every document, but it is worth considering for many of your documents.