Digital Marketing Blog

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21 Aug 2017

9 Warning Signs of Bad Online Documents (And How To Fix Them)

This post about bad online documents is a 7-minute read. 

Let's face reality.

A large number of online documents are really bad. Either they're static, boring, bad to navigate in, nonresponsive or just poorly designed. Many of them don't consider the interests of today's online consumers, who want an engaging experience. 

First, if you've designed any of the documents presented here (or have made something quite similar), don't be offended by my remarks! It's not meant as an insult. 

I shall be the first to admit that my own design skills suck. 



I've found some examples to show you, how you (and I) can improve the user experience by using small but effective features to improve these bad online documents. 

But first, a little gift for you: 

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What's the bottom line? 

I'm simply using these examples to help you steer clear of the pitfalls and to show you, what you can do instead!  Be ready to raise your online documents to new heights. 

You can also visit our showcase, to see examples of some of the cool features that can easily improve a dull and static PDF document. Now, let's look at some of the warning signs as to why your documents suck:



You can be quite certain of one thing: if a reader is looking at your online documents and is trying to figure out where to click without any luck, then it's lacking engagement and interaction. 


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Just take a look at the example above of a sustainability report. 

At first glance, it looks like an engaging page with an information box with clickable items. Although the design helps to make it visually appealing, you still find yourself trying to click on the icons related to goals, roadmaps, standards and policies, methods and follow-ups, and culture and values - but without any luck.

Here, clickable icons providing more information could be an effective way to get reader engagement.

In contrast, the BESTSELLER sustainability report (winner of RED DOT DESIGN AWARD) below uses all available engaging features to guide you as a reader from A to B, such as slide-ins and clickable icons:




Throughout the whole presentation, you are entertained, enlighted and engaged. 

For more info. on how to design for digital - download this free eBook »


Unfortunately, a significant number of online documents are static, such as PDF's. Even though a PDF is easy to create, ShortieDesigns argue that it shouldn't be used for web content, as it often doesn't download properly, the file size is too big, it interrupts work flow or is not formatted in a user-friendly way. 

Especially the user-friendliness should be top of mind when you want to keep the attention of the ever restless online consumers. According to Time, our attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. 

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Moreover, according to Hubspot, we skim a lot of the content presented to us. Hence, marketers should make content that reflects the reading and skimming habits of their audience.

Content that is easily digestible. 

"Marketers should also make sure they are placing themselves in channels like video, or consider creating interactive or educational content to meet the needs of their audience."

In a study conducted by Hubspot, they found that online consumers want to see more of social media posts, news articles, videos, online classes and interactive articles or tools as their top priorities. 

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Want to know the best part? 

You can easily improve your static PDF's documents today with interactive digital flipbooks, that speak to your audience's needs:


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With a 501-page (!) long product catalog made in a PDF, it is quite time-consuming to find the exact product you are looking for. And when the blurred product pictures don't help you, you are - well, kind of screwed.

Navigation has to be easy, no matter whether you are a sales person or customer. You need some serious patience to scroll through this entire catalog:

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A way to improve this is to include links to page numbers and item numbers, to easily jump forward. 

In comparison, WÜRTH has made their product catalog in a digital flipbook, which makes navigation so much easier. Each product number can be clicked and is then opened in their web shop with extra information about the specific item. 

In a digital flipbook, you can easily zoom in, just by clicking directly on the page - easy and simple. 

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Also, Mueller Company, a product heavy company with B2B industry catalogs of up to 900 pages, has significantly improved search functionality by switching from PDF's to a digital flipbook. 

Deron Austin, Director of Marketing & Communications at Mueller Company, states:

"When you move into the material, it is easy to navigate, and it is easy to zoom in - notably on a tablet or a smartphone. Moreover, you still have your options for printing, downloading and sharing. The search functionality is also excellent."

Learn how to easily improve your product catalogs by moving from PDF to HTML:


Read the whole Mueller case here »



When you're presenting your online documents, you are fighting a battle against AdWords and other visuals. 

In below example, the catalog is fighting for attention in between two kinds of AdWords plus presentations of four competing companies on the right, together with a very notable call-to-action at the bottom right. 

With only half the space for your attention, you should be more than lucky to get the viewer's full attention. 

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 Related read: Creating & Designing Interactive Online Publications 

By removing all visual clutter and presenting a catalog with no disturbing elements on a clear background with only one place to click, the presentation is much more effective:

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Learn how to remove visual clutter and how to design for digital in this blog post »



As nearly 60% of searches came from mobile devices in 2016 (and rising), you simply can't ignore mobile friendliness in your online documents.


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No matter your industry and your type of document (product catalog, annual report, sustainability report, weekly retail offer, lookbook, digital magazine, B2B catalog, brochure, prospectus, recruitment book, care guide, trainee programme, employee magazine or the ever so popular white paper), you have to prioritize responsiveness!

Source: Hitwise.

From below example, you can see how you shouldn't do it. Even though this comes from the annual report of a multi-billion-dollar company, mobile responsiveness hasn't been a top priority in their static PDF and you have to guess what the chart is about.  



By presenting this annual report in a responsive digital flipbook, viewers would get a much better experience. 

Here's an example of how Colliers has done exactly that: 




Do as Colliers and make your online documents responsive and engaging on all devices:

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Make sure that your digital documents are accessible in the promised format. In below example, you are promised both an interactive version as well as the opportunity of a download (PDF). 

However, when clicking on "interactive version", all you get is the front page of the report - with no possibilities of coming any further. 

You can be sure that most of your audience will not make an extra effort to find your documents. You have to make them available and visible to get some interaction.

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Test that links on your web page as well as in your online documents are working. 



When designing for digital, reader friendliness should also be considered. In this digital flipbook example below, you're met by a wall of text, which is difficult to read.

The combination of a small font, serif font and long sentences makes it straining on the eyes -  even when presented in full screen:

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As thenextweb concludes on fonts for screens:

"the bottom line is that the fewer details a font needs to convey a character clearly, the more readable it will appear on a broader range of screens." 

That is not to say you can't use Serif fonts today, as the screens have improved massively since above article from thenextweb was published. 

Just keep the font size in mind, when you choose a font for your digital publication. 

Another example is the contraction of words to make the headline fit within the available space; "APPsychologytoimplement", which makes the headline very difficult to read. 


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An easy way of fixing text heavy documents online is to only present the most relevant text on the page. Then use smart features such as slide-ins, pop-up boxes or video with additional information, which the reader can choose to open or not. Not only does it drive attention to relevant points of interest, it also drives user engagement. 


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In above example, you can get additional information by watching videos or clicking on the green plus. In this case, you can even choose to segment your reading even further down to interests (Football, handball, gymnastics, fitness & adventure etc), which gives a very personal reading experience. 

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Colliers usually has quite text-heavy catalogs, but they have found the balance between text, images, white space and interactive elements to make it an interesting and engaging experience to read along: 

2017-08-09 14_32_58-Colliers PULS – STATUS på ejendomsmarkedet Q2 2017.png


When clicking on a "read more" button, you get more text in a pop-up overlay: 

2017-08-09 14_35_17-Colliers PULS – STATUS på ejendomsmarkedet Q2 2017.png


You can do the same with your digital documents. 

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According to BigCommerce, load time is highly important.

"In fact, a one-second delay in page load time has been shown to cause a 7 percent loss in conversion and 11 percent fewer page views".  

Interesting to know that if your pages aren't lightning-fast, your audience is quickly gone and left with a bad online experience. 

You've probably seen this on your screen plenty of times when trying to open a PDF and know what I mean.  

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This alone is one good reason for changing your PDF to a digital flipbook, where load time is quick. 

Get the free ebook: Quickly Convert PDF's to HTML5 Flipbooks by using beautiful design »



Whenever you are using outdated technology such as flash, you shouldn't count on your visitors staying longer on your site. Especially not if they get a message like below. I'm sorry, but I don't have time for downloading anything before I can read your stuff. 


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Or this example from a car dealer:


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To be sure that all viewers can actually see what you've got to offer, make the change to an up-to date technology with interactive digital flipbooks. 


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Don't disappoint or confuse the reader by using universal language or icons in another way as they are originally intended and universally understood.  

It is common knowledge that blue text online is usually clickable. Especially, when it's incorporated in the body text like below: "visit Health Care School...". In this case, it's unclickable and I found my self-trying several times, as I thought I just didn't hit the blue text correctly. blue-text

Also, the highlighted text "Register now" to the right can't be clicked and it gives a bad experience. 

Solution: insert those links into your PDF -  or simply make it smarter and more engaging by using a digital flipbook. 

Did you know that by using the iPaper flipbook solution, you can benefit from the automated custom link import, which saves a lot of time on manual work? 



Other things to mention are online documents that are too packed with information or the opposite: those which do not stand out and grab the attention of your audience.  It's also important to consider elements like social sharing and good CTA's. 


Download free eBook 3 steps to the perfect CTA



There are a lot of bad static online documents (usually PDF's) circling the Internet, that could be upgraded by means of small changes. We've been around these issues:

  1. Static and unengaging documents like PDF'S
  2. Long with poor navigation
  3. It doesn't get the attention it deserves
  4. It's not responsive
  5. Bad accessibility
  6. Difficult to read
  7. Slow load time
  8. Outdated technology
  9. Confuses or disappoints the reader 


If you can nod yes to any of these points, do yourself (and your readers) a favor and try out a digital flipbook solution today: 


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You might be wondering: 

Is this the right solution for me? 

Try it out for free - no strings attached. 

Click on the picture now to see how SKANSKA does a very good job with their digital magazine » 

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You are only a few steps away from making the same engaging experience for your business. It all starts here

About the author

Bettina Oksen Bendorf

Bettina Oksen Bendorf

Bettina is an Inbound Marketing Specialist. I have a passion for creating relevant content with focus on the receivers’ needs. Always with the customers’ point of view in focus: “What’s in it for me?”. Chocolate lover and fitness junkie.

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