Document growth and cutting back

We use a lot of PDFs on our site (2177 at last count). This isn’t always a good thing, as PDFs can be inaccessible, require downloading, don’t look great on a mobile device, and are much harder to keep updated (ever opened a document and found it was out of date or had broken links? How annoyed were you?) Checking today, we have some 300 documents that contain broken links. The worst of these has a whopping 43 broken links and was last updated in December 2012. Not good.

We want this situation to change. Whilst looking at the current site in workshops with service teams, we’ve been taking a look at the documents they have on the site in order to sort these issues out.

Some of these we have already been told can be removed, or placed less prominently. This is interesting as in the three years since our last re-development, the number of documents crept up. We did manage to get the number back down last year, owing to the hard work of web editors questioning the necessity of documents, but there still remains a substantial number of documents on our site.

Some of the growth in documents is related to times of year, such as at election time, much of the information we were required to publish was only available in a PDF format. A big reduction in documents came about when a lot of planning documents were moved off of the site.

We still have a long way to go to get the number of PDFs on our site down to a minimum, and they won’t ever disappear completely, but there are ways to ensure that those we must provide, don’t impact on the customer journey.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the figures:

Document growth infographic

In a year, 1276 out of 2177 documents were viewed less than ten times. This suggests that a lot of these documents are unnecessary, or hard to find.

We can do something about this though, by removing those that we can, and by making sure that the relevant information in them is easily available on a page. This is also the case for those documents with large numbers of views – the information is obviously key (and the statistics show that it’s often timetables and prices with the most views) so lets take it and make it readily accessible to everyone.

Currently, before uploading a document, we ask our web editors to look at whether a document adds any value, and whether this information could be on the web page instead. We give examples of where PDFs should be used, for example for official council documents or for information that is too complicated to translate into a web page.

Providing guidelines has not proved enough in itself to limit the number of documents added online. This will change with the new website but we will need web editors and service teams to get behind the drive to add less documents, and ensure that those that are added, are up-to-scratch. Meeting with service teams, and discussing the statistics behind the documents they already have, should help with this.

How do you minimise the usage of documents on your website? Let us know in the comments!

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