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Are you asking your audience to read PDFs on mobiles?

In an interesting experience recently, I sent out an email to a group of people who I knew would all be interested in the content, which consisted of a link to some notes. I do this quite often, and I know that most of the recipients read the notes. This time was different: several people didn’t read the material. Whether or not they’d seen the email was unclear, but they clearly hadn’t read the linked content.

My first thought was to check the deliverability. This was not the problem – it appears that almost every recipient had opened the email (chalk one up to consistent, proven subject lines!). Then I realised what had been different. For reasons of time, I’d had to put the notes in an attachment to the email. Normally I link to a web page.

So what was the issue? I’m not sure yet. I think it could be one of two things: either people opened the attachment and didn’t or couldn’t read it (it was an A4 document in PDF format), or they didn’t even open it. Again, I went back to the stats, and discovered that 80% of emails were being viewed on mobile devices. Could it be that people’s experience of email ‘attached documents’ on a mobile device is so bad that they don’t even try to open attachments any more?

Remember, normally they click through to a web page and do read the material. It’s an HTML web page, however, not a PDF document, so it reads well on a mobile device.

If this wasn’t a real-world exercise, which I don’t wish to play around with, my next test might be to give them a click through to an online PDF document and see if they read that, and also try including a ‘readable-on-mobile’ HTML attachment. This should tell me if the problem is the attachment or the format. It may not matter, because if the end product is unreadable on the recipient’s device (as an A4 PDF document often is, on a mobile screen), then whether they click on it or not is immaterial. In future, unless I can drop the text of my documents into a simple HTML page, I may not send them at all …at least to this mobile audience!