Many businesses, including banks and credit unions, have always relied on print materials like brochures and newsletters to communicate to their audiences. To extend the reach of these tactics to digital channels, these materials are often simply converted to PDF or images and posted online as-is. But with a business or institution’s website playing a larger role than ever, combined with the importance of having an ADA conformant website, posting these basic PDF documents or images as-is is a mistake and must change.
The Problem with Print Materials on The Web
Typically documents that are created for print purposes don’t translate well to the web. If that document is saved as an image for the web, then there can be a host of issues regarding mobile responsiveness, conformance, SEO and user experience. Similarly, if a document has a complex layout, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to make it a conformant PDF.
Images with text are not responsive – A responsive website is designed so that as the screen size changes, the images fit well into the changing container. An image derived from print material is often not designed to fit well into a responsive site and text becomes cut-off on mobile devices and generally difficult – or even impossible – to read.
- Text in an image cannot be indexed – An image with text created for print that is used on the web is unable to be crawled by Google, resulting in less-than-ideal SEO results. If a descriptive alt tag is used, Google stops after 16 words, which means longer content does not get indexed.
- Text in an image cannot be searched – Many will use the browser’s search function to quickly find what they are looking for on a webpage. Text in an image cannot be searched in normal site search indexes.
- Text in an image cannot be reliably enlarged – If one enlarges the text on a site, the text will remain sharp no matter how big it gets. Text in an image can get fuzzy and hard to read when enlarged from an electronic document of a print piece.
- Text spacing in an image cannot be overridden – Some users must adjust the spacing between letters and words to be able to read the content. Character spacing cannot be adjusted in an image, which is a common shortcoming of print materials posted on the web.
- Text color in an image cannot be overridden – Users with a visual perception disability may need to change text colors to make them easier to be read. One cannot change the colors of an image without access to the original design file.
- Text in an image cannot be read by a screen reader – If a user relies on a screen reader to navigate a site, any content in an image must be provided via an alt tag. Importantly, the alt tag must be concise, thereby limiting the amount of text that can be included in an image.
- PDFs offer limited SEO benefits - Google can crawl a PDF, but PDFs from print campaigns are, by definition, not created to be well-structured for the web. Therefore, print-based PDFs are nearly useless from an SEO-perspective, especially if there is no web-focused alternative to the material.
- PDFs are typically more difficult to make ADA compliant than converting into a conformant web page – It is difficult to make some PDFs compliant and can be challenging for a user with disabilities to use a PDF rather than to interact with a well-made website. There are situations where a PDF on a site is necessary, but why put hard-to-use marketing materials on an easy-to-use site? The goal is to reach as many people as possible and PDFs usually are not the way to do so.
Inaccessible Material is Illegal
You may have noticed that multiple issues listed above reference website accessibility. Even if you take the steps to make your printed material ADA compliant, when this content is reused on the web, it often becomes non-compliant. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that websites are places of public accommodation. This means that all material on a website must be accessible. Placing images and PDFs designed for print onto a website results in material being inaccessible and therefore increases your risk of lawsuit.
Evaluating Your Print Content for the Web
When planning your print tactics, it’s essential that you also have a plan for including these materials on the web. This should ideally be thought of from the onset and if you’re evaluating the best plan for long-standing tactics like newsletters, consider the following:
Online media is different than print media – Don’t expect materials on the web to look exactly like printed materials do. You should use your colors consistently and text should be reused as well, but the layout must be different in different places. On a piece of paper, the layout of text can be complex, yet still easy to read. In contrast, on the web and especially on a smart phone, the text must be presented differently to be consumed easily by visitors of all abilities. If text is locked up in an image, viewing it on a phone is difficult.
Change your focus – You may get pushback that “we’ve always created newsletters this way” or that newsletters are “supposed to” be laid out like newsletters have always been laid out. But we live in an age where digital delivery is king and it’s even a potential health risk to distribute printed material. Our goal should be on producing content for digital screens and then adapting that content for print instead of the other way around.
Now more than ever, businesses and institutions need to be more mindful about making information more accessible online, especially how to translate print materials into user-friendly, search-optimized, ADA-conformant web content. Don’t throw away perfectly good content. Instead, focus your priorities first on putting your content on your website where it will get the most views. Ensure that it’s able to fit on portrait and landscape screens from the size of an iPhone SE up to a 32” Retina display. Print will always have its place, but it shouldn’t be online, at least not without making it accessible for all audiences. Seek out the digital professionals at ZAG Interactive about your ADA website compliance needs and how to make your content accessible for all. Contact us today.
Sr. QA & Certified Accessibility Analyst
ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings