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The Major Disadvantages of PDFs (+ How To Overcome Them)

April 25, 2024

Disadvantages of PDF

PDFs are still used all over the world.

But it doesn't come without challenges. In an era with increasing cyberattacks and threats to businesses, it’s more important than ever to make your contracts digital.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the main disadvantages of PDFs, but first let’s discuss what exactly a PDF is.

Unlike other document formats that may display differently depending on the software or device, PDFs maintain their original layout and design, making them a common choice for sharing documents across diverse environments.

Initially developed in the early 1990s, PDFs have become the norm in contract management, from business reports and academic papers to legal contracts and government forms.

The format's popularity comes from its ability to capture text, images, graphics, and anything else on any page into a single file, ensuring consistency in appearance regardless of the software or operating system used by the receiver.

PDFs sometimes offer options for encryption and can even offer password protection, providing some degree of security for sensitive information. This feature has made PDFs appear particularly useful when document integrity and confidentiality are vital, such as in legal proceedings or sensitive corporate communications.

PDFs can support some basic features for document navigation and interaction. Users can easily navigate through pages, search for specific content, and annotate documents with comments or highlights using their device’s search and find functions.

PDFs can also incorporate interactive elements like hyperlinks, buttons, and form fields, allowing for more dynamic and engaging content. These capabilities make PDFs suitable for various applications, from creating interactive presentations to distributing electronic forms.

4 key disadvantages of PDFs

PDFs have evolved into a versatile and widely adopted format for sharing and preserving digital documents. But they are not without their disadvantages, so let's go into more detail about a few key ones.

1. PDFs can be the cause of cyberattacks

PDFs can fall victim to cyber threats, with malware or viruses embedded within seemingly ordinary files. This can cause a risk to multiple devices within your tech ecosystem, as viruses can spread quickly. 

PDFs can also frequently serve as bait for phishing attacks, where attackers create realistic-looking documents that convince users to hand over confidential information or open harmful links. These phishing PDFs are usually well disguised, so it can be hard to detect a a phishing PDF from a normal one.

2. PDF metadata problems

PDFs can inadvertently expose metadata. If revisions have been made to the PDF — usually when it comes to contracts — made by multiple people, then that can still be seen in the metadata when a PDF is sent.

Metadata problems could lead to an increased risk of phishing attacks. If metadata is not properly encrypted, parts of it can potentially be used to trace the server where sensitive customer data and personal information is stored. This leads nicely to the next point.

3. Potential for data breaches

One of the key disadvantages of PDFs is that they leave scope for data breaches.

Think of it this way. Most PDFs — be a contract or another type of document — can’t be secured or encrypted. This means that anyone who comes across it can read it. In most cases, this would be harmless. However, someone with more malicious intentions could use your PDF to glean highly confidential information.

Equally, were your document management system to be breached, the hackers could bulk download all of your PDF contracts — and all documents — in moments. The results can be catastrophic for your business.

Many Britons well remember the People’s Energy data breach of 2020. People’s Energy, a sustainable energy supplier based in Scotland, saw all of its 270,000 customers' personal information stolen in one single download during a cyber attack. The resulting damage to its reputation was massive, as were the legal implications. The victims of the attack saw their personal information freely posted online.

This is a worst-case scenario, but PDFs leave your business more vulnerable to attacks of this type and on this scale.

4. Revisions can lead to long threads

Every time you make a revision, you can’t update the final PDF. This means you have to generate a completely new PDF and send it to the receiver all over again. This can lead to seemingly endless email threads and leaves plenty of space for human error. 

For example, suppose an older version of a PDF contract is signed. In that case, it can lead to confusion as the terms might not match what was agreed upon following negotiations and revisions.

But this isn’t the only example of the disadvantages of PDFs when it comes to signing your contracts. With possible revisions, the passing of the contract between signees, and the fact that emails can be lost and forgotten in cluttered inboxes, it can take a long time to get a PDF contract signed.

This can slow down your pipeline and, consequently, your ARR, leading to a backlog for your sales team as they try to navigate an ever-increasing number of deals on the cusp of closed-won.

For example, if a prospect takes a while to sign and return a contract, it could well get lost in a salesperson’s inbox. This could lead to an embarrassing moment for them as they ask for a status update, only to get "I’ve signed it and sent it back" as the reply.

After all, PDFs, like paper contracts, only lead to even more scope for human error.

How to overcome the disadvantages of PDFs in your business

We talked about the numerous disadvantages of PDFs, but there are ways in which businesses can curb the potential challenges.

Hire a contract admin employee

It is understandable why some businesses prefer to stick with PDFs.

Perhaps your customer base prefers more traditional signing methods. Perhaps you mostly work in or sell to countries where digital contracts and electronic signatures are less common. Whatever the reason, some businesses are compelled to stick with traditional PDF contracts. 

However, there is a way to clear some of the backlog problems they can create: hire an employee who works solely, or mostly, with contract admin work. Rather than leaving it up to individual salespeople or someone from HR or legal to sort through a mountain of paper or files, you can have a contract admin specialist whose primary focus is to address these issues.

Such employees can set up workflows and filing systems that ensure your contracts are properly categorized, up to date, and as secure as can be when using PDF-level encryption. 

Although hiring an employee to handle contract admin work would constitute an extra business expense, if you simply have to use PDFs, then this is unavoidable.

Invest in contract management software

If you can, make the switch to an easier, more advantageous way of managing your contracts. It might sound easier said than done, but the impact and savings for your business can be huge, both in monetary terms and in terms of the boost to your ARR it can provide.

In this section, we’ll take a look at just a few of the reasons why.

All of your documents in one place

Gone are the days of having to search around folders or drives for one specific contract or version of a contract. Instead, they can all be in one place, so long as the contract management software in question comes with an archive feature built in.

Before a contract is archived, you can categorize it. Also known as adding tags, a feature such as this means that you can make a contract retrievable based on where it is in the cycle, which ICP the signee falls into, when the contract was signed, who the salesperson responsible was, and so much more.

When archived, contracts can be easily retrieved in just a few clicks. Better still, some archive features allow you to put restrictions on access in place. This means that only specifically selected users and admins can access either individual contracts or the archive as a whole.

Once this is in place, you have added an extra layer of security to your contracts, overcoming one of the main disadvantages of PDFs.

Automated contract management system

Sometimes, multiple stakeholders will need to sign a contract, and sometimes, one will need to sign before the next one can. With PDF contracts, it is not possible to control this process, which could mean delays when it comes to signing or even needing to send your contract out multiple times.

Fortunately, contract management software can help here, too. Some solutions come with a feature that allows you to set a signing order for your contract. In other words, you can set the contract so that until the first signatory has signed, the second cannot.

The best part is that some solutions have features allowing you to set up automated email sequences. These sequences mean that those in the signing order are notified when it is their turn to sign.

This means that you need never chase signatories again. It also means that your sales team spends less time chasing signatures and more time doing what they do best — sell.

Advanced contract security systems

As we have already discussed here, PDFs can pose a threat to the security of your business — regardless of whether there is a data breach or the contract or document is inadvertently sent to the wrong recipient.

Some contract management solutions come with specific security features that only allow your contacts to be accessed by their intended recipients. Speaking from a Swedish perspective, some tools only allow you to access the contract once you have signed in using an app called BankID. BankID is a highly secure identification app that uses codes and facial recognition to verify that you are who you say you are.

With security features such as these, you can be sure that all of your metadata, your customer’s personal information, and any private data that might be included in your contracts is as safe as can be.

Some European providers house their data within the EU, which means that it is secured to some of the highest standards in the world.

Contract management integrations

Integrations in contract management software can help you overcome another key disadvantage of PDFs: your sales team doing double the work.

Whenever a PDF contract is signed, your CRM needs to be manually updated with all of the key details of the contract. A copy of the contract may also have to be manually uploaded. 

Some contract management solutions come with a two-way sync feature. A two-way sync removes the very notion of double work, as, in some cases, you can create, send, and get your contracts signed and your CRM updated, all without having to leave said CRM.

Once the right integrations are in place, it will be easier than ever for your sales team to significantly reduce their admin work, boost their pipeline, and increase your business’s ARR.

Editing and amending a contract made easy

One recurring problem that we hear time and again from our new customers here at Oneflow is that they find the static nature of PDFs to be a burden, not only in terms of creating email threads but also in terms of finding essential information or knowing where to make edits.

This is another problem that contract management software can help to solve. An increasing number of software companies rely on HTML code to construct and support contracts during the creation process.

As such, this means that HTML contracts are dynamic, easily editable, and can be created using pre-made blocks and templates. With the right contract management software, editing and amending a contract can be as easy as editing or updating a web page in your CRM.

Even just these few advantages make for a fantastic ROI on contract management software for your business, all while overcoming some of the key drawbacks of PDFs.

Get ready for a simpler, smoother signing experience

In this article, we explored several key disadvantages of PDFs and how they can pose a challenge to your business. 

However, it's now clear that contract management software not only makes for a great ROI but also helps you overcome the ensemble of challenges PDFs can create. Many platforms offer a free trial as standard. So, why not try it today?

Discover the intricacies of various contract types and learn how to select the perfect one for your needs.

Edited by Jigmee Bhutia

Contract Management Software
Contract chaos? Sorted!

Contract management software can streamline your processes, organize documents, and boost productivity all the while saving time and reducing risk for your business.

Contract Management Software
Contract chaos? Sorted!

Contract management software can streamline your processes, organize documents, and boost productivity all the while saving time and reducing risk for your business.

The Major Disadvantages of PDFs (+ How To Overcome Them) We’ve all used a PDF at some point. However, PDFs have a lot of disadvantages. Find out more in this blog.
Luke Sandford Luke Sandford is a digital contract expert. He’s written about them extensively for various websites and outlets. When he’s not writing, he enjoys traveling, good fiction and HIIT exercise.

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