Bookmarks are simultaneously one of the most valuable and least-used features of PDF. Located to the left of the displayed page (the F4 key toggles them in and out of view), bookmarks provide an intuitive navigational and functional system that is highly desirable for any file and absolutely vital for longer documents.
Inefficiency Systems vs. TightShip Associates
Consider two hypothetical competitors, Inefficiency Systems and TightShip Associates. Both companies utilize extranets for their suppliers, distributors and administrative functions. Both companies produce multi-hundred-page quarterly reports that everyone needs to not only read, but frequently reference. The reports are organized more or less the same way, with sections and subsections. Each company places its reports on its own extranet, and they generate significant traffic.
Since the documents are heavily formatted and include content from a variety of sources, both companies naturally choose PDF as the preferred distribution format. Even when Fast Web View-optimized (due to the considerable use of images), each company’s report is typically between 8-15 megabytes in size.
How do they differ?
At Inefficiency Systems, when they are done writing and assembling a report, they post it as-is, simply providing a link to it from the home page.
When a user at Inefficiency Systems opens a report, they see the cover page. They can tell (by looking at the middle-bottom of the window) how long the report is, but that’s it. They must now page forward, looking for a table of contents. Once they find it, they notice that Section 5 (the one they want) has the content they seek–but they don’t know where in Section 5, because they have to find the Table of Contents (TOC) for that section, which the main TOC indicates is on page 175.
Some users (let’s face it, most users) find page 175 by simply scrolling down through 170-odd pages to get there. While they do this, the document continues to download from the server in the background. Due to server and bandwidth congestion (it’s a popular report, remember), the document still takes a relatively long time to download during peak-usage periods. If they try to scroll quickly, they’ll easily catch up with the download, and scrolling stalls.
Some will enter 175 into the page-number field at the bottom of the window, thinking they can avoid scrolling that way. Alas! The PDF includes cover pages, table of contents, appendices and so on, and as a result, PDF page 175 is actually page number 163.
Having landed on PDF page 175 and not finding their content, the user eventually figures out that they are actually on page number 187. They scroll back 12 pages, or else do the math and enter 163 in the page-number field to get to the desired page 175 in the document. Whew!
Total time to find their page (on average): 33 seconds. How often does it take this long for users to find the right page? EVERY TIME ANYONE OPENS THE PDF.
At TightShip Associates, they assemble PDFs that have been bookmarked by the respective authors, using whatever bookmarking method was appropriate to the content (more on that below).
When a user opens a TightShip report, the bookmarks pane is open, displaying a Master TOC for the whole document.
To look at the subheadings within a given section, they click on the + sign to the left of their chosen bookmark heading. From there, they click on a subheading to travel directly to their page of interest.
Total time to open their page (on average): 4 seconds. How often does navigating to a specific page take this long? EVERY TIME ANYONE OPENS THE PDF.
What is more, because TightShip users are leveraging Fast Web View by opening only the pages they need, they get far better page-loading performance. Because they may well be in and out of the file before it’s even finished downloading, they also tend to use less bandwidth during peak times. For TightShip’s users who log in via a dialup connection, opening only the pages they want gives them almost the same performance as broadband. At Inefficiency Systems, their dial-up users are just completely out of luck–it will take minutes (literally) to simply find their page. And they will hate the whole time-wasting process.
First things first: How do you make a bookmark? Very simple. In Acrobat Standard or Professional, go to the page and view you’d like to appear when the bookmark is clicked, then enter the Control-B keyboard shortcut. The bookmark navigation pane appears. Enter the name for your bookmark, hit Enter and you are done.
The second thing to know is that bookmarked PDFs merged with other bookmarked PDFs retain their original bookmarks. For compiled documents, therefore, the work of bookmarking can be easily pushed to the subsection author, which is almost always most appropriate. Even if their contribution is just a single page, bookmarking will ensure that the one page will be included in the compiled document’s bookmarks.
Using Acrobat, bookmarks may be nested in a tree-type hierarchical structure, just like a subsectioned TOC. You can color your bookmarks or make them boldface. Don’t hide your bookmarks! Change your PDF’s Document Properties (Control-D or File > Document Properties, Initial View tab) so that the PDF always opens with the bookmarks displayed.
Apart from the most basic manual method, there are many ways to create bookmarks. The best method is to generate them directly from an authoring application, such as Microsoft Word or Excel. Properly structured Word and Excel files may be converted to bookmarked PDF files via the Make Adobe PDF plugin to MS Word.
If your documents are structured and tagged for accessibility, you can also generate bookmarks from the document structure (see the Options menu on the Bookmarks tab).
If you are dealing with existing PDF files without access to the original application, there are a variety of third-party tools offering a wide assortment of capabilities to help you control and manage pages, documents, bookmarks, links and other interactive features of PDF files.
At a minimum, bookmarks are a vital navigational tool for any lengthy, PDF-based document.