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HTML pub crawl

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice

Over on Basecamp, government publishers often ask us for examples of good HTML publications (HTML pubs) on GOV.UK. Here are some we’ve come across that make good use of the format.

Over time, we plan to make the HTML pub format so good that PDF documents become the exception.

As John Ploughman wrote last year, they work better on mobile, they work better with screen readers, and they work better with Google (other search engines are available). They’re also quicker to update and publish.

In July 2015, we created and published the Summer Budget as an HTML pub. In the last 3 months, the HTML pub has been looked at 10,056 times, while the equivalent PDF has only been downloaded 3,695 times.

Similarly, in November 2015 we published the Spending Review and Autumn Statement. In the same 3 months, the HTML pub has been looked at 34,031 times, while the PDF has been downloaded 16,100 times.

Other notable examples of HTML pubs include:

We’ll be blogging about HTML publications again soon, so keep checking back.

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  1. Comment by Petter Thorsrud posted on

    Hi, Keith - greetings from Norway and
    Good to see you are working on HTML publications.
    GOV.UK has impressed many in the international web community with what you have done in many areas, but when it comes to publications, the results so far have been less impressive.
    Many of us have learnt from GOV.UK practice, now you may be able to pick up a few tricks from outside the GOV.UK world.
    At ( a large proportion of what we have published during the last 20 years has consisted of long, complex documents. We use an internal "core format" that allows us to produce and store the documents in a reusable format, and the present way of presenting the documents is the fourth version since we started in 1995. See examples at and - both include downloadable PDF, EPUB and RTF or Word files in addition to the (mobile friendly) HTML version.
    We do believe that the presentation format is a bit more user friendly than what you are using at the moment, and the principle of using an internal "core format" allows us to adapt existing/old documents to new presentation forms without manual intervention.
    Do get in touch if you want to exchange views and get in touch with the team.

    • Replies to Petter Thorsrud>

      Comment by Keith Emmerson posted on

      Hi Petter,

      Greetings from the UK, and thank you very much.

      We are very keen to learn from our international peers, there is a lot to be gained from sharing our respective experience.

      Our alternative/friendly formats are still in development, and as with everything on GOV.UK, nothing is ever 'finished'.

      I'll get in touch over email to see what you and your team are up to.

      Best wishes,

  2. Comment by Craig Cockburn posted on

    Why do you need PDF formats at all if there is also an HTML format?

    I hope it's not because people like to print PDFs.....

    • Replies to Craig Cockburn>

      Comment by Keith Emmerson posted on

      Hi Craig,

      That's a good question, and one we're still getting to the bottom of.
      We're looking at statistics around how many people use the print function at the moment.

      I'm sure there'll be another blog post once we can answer that question.

      Best wishes,

  3. Comment by Petter Thorsrud posted on

    Hi Craig - a comment from me as well:
    People don't necessarily like to _print_ PDFs (in many instances they would prefer that someone else prints it for them), but they do prefer "black dots on dead trees" (also known as books or paper documents) in many cases when they need to do extensive linear reading of large volumes of text - possibly even with a pencil in one hand. And in these cases a print from a well designed and produced PDF is much better than printing from HTML. There are also cases when a (PDF or printed) document contains visual elements and graphic design that may be useful to the user - in addition to a text centered presentation that you normally get when presenting as HTML or EPUB.

    Our philosophy is to give the user all relevant alternatives - given that cost or other practical obstacles are not prohibitive - and then let the user choose. Then we can use statistics to understand user needs and actions.

  4. Comment by Malcolm Doody posted on

    PDFs, or other downloadable content, are useful when you wish to work offline. Also, as Petter comments, hard-copy also has it's place, especially when doing comprehensive reviewing and/or markup.

    The Norwegian approach of HTML by default, but with other document formats being supported too makes a great deal of sense. The mechanism for achieving this is less important (to end users) than actually supporting it.

    A suggestion, though - currently GOV.UK tends to offer both HTML and PDF as links from a single, intermediate, page that generally adds little, if anything, to the content (e.f. End User Devices Security Guidance: Ubuntu 12.04,, and just adds an extra click. How about scrapping the intermediate page and directly linking to the HTML version (, just then allow downloads of alternative formats once you're there. That way HTML users would get to the underlying page immediately (Yes, PDF users would need to click again, but they have to now anyway).
    Also, you should aim to *always* allow an offline copy to be downloaded for every page that's available - why not, converters are easy to come by!