How to Upload and Link to PDF Files in WordPress

Got yourself a PDF file that you want to place on your site, do you?

While PDF files really aren’t the best format for the web, this is certainly not only possible but pretty easy in general to do thanks to WordPress.

To get started, hop into a Page or Post edit screen in WordPress. You can do this by clicking Posts or Pages in the left navigation. Then you’ll either want to find the page you’re looking to add a PDF to, or click Add New at the top of the page to create a new one.

Once you’re in there, you’ll want to click your cursor in the Content Editor. This is the big white box below the Add Media button and toolbar.

screenshot of the WP content editor field
Start by clicking in the content editor, at the place you want to add the link to a PDF file.

Next, click the Add Media button.

the Add Media button lives above the content editor
The Add Media button allows you to…you guessed it…add media. This includes PDF files.

Once the interface to upload files comes up, you can either click Upload Files near the top of this new window, or just drag files from your computer and drop them anywhere on this window. The files will begin uploading, and once they do, you can select them (they will also be selected by default, but if you upload multiple files at once, you’ll have to click through individually to edit any settings).

icons representing PDF media uploads in WordPress
Once the files are uploaded, you’ll see PDF thumbnail icons like this. Just click on the one you want to create a link to.

Much like you can adjust the settings for images, you can also add captions and descriptions to PDF files. We don’t need to do that though, just scroll down a bit on that right column until you get to the Attachment Display Settings area.

choose the second option from the first dropdown
Choose Media File from the Link To dropdown.

Now, click Insert into Page, the blue button just below.

If you’re in Text mode, you’ll see something like this appear:

If you’re in Visual mode, you’ll see the following. If you’re not, just hop over to Visual mode by clicking the tab near the top right of the content editor.

screenshot of the process being described
Click the Edit icon to alter how the link itself will work.

You’ll probably want the PDF file to open up in a new window, so that users don’t bail from your site when they click the link. Again, see my notes below on why this kind of sucks for users. To do this, click the Edit icon that little pencil shown above.

Now check the box that reads “Open link in a new tab”.

screenshot of the WP link interface
Tick the Open link in a new tab checkbox if you want the PDF to open in a new window or tab.

Click Update on the link editor box.

You’re all set. Publish the page, or add more PDFs if you’d like!

Why You Really Should Avoid PDFs

Okay so now that I’ve shown you how to do it, I feel obligated to mention a few reasons that I urge people to avoid PDFs:

  1. They’re hard to read on phones and other small screens. Is your information going to be viewed on an iPhone or other small screen? Probably. Actually, if people read it at all, then yeah, definitely. PDFs can’t adapt to the size of your screen, so users have to pinch and zoom to find the info they want…or just leave your site altogether.
  2. It’s not easy to search through a PDF file. On a website, you can easily pull up the search tool in your browser and find a specific piece of text. This isn’t always the case in a PDF.
  3. They hide your site. A PDF doesn’t have your site’s navigation. Even if you open it up in a new window, like outlined above, some users are just kind of really dumb and don’t realize what happened. They think they left your site. And the back button doesn’t work now. So they go find another website or business with the information they want.
  4. They can be really big. File size is a major concern for users on phones, but really for anyone who has a limited type of data connection, too. Users who rely on their cell phone to provide tethering for their laptops are one case, where they don’t want to load a 250kb PDF file that could have just as easily been served up as 25kb of HTML. Some people only have so much data a month too, and when they see you trying to load a PDF, will just close the page and go elsewhere immediately.

PDFs serve a purpose, but providing info on the web just isn’t an ideal use of their technology.

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