Ashish Tiwari

What is a Tagged PDF?

A tagged PDF is a PDF document that contains tags. Tags provide a logical structure that governs how the content of the PDF is presented through assistive technology. A properly tagged PDF, therefore, becomes accessible to everyone.

The websites, apps and other digital offerings of most organizations contain PDF documents. The reason behind the ubiquity of PDF documents across most digital platforms is simple – this document format allows users to view, access and share information irrespective of which device or environment they access it on.

In simple words, a PDF document retains its content and attributes regardless of the environment it’s viewed/accessed on. This format is fully portable, so to speak, hence the name “Portable” Document Format – this is where the beauty of the PDF lies. This is one of the primary reasons why organizations, both government and private, disseminate information to the general public through PDF documents.

But what about people with vision impairment? Since they cannot view the information presented in a PDF document as sighted people do, they rely on the “accessibility” of the PDF document. In other words, if a PDF document is to be read, used or accessed by everyone, including people with disabilities, then it has to be accessible to everyone.

Read more: What is an Accessible PDF? How is it different from an inaccessible PDF?

This is where the idea of a tagged PDF steps in.

Tagged PDF definition: What’s a tagged PDF?

Simply put, a tagged PDF is a PDF document that contains tags. So, what’s a tag?

Tags add behind the scenes coding to a PDF. Every tag identifies the type of content and stores some attributes related to it. In addition to that, tags also arrange the document into a hierarchical structure. This adds order to the content of the PDF (like headings, paragraphs, lists, footnotes, images and tables).

Tags in a PDF document are pretty similar to HTML code. Just like the latter, heading text goes into <H> tags, images go into <figure> tags, paragraphs of text in a PDF go into <P> tags, images go into <Figure> tags and so on.

Given below is an example of a tagged PDF:

screenshot of a tagged pdf
Notice the tags in the Tags panel on the left.

Why is tagging a PDF important?

One of the biggest advantages of a tagged PDF is that it makes the document accessible to people with vision impairment. AT tools (like a screen reader) reads the information from the tags. Therefore, if a PDF isn’t tagged, there’s basically nothing to read. This is why properly tagging PDFs is critical.

Aside from making the PDF accessible, a tagged PDF has a few other advantages. For example, the content of a tagged PDF reflows seamlessly on devices with smaller screens, like smartphones and tablets.

A tagged PDF helps keep track of where items are in a particular document. This simplifies the review of workflows in documents.

Creating a Tagged PDF: How to tag a PDF document?

A PDF document can be tagged in two main ways:

1 – Manual tagging

2 – Auto-tagging

If you are looking to tag a PDF manually, then you will require certain software tools. Adobe Acrobat Pro is the best tool for tagging PDF documents. One way is to use its Reading Order tool (in earlier versions this was known as the Touch–Up Reading Order or TURO tool).

You can read more about it in detail here: How PDF Tagging and Reading Order

Auto-tagging is a process through which certain tools automatically tag PDF documents. In other words, an auto-tagging tool puts content in tags so that assistive technologies like screen readers and refreshable braille displays can read them.

However, any auto-tagging tool cannot guarantee 100% accurate tagging results. Any software vendor that states that their tool will auto-tag any PDF document automatically with no human intervention and meet 100% of the standard is just not giving you the full story.

CommonLook Artificial Intelligence uses new proprietary technology to ensure bulk document remediation at the lowest possible cost, something that is not possible with traditional tools.

Although no automated solutions guarantee 100% compliant documents, Allyant’s CommonLook AI’s deep learning AI delivers superior automation results and is the clear choice for bulk PDF document remediation.

For the best outcomes and to manage the liability of non-compliance, it should be used in tandem with auditing and manual remediation.