Fixing broken anchors in PDFs

20 January 2015 | Ted Page

Word documents that include links with anchors can cause problems when exported to PDF. Fortunately, there is a simple workaround, albeit with one minor caveat (concerning PDF/A format documents).

The problem is that links with anchors, on conversion to PDF, often end up with the “#” symbol converted to “%23”. This will, of course, break the link.

Anchor with its “#” symbol converted to “%23”
Figure 1: a broken external link

Fixing the problem manually

You can, of course, manually edit such a link in Acrobat to change the “%23” back to a “#” character. To do so, activate the Link tool, right-click the link in question, select Properties, Actions, Edit, and then edit the link in the Edit URL dialogue box.

However, this could be a time-consuming operation for documents containing many such links.

Fixing the problem at source

To avoid the problem altogether, when converting from Word to PDF:

  • Click File, Save As
  • In the Save As dialogue box, from the Save as type dropdown, select PDF

Be sure to select the Standard “Optimize for” option (if “Minimum size” is selected, the PDF will be created without any tags).

Save As dialogue box
Figure 2. alternative “Save As” method

Click the Save button. Links with anchors will then be exported correctly.

Anchor with "#" symbol restored
Figure 3: correctly formatted link with anchor

InDesign files

Note: this problem is specific to Word-originated files. It does not occur with documents created in InDesign.

PDF/A issue

Lastly, the caveat mentioned above is that this method may cause Unicode/font embedding problems if you want to subsequently convert the PDF to PDF/A format.