Designing web sites for the over 65s
Designing for the over 65s requires you to use logic and critical thinking, but here we'll show that what is good for the elderly benefits everyone.
Author: Kat Peskett
Published: 16th January 2017
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Adults aged 65 and over are often overlooked when developing a Digital Marketing strategy. The assumption is made that these customers are best targeted through traditional offline methods and too set in their ways to keep up with technology.
However, recent internet usage among those aged 65-74 has risen by 68.7% since 2011. With finding information about goods and services one of their most common online activities, there is plenty of marketing opportunity. So, how can we design for and market to this demographic most effectively online?
For older users, navigating a website is not the same intuitive experience it is for a digital native. If you are marketing to this demographic, your website design needs to be sensitive to this. The National Institute on Aging provide an insight into their online behaviours and requirements. I outline how you can apply some of these.
Spatial memory can be affected as we age, making it difficult to retain where calls to action and menus are located on a webpage. For this reason, navigation must be consistent throughout the website. You can also assist your user in finding what they need by providing them with fewer options in the first instance. Not every page needs to feature in the primary navigation - in fact, any user can be overwhelmed by too much choice. Consider the journey you want your users to take, which pages they should be funnelled through and feature those strategically. At the same time, do not hide crucial content under temperamental drop-down lists or unfamiliar ‘hamburger’ menus. Smartphone usage is lowest among this demographic and the majority will be unaware of what the symbol means.
Senior users are also more likely to be visually impaired. The NIA recommends using sans serif typefaces that are not condensed, in a medium to bold weight and at least 16 pixels in size. If the nature of your website means it needs to be copy-heavy you should allow users to easily adjust size themselves. In terms of colour, it is vital to have a high contrast between your foreground and background. The WebAIM website allows you to test and alter your chosen colours until they are clearly legible. Breaking up copy with other media like imagery and video can also aid clarity. However, photography should serve a purpose rather than being purely decorative, as well as reflect who your target market are in a non-patronising way. You should also bear in mind that videos may require subtitles and volume controls for those that are hard of hearing.
Interactive elements such as buttons and links will need to be large enough for a user to select them without overly precise clicking or tapping action. Also, If your link has a corresponding image, ensure that will take the user to the page as well. Tools like Hotjar allow you to record heatmaps of where your users are clicking and can alert you to any alterations that need to be made. On certain pages it is also helpful for visited links to change colour, either to alert the user to the fact they’ve already viewed the content or help them find it again. This would be appropriate for pages with downloadable documents or lists of some kind.
The above guidelines are only a starting point. It is crucial to conduct usability testing and make alterations until your design works for a real audience. Ideally, you should continue to monitor and iterate after launch to ensure this remains the case.
More familiar with talking to a person, older adults tend to need reassurance online. There are a number of ways your website can provide them with this. The NIA recommends using verbs and questions in your copy. For example, ‘What can I do to stay healthy?’ or ‘How to choose a doctor’. Complete sentences like this feel more human, mimicking a conversation. Senior users also show more reluctance to click on links if they aren’t certain where they will be taken. When relevant, you can address this by providing them with a short clarifying sentence underneath certain links. For important tasks, such as form submissions, a clear success message should be returned to let the user know they have done everything correctly. Testimonials and case studies are also particularly effective among this age group and are a good way to prove your product or service is trustworthy.
Targeting your users
With your user-friendly website in place, how are you going to direct your target audience to it? You can of course continue with any offline marketing activities, such as magazine adverts, by providing a web address in addition to your contact details. You can also place adverts on websites your users frequent. For example, if you have a care home website you might appear on a listings website. Analytics should be checked regularly to assess how qualified your traffic is from each referring website and whether you are getting a worthwhile return.
If you choose to look into ppc advertising there are factors to bear in mind. The way senior users interact with search engines is slightly different, with generic searches more common. For example, ‘healthy eating’ rather than ‘which foods do I need to eat for a balanced diet?’. Google also allows you to specify which time of day your ads will appear. Given that these users are more likely to be retired and browsing during the working day, it makes sense to target them at this time. There are plenty of resources online that go into detail about how to do this targeted advertising yourself. However, finding a reputable digital marketing company to work with could be more cost-effective.
What's good for the goose is good for the gander in this case. By simplifying your approach to the style and architecture of your website you make it accessible to a greater audience, both young, old and those stuck in between.
It is vital to make the effort not be lazy but to critically evaluate the decisions you are making. Don't be precious with your decisions when the data suggests a different approach, that is how iteration works and how a considered design approach adds value to businesses.
Thanks for reading,
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