We all know that Canada's population is aging. Seniors are online in greater numbers than ever before. We can ensure our digital projects are senior-friendly by considering how seniors use the Internet. We can reach them in the environments they are using, and in the social networks they visit. Our design and content should take into consideration the unique needs of an aging population.
Devices for Seniors
Marketers need to consider different platforms for meeting the needs of seniors than for their younger counter-parts. Seniors are still much more likely to be accessing your website from a desktop computer than from a mobile phone. ComScore reports that the average Canadian senior spends over 43 hours a month surfing from a desktop computer, versus 18 hours per month from a mobile device. You should keep that desktop site as the anchor for your senior targeted campaign.
The Pew Research Internet Project has found that when seniors are using mobile devices, the preference tends to be for large format devices like tablets or e-readers. Make sure your apps and websites maintain strong usability on tablet devices. The Pew project also identified that ownership of mobile devices for seniors is much more dependent on income than it is for younger age groups. A site targeting wealthy seniors can benefit more from premium mobile features than a site targeting lower income seniors.
Seniors and Social Media
Don't downplay the importance of social media for the senior demographic. The Pew project found that use of social media by seniors is growing dramatically. In 2009, only 13% of seniors were using social media but by 2011, 33% were regular users, with 15% using social media daily. By 2014 Pew found that over half of online seniors - 56% - have become Facebook users. Pinterest (17%) and LinkedIn (21%) use among seniors has also grown. Twitter and Instagram use has not fared as well with seniors, sitting at 10% and 6% usage respectively.
Motivations for using social media probably accounts for seniors preference of Facebook. A Pew survey identified the number one reason for using social media among adults over 50 was staying in touch with family, but for those under 50 it was staying in touch with friends. Your content marketing strategy should keep those motivations in mind.
Accessibility for Seniors
Although many seniors have had no significant ill-effects from aging, StatsCan reports over 30% of seniors have a disability. At 75 years of age, that number exceeds 40%. In the United States, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) identified web design standards to help meet the needs of seniors. Their research identified that a senior's ability to grasp, retain and manage new information may be affected by the aging process. Many seniors will take longer to process new information due to declines in perceptual speed.
Designing with Seniors in Mind
The NIA recommends keeping your navigation hierarchy simple. Don't expect seniors to dig too deep for the information they want. Broaden your navigation so seniors can find what they want in as few clicks as possible.
Break your content into short sections, and group your related content visually. Don't exceed 5 points per section. That said, don't "dumb it down". A survey by AVG Technologies found almost half of seniors feel patronized by tech companies. Find the right balance to meet the content needs of your senior users.
The design standards developed by the NIA align closely with accessibility standards you are probably already following. Allow for a good amount of white space on screen, and ensure there is enough space around clickable items that they are easily distinguished from the rest of the site. Avoid patterned backgrounds and adhere to colour contrast rules spelled out by the WCAG accessibility standards. Ensure there is consistency in your site - in the layout, navigation and the iconography you use.
To reach seniors, we need to consider how they browse. Seniors are on the internet, but are browsing with their desktops or tablets. They are in social networks, but are motivated differently than younger users, favouring Facebook and LinkedIn over Twitter and Instagram. They have unique needs that can be met with clearly organized content and navigation, and good accessibility standards. Consider how seniors use your site to take advantage of this booming demographic.