Is your site senior friendly?

When it comes to mobility and getting out and about, older people are often fairly limited in what they can do. And according to a new report from the Neilsen Norman Group the same restrictions apply when trying to navigate online.

It’s important to note that while the web is not quite senior-ready, it has plenty of reasons for becoming so, and sooner rather than later. Seniors are turning to the web at increasing rates. Already there are 19 million American seniors on the internet, a growth rate of 16% per year throughout this decade.

The Nielsen Norman Group ran a series of usability tests on 29 websites among 31 people aged older than 65. The results were then compared to control group of 20 users aged 21-55.

The report found that among senior web users the success rate for completing tasks was 55.3% compared to 74.5% among the younger age group. Time spent on the tasks was also significantly longer at seven minutes 49 seconds for seniors and five minutes 28 seconds for younger users.

If we translate these metrics into business terms, by redesigning your website to give seniors the same user experience quality as younger users, you could expect to get 35% more business from them, based purely on the higher success rate. (Most likely, usage would increase even more as tasks became faster, less error-prone, and more pleasant to perform.)

The Neilsen Group, David Moth at Econsultancy and the National Institute on Aging all give great in-depth  advice for making it easier for older users to complete tasks online. Here’s a roundup of some of the best:

Top tips for silver surfing

1)      Increase readability

As we age, we experience a reduction in visual clarity, making it difficult to distinguish slight changes in shade and hue. To ensure readability, use large text (Neilsen Group recommends nothing smaller than 12 point font size) and make sure it contrasts well with the background. Use colour as a redundant cue, but avoid creating situations where success is dependent on the perception of colour.

2)      Don’t make them click

It’s important to put as few clicks between your visitor and your information as possible. The more you force your visitors to click around your site, the more likely they are to abandon it.

3)      Be predictable

The studies report that 45% of seniors felt uncomfortable trying new things. For example, when they failed in their first attempt at a task, some seniors were hesitant to try alternate paths. For this reason it’s important that when your visitors arrive at your site for the first time, all the main components are positioned where they would expect. Key housing links such as the search bar or basket should be positioned in the top right and easily noticeable.

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Elderly people gain crucial confidence from a website that follows these basic design conventions, which is why ecommerce websites should position such icons in conventional places.

4)      Ask what you need and nothing more

Seniors notoriously have a harder time filling in forms, and a greater number were frustrated after trying to use hyphens or brackets when entering phone numbers and credit card details.

The best forms will only ask for the information they absolutely need, splitting the process into manageable chunks, (address validation also speeds this up!).

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You need their email address – but is their phone number really necessary? If not, cut the fields. All you’re doing is making your form longer and more complex than it needs to be – giving your prospective customers more opportunities to leave the process altogether.

5)      Give instructions and number search step

Breadcrumb navigation is a must for all major ecommerce sites regardless at what demographic you’re targeting. When placing an order, customers need to know exactly where they stand in the purchase process – how many steps they’ve completed and how many are yet to come.

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Seniors are a lucrative market that e-tailers can no longer afford to ignore. To unlock this spending power, retailers need to understand their needs and friction points that are discouraging them from becoming online buyers. It’s also important to note while these points are aimed at targeting senior citizens many of the tips can be applied to help improve the overall experience in any website.