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Silver Surfers: Successful Online Marketing to Seniors

If you are marketing to an older audience, don't discount the value of a website. People over 50 account for more than 50% of discretionary spending in the United States, and they are going online to buy. And, they have money to spend.

According to recent Pew surveys, the number of online seniors jumped by 47% between 2000 and 2004. There are about 8 million "silver surfers" (22% of Americans) who are age 65 or older using the Internet. About 58% of Americans ages 50 to 64 say they surf the Net.

Of wired seniors, 69% go online on a typical day, compared with only 56% of all Internet users. Silver surfers report using the Internet to stay in touch with family and friends, using e-mail or sending online greeting cards. Seniors report several other key reasons for using the Internet, including:

· To stay current with news and events

· To look up health or medical information

· To research products or services to purchase offline

· To make online shopping purchases

· To research and/or check on stocks or investments

"Wired seniors are often as enthusiastic as younger users in the major activities that define online life such as email and the use of search engines to answer a specific question," says Susannah Fox, director of research for Pew/Internet. "They are as likely as younger users to go online on a typical day. Communication and information searches attract wired seniors and there has been sharp growth in the number doing key Internet activities such as health searches, e-shopping and online banking."

As people age, they are more likely to have usability issues. For example, more seniors have myopia, cataracts, fine motor disabilities, and short-term memory decreases. Therefore, if your company is targeting this demographic, it is important to take specific steps to modify your website appropriately. Don't make it difficult for your senior visitors to find what they need on your website. Here are few guidelines to make your website more older-user friendly:

1. Use larger type, less content: Changes in vision can make is more difficult to read a computer screen. Reduce the amount of text on each webpage and use a medium-sized default font. Provide a way for older viewers to increase the text size. This will make it easier to read for individuals who do not see as well.

2. Make it easy to read: Use a sans-serif font that is not condensed. Avoid novelty and cursive typeface. Double space body text.

3. Design with high contrast. Avoid reversed type and patterned backgrounds. Use dark text on light backgrounds.

4. Keep terminology simple: According to recent studies by Fidelity and AARP, many senior Internet users are not familiar with commonly used Web terms. Things younger Internet users know well are a new language to older users. Avoid web jargon. Examples include: "URL," "link," "message board," "emoticon," and "IM."

5. Be very clear: Use action-word links. Because senior users tend to be more cautious in what they do on the Internet, use link terminology that clearly explains what happens when a user clicks on the link. Explain things concisely, but thoroughly.

6. Make links straightforward: Use an obvious method of displaying links such as blue, underlined words. Make these consistent throughout your website. Give users a larger target area to click on to accommodate for users who may have fine motor coordination difficulties such as tremors.

7. Keep your site design simple and stable: If your site caters to seniors and you want to change your site, make changes slowly over time. The more success seniors have with your site and the easier it is for them to use, the more confidence and loyalty they will develop. Keep your navigation toolbar in the same place throughout your website.

8. Test your site: Before launching your site, have older adults try out your website to evaluate its accessibility, readability, and ease of use.

More and more seniors are surfing the online world. The spending habits and income of this demographic makes them a desirable target. If your company wants to catch this wave, offer a website that makes it easy for your users. Create a comfortable online environment for your online senior visitors, and your business will reap the rewards.

Wendy Maynard, your friendly marketing maven, is the owner of Kinesis. Kinesis specializes in marketing, graphic and website design, and business writing. Visit for more articles and free marketing wisdom.

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