Web Page Design for Older Users

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Want to build a large, loyal audience for your Web site? Most retailers focus their efforts on the 18-to-34 age group. But why not go where the real money is instead? People over age 50 account for half of all discretionary spending in the United States, yet they're the focus of only 10% of all advertising. They're going online and they have money to spend.

 

Think Big For Older Users

If you're putting together a site primarily intended to appeal to seniors, think BIG:

 

  • Larger type: Do use targeted keywords in your page headers and content and give search engine spiders lots of content to index. Don't try to cram too much into a small space. Choose a good online font and a font size that's large enough for comfortable online reading. 
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  • Large amounts of space: Forget those tiny buttons you need a magnifying glass to read; use big icons that clearly indicate their purpose. Put lots of space between links too. Dynamic menu systems with nested, drop-down menus are difficult for many people to use and almost completely inaccessible to anyone with vision or motor problems.
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  • High contrast: Dump the neon green background with orange links. Instead of high concept, think high contrast. Use dark text on a light-colored (preferably white) background.
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  • Consider screen resolution: Older visitors are more likely to have vision problems, so they often prefer lower screen resolutions like 800x600 or even 640x480. Test your pages in multiple screen resolutions to avoid nasty layout surprises like fuzzy images and horizontal scrollbars.

 

This may sound like a lot of trouble, but consider the potential. People over age 50 represent the smallest percentage of adults online, but they're the fastest growing demographic group on the Internet. The numbers of seniors online will increase as the population ages.

 

No Installation Required

Inexperienced users aren't adventurous when they first get online so avoid cutting-edge designs that require special software or plug-ins. They may not understand how to download and install software - or they may be afraid to. All Internet users worry about downloading viruses, spyware, and other types of malicious software.

 

Even if they trust you, most users don't want to install something special just for your page. They certainly aren't likely to download a whole new browser or updated version, so make sure your page works and looks good on all major browsers.

 

It's tempting to overlook browsers like AOL and WebTV, but don't. Beginning and older visitors like both browsers so become familiar with them and their design limitations. For instance, WebTV offers very limited support for JavaScript. AOL's image compression algorithm may wreak havoc with your graphic images - especially larger ones.

 

Use Browser Photo to quickly test your pages in all major browsers - including AOL and WebTV. Find problems before visitors do. Beginning users have probably never heard of browser compatibility problems; they may not even realize there is more than one type of Web browser. They'll just blame you for display problems, leave the site, and not bother to return.

 

Clearly Explain Everything

Friendly design techniques aren't enough. Many seniors find the Web hard to use because they aren't as familiar with computer and Internet technologies as younger adults and teens.

 

Even basic computer and Internet terminology can cause problems.

 

What's the difference between a Web site, a Web page, and a homepage? What is a URL or Web address? Carefully explain terms and avoid computer jargon. Older visitors tend to lack confidence in their computer skills, so unfamiliar language makes them nervous.

 

  • Use clear language and explain all terms.
  • Provide a prominent link to a help or customer service page.
  • Always warn visitors if a link will open a new browser window. That can be particularly confusing to inexperienced users because the back button on the new browser window won't work.

 

Create a user-friendly environment so that less experienced visitors aren't intimidated. They're more likely to return to your site often and become regular customers.

 

Web Accessibility Counts

While you're thinking big in your page layout, consider the size of your target market. According to the 2000 United States Census, senior Americans are the fastest growing age group whose total population should increase 56% in the next 20 years.

 

They're also a group considerably more likely to appreciate the steps you take to increase your site's accessibility. Many Web designers never consider that design techniques that increase a site's usability for older visitors really help all visitors use the site. When you make the effort to create a site that appeals to older visitors, you're helping to raise the quality of the entire Web.

 

Some day (maybe even now!), you too will be an "older user". Wouldn't it be nice to know that you'll still be able to access and enjoy your favorite sites?

 

Learn more about how to make your site accessible to all visitors at our Accessibility Resource Center. It contains links to accessibility articles, an accessibility dictionary, and links to other online accessibility resources.

e-Business Holdings Group