In an age of changing technology, new social networks, and innovative web design and development, it may be easy to forget that some Internet users are going on to the web with much more simple goals in mind: to contact a friend, to find information, to send an email, to pay a bill. Today, older Australians are on the web but often using it differently than younger users. They have different goals, use different channels and have lower skills and experience levels than the average user.
With these differences in mind, it’s important for some organisations (far from all!) to think about their web strategy and how they may be isolating an important group of consumers – older Internet users (generally, aged 65 years and over).
Most Common Activities for Older Users
For older Aussies, the Internet is most often seen as a source of information and tools rather than a social setting; however, this is changing and older users are getting onto social networks than ever before - social media use by users over 65 years old has more than tripled in the past year as more Australians go online to see family photos, stay in touch and to keep up with younger generations.
Social networking also allows older users to connect with other online communities and fight social isolation. You may not want your mom or granny to see the photos from your night out last weekend, but she wants to connect with you (better master those new privacy settings - until Facebook changes them again).
Currently the most common activities on the web for older generations include:
- Checking emails and sending emails with attachments
- Browsing or searching the web
- Online banking
- Checking the weather
And according to ‘Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide’, a study from the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre (NSPAC) that surveyed participants over 50 years of age, older users want to get on the web more frequently. The study tells us that over one-third of participants would like to use the internet to Skype, talk to people in other countries and use email. If they couldn’t access the internet, these participants felt they would be missing out on a great deal of information.
For example, accessing information on health-related topics is common activity for many Aussies, but it can have a great impact on older generations and their ability to self-manage their health.
And when learning new web skills like social networking, online banking and e-health, older users feel empowered. With the NBN roll out, we may be seeing more education and awareness for seniors, like information technology classes.
What’s Preventing Online Engagement
Despite a desire to learn about the web and computers in order to access information and keep up with younger generations, there are some obstacles preventing an increase in older web users, including:
- Lack of knowledge about the web
- Lack of skills
- Privacy concerns
- Limited access to technology and Internet connections
Tackling these issues will require education, awareness and changes on business websites to address these common concerns.
Creating an Online Experience for Older Users
If it’s appropriate for your industry, consider designing a website that caters to older web users. If they are not a primary audience, it may also be helpful to consider some factors that can help less experienced users find the information they need from your website. For example:
- Email marketing
- Simple design and navigation
- Font size and colour contrast for older users
- Less content on web page
- Easy-to-find buttons, links and sign-up forms
- No pop-ups
- A design that works on multiple devices, especially tablets (a popular device for older users)
- Be obvious and clear about security on the website, especially secure checkouts
So consider whether your website and web strategy is placing enough emphasis on older users. And also think about helping your older relatives learn a thing or two about the web! It can make a big difference!