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As the internet has become an integral part of modern life the stereotype that older generations tend to avoid using the web has become less and less relevant.

However a new study shows that senior citizens still find websites difficult to use and have a significantly lower success rate when it comes to completing tasks online.

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.

It 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 lower at seven minutes 49 seconds for seniors and five minutes 28 seconds for younger users.

Based on the higher success rate of younger users, this study suggests that ecommerce sites could potentially increase their sales among older customers by up to 35% if they improved the user experience.

And the issue is even more pressing due to the fact that seniors are also more likely to abandon a task rather than try a different option.

Almost half (45%) of seniors in the study showed behaviours that indicated they were uncomfortable trying new things or were hesitant to try an alternate option if they failed their first attempt at a task.

The younger users in the control group were twice as likely as older users to try more and different methods - such as site search or online chat - to find the answers to their questions or to complete tasks.

To this end, the report suggests several ways of making it easier for older users to complete tasks online...

Increase the font size

Vision is known to diminish with age yet often sites use tiny fonts that make it difficult for people to comfortably take in the relevant information.

Sites that target seniors should use at least 12-point fonts as a default and all sites should give people the option to increase the text size as desired.

Size and spacing of hypertext links

Hypertext links are a necessary navigation tool but it’s important to use large text so that they can easily be seen and clicked.

Make sure there is plenty of white space between the links and avoid clustering them too tightly. This helps to prevent erroneous links and increases the speed at which users can navigate the site.

The same design rules apply to other calls-to-action and navigation buttons, as the bigger and more obvious they are the easier they are to click.

Use different colours to aid navigation

The study showed that seniors easily lose track of where they’ve been when sites fail to use different colours to distinguish between visited and unvisited links.

This also affects youngers users, but seniors were found to be more likely to waste time repeatedly returning to the same place.

Simplify form filling

Seniors have a harder time using search engines and forms, and a greater number were thwarted after trying to use hyphens or brackets when entering phone numbers and credit card details.

We previously blogged tips for improving site search, but in general it’s a good idea to use large text fields and give specific instructions on what information is required.

Here, on the Wiltshire Farm Foods site, one which is geared towards an older customer base, forms are nice and easy, with clear labelling. 

Make error messages clear

Older web users can have difficulty reading or understanding error messages, either because the wording is vague or the message’s placement isn’t obvious.

As with other design elements simplicity is key, so make sure the message is obvious and clearly spells out exactly what the problem is and how to fix it.

Here on Lego.com, which we reviewed last year, the site should explain why the user has made the error, and exactly what format is required.

Better still, they could adapt to accept postcodes with or without spaces, or when users enter the letter 'O' where a zero is required.  

Avoid major navigation changes

Site redesigns or rebranding are necessary to improve site usability and make sure your business stays up-to-date, however drastic design changes can have a major impact for seniors.

Half of the seniors in the study said they keep a list of steps and instructions about how to use websites they need or often visit.

Therefore any major changes will mean they will struggle to complete the task and may abandon it altogether.

David Moth

Published 28 May, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1680 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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aditya

Great suggestion. Font size, easily readable will not only make it senior friendly but will also enable other users to be on our blog without straining the eyes much. Smaller font size makes it troublesome.

over 3 years ago

Louis Gudema

Louis Gudema, Senior Account Exec and Digital Marketer at Louis Gudema Consulting

Absolutely important - accessibility issues affect many. Not addressing them is rude to them and bad business for you

over 3 years ago

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Henri

These suggestions would make life easier for everyone, not just the seniors. I fall into the younger segment yet have difficulty reading small fonts and find form-filling and error messages a pain.

Captcha is the worse. Most of the time I abandon the site rather than try to fight my way through. I don't know how the older generation copes with it.

Legible text would be helpful too; by this I mean black font on white background.

Oh no, captcha below! I'll give it a go, doesn't seem too hard.

over 3 years ago

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Ankara Sove

Accessibility issues are getting more and more important. I agree that captcha is the worst approach.

over 3 years ago

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tim

I think this article is quite patronising, is it really just old people that have poor eye sight and don’t like significant changes to sites?

The area that is maybe more pertinent to older people is data protection (explaining why certain details such as phone number are important, clearly giving the option of opting out of any marketing and explaining what happens to card details after a purchase has been completed for example) but good practice is good practice regardless of the age of your users.

It’s also noticeable that this site falls down on most of the above points

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks for your comments.

@Tim, I don't think these points are patronising and in fact the US Institute for Ageing gives much the same advice:

http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/making-your-website-senior-friendly

I do agree with your other points though.

@Ankara, I agree that captcha is a dreadful system but unfortunately we receive thousands of spam comments per day so need to do something about it. Blame the spammers, not us!

over 3 years ago

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Christopher

These are great tips. Over the next 20 years seniors are going to represent the largest segment of our population. Couple that with the fact that record numbers of them will not be able to afford to retire, more and more of them will be coming online to find ways to supplement their incomes. Senior friendly websites later will be as important as mobile websites are today. I hadn't thought of this until I read your article. Thank you David.

over 3 years ago

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Stef

I agree with all the points raised, but I actually think they're as useful to under 55s as those over. And to suggest that a 'study' of 31 older users versus 20 younger ones is valid research is laughable. The points are more based on common sense than anything else.

over 3 years ago

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madelinekim, SEO Services

These tips are really great for designers to keep in mind while designing a website. In web designing navigation should be easy so anyone can easily understand to access website.

over 3 years ago

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Richard

I prefer to work with font-size 14 as the default as I find it much easier to read.

I've also noticed quite a few seniors double click links and buttons as if they are using a desktop o/s, so it's important that any forms and AJAX functions can validate against this to prevent double submissions (especially when dealing with payments!).

over 3 years ago

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Anna Kitowska

It's great that you addressed this particular issue. These statistics show how important it is to run automated tests on different audiences. In the times when web usability and accessibility are of utmost importance, it is essential to remember about the seniors using the web, especially since this group will grow significantly.

over 3 years ago

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Arindam Dutta

These tips are really great for designers to keep in mind while designing a website. In web designing navigation should be easy so anyone can easily understand to access website. I fall into the younger segment yet have difficulty reading small fonts and find form-filling and error messages a pain.

about 3 years ago

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Kristen

Often, the elderly and senior citizens find it difficult to browse through the various pages of a website and access the much-needed information or accomplish a specific task on a website. Web developers will benefit by following these simple design tips to make a website senior-friendly and help the senior citizens and elderly people take full advantage of the website.

about 3 years ago

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ROEMIN

Thanks for providing this useful tips on web designing. Got some very useful tips while reading this post.

about 3 years ago

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