Alter your web design to match your readers

How annoyed are you when you go into a bookshop and see a book entitled “Email for the elderly” or “Windows 7 for Seniors”? There is a plethora of books out now all targeting a group of people aged 50 and over all variously described as “senior” or “elderly” or “older”. If you’re under 50, that’s probably not much of a worry for you; but if you are over 50 you probably wonder why on earth you need special consideration. After all many of those in the 50 plus age group have been using computers at work for over 25 years…! Indeed, many of the over 50s brought us things like – er – Windows, the Apple Mac and, well, the World Wide Web. The notion that the over 50s are in some way inept and don’t understand this “new fangled stuff” is rather insulting.

Older website users find distractions more difficult to cope with

Older website users find distractions more difficult to cope with

But the books sell well and the publishers have clearly found a market; there is also new research from the University of California which suggests that these age-related books may have a lesson for anyone who runs a website. What these neuroscientists have discovered is the fact that some external factors appear to impact on our “working memory” more as we get older. In particular, the researchers found that older people get more easily distracted than younger people when trying to process visually presented information. In the study, people were asked to remember details about faces in a picture, but to ignore any scenes in which those faces appeared. Younger people were able to ignore the scenes, but older people were unable to do this. Even when they were told in advance that the scene information would distract them and they could focus away from the scenes, older people were still unable to ignore the scenic information and focus just on the faces.

What this research tells us is that older people are more easily distracted by things than younger people. In design, this is important. If your website, for instance, has images or advertising that is a potential distraction your older website visitors will find it harder to concentrate on and remember the main material on your page. Knowing the typical ages of your website visitors therefore is an important factor in deciding the overall design of your web pages.

If you don’t know the ages of your website readers, two services will help you estimate them. One is Alexa, which estimates the age of your readers on its “Audience” tab. Similarly, Quantcast also analyses your audience and estimates their ages in the “Demographic” data display. Clearly, neither of these sites is completely accurate, but they do provide guidance to help you make design considerations.

The younger visitors may well be able to focus out of the distractions you have in your web pages, but your older visitors cannot easily do this it seems. It suggests that if you want to target a wide age range for your web business you may well need one site for younger people and another for those “seniors”. It is yet another reason for needing a multiple website strategy, with individual sites targeting specific groups of people. What this study suggest is that even if you have different sites for specific customer groups, you may well be better of having one site for the younger people in that group and another site for the “seniors”.

Of course, you could avoid doing that at all and go for simplicity of design with no distractions at all…! And have you taken a look at those computing books for “seniors”? Much less “jazzy” in their approach – so maybe their appeal is not in the title, but in the less distracting design. Your website can learn from this and get more of your readers to stay longer – your older viewers may well be bouncing out of your site because it has too many distractions for them.

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