Much of the buzz around online marketing activity is focused around teens and twenty-somethings. However, far from the madding crowds lies a great opportunity for e-commerce and online marketing. The audience? Silver Surfers – internet-using adults over the age of 50.
Despite varying estimates, it is safe to assume that there are probably now more than 10 million silver surfers riding the online wave in search of information, products and services targeted just for them.
And as one of the fastest growing demographics on the web, according to recent Nielsen Online data, this number is certain to rise. Silver surfers today spend an average of 8.8 hours a week online – an increase of 18 percent since 2004.
The bulk of this is for personal reasons: research carried out by the European Interactive Advertising Association (EIAA) revealed that nearly one in five silver surfers visits social networking sites such as MySpace or Bebo at least once a month – close on the tails of the 28% of 16-34 year olds who regularly access such sites.
The EIAA research also revealed that 74% of silver surfers shop online, spending £575 in a six-month period - well above the average online shopper, at £520.
Yet while online shopping seems like a perfect match for older users given larger amounts of disposable income – and it is a growth market for this audience – the ‘grey market’ still only represents a small number of users.
According to Nielsen Online, only 19% of internet users in 2007 were above the age of 55, while research conducted by online consultancy Webcredible revealed that only 19.9% of older online users felt that websites were designed with them in mind.
Last year, twentysix was appointed by Daxon, a Redcats’ brand aimed at over-60s, to overhaul its digital e-commerce strategy. This included a complete review of Daxon’s digital assets, as well as a roadmap for future development.
The roadmap outlined how Daxon could leverage digital - including search, email and general e-commerce – to maximise consumer demand and online revenues and ensure that its future digital strategy was developed specifically with older users in mind. As part of the project, we also conducted an audit of user journeys online and a complete web MOT to ensure a better online experience.
We found that many senior users use the internet primarily for email, with browsing secondary to that. Unlike many other demographics, establishing connections with older users through email is likely to create a stronger bond than through them visiting the website – although our research found that this changes as they become more net savvy.
As such, we realised that any email marketing to silver surfers should be clearly distinguishable from spam: all emails should clearly identify the brand and prominently display the logo; the subject lines should be relevant and specific and the company name should be clearly identifiable in the ‘from’ field.
The emails would have to be easy to read – avoiding the use of fancy Serif fonts – well laid out and get straight to the point. We also found that silver surfers tend to be very promotional focused – yet many websites often do not have one clearly defined sales section. Similarly, we found that many brands made obvious mistakes when communicating with older users online, using fancy fonts and having sites with confusing navigation.
We advised Daxon to group all their special offers in one place with a large ‘Sales’ button clearly visible in the navigation. We also advised them to avoid using too much ‘web speak’ on the site and to try their best to gear the site’s usability to their core users.
This included suggestions like ‘rollover states’ on buttons, providing feedback to the user that he or she is on a link. We suggested that links should look like links – different colour and underlined. A paragraph of text that reveals links only when you roll-over them is fine for younger users, but could be completely missed by older visitors.
Site navigation was another important consideration. Many older users are more likely to start their online journey from the homepage and will likely be looking for a clear route back to the homepage at every stage of the process. This means that the site structure needs to be as clear as possible – with a constant trail of breadcrumbs leading back to where they started.
Making a website silver surfer-friendly is simply a matter of sticking to good usability rules that will benefit everyone.
Of course, no online marketing campaign can be truly effective without taking into account search – especially since silver surfers tend to be quite specific in what they want (e.g. ‘comfortable shoes for wide feet, size 6’!). They know what they want, however they don’t necessarily know where to find it.
An overall lack of general web awareness means that silver surfers are more likely to trust the results that Google returns – which translates into a need for higher search rankings for online marketers – as such, the value of placement over proposition must be considered here as well.
At twentysix, we found it essential to be extremely succinct when targeting silver searchers – the language used and searching habits differ greatly when compared with younger users. For instance, silver surfers tend to use search more throughout the week and less so during weekends. One of our search clients, Southern Cross Healthcare, sees retirement/care-home related traffic drop by up to 60 percent on weekends.
In the end, just constantly keep in mind who you’re selling to. Younger folks may like bells and whistles on websites, but silver surfers are more information oriented and want their online experience to be simple, efficient and, above all, convenient.
By Ryan Scott, director twentysix Search
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