Great innovations have contributed to making our lives longer and shrinking the world as we know it. User experience has played a great part in it, making online content accessible to most. To reach full accessibility though, UX should go the extra mile and focus on an age group often overlooked: the users over 65.
For this purpose, I’ve analyzed the shift in demographics and crafted a few recommendations to future-proof your UX, making online content accessible to a comprehensive audience.
Internet penetration grew by 371% for the over 65
It’s no secret that internet penetration is close to reaching its full potential, especially considering the population under 50. What’s interesting though, is that the age group with the highest growth rate is 65-plus, which rose from 14% to 66% between 2000 to 2018 – a staggering +371% (see image below from Statista.com).
But what does it mean? That the users that are consuming our content online are more diverse than we think, and that different age groups have different goals and needs, too. On top of that, another key trend in demographics has to be considered: the booming population of over 65.
The over 65 set to be the largest age group by 2035
In western economies, one of the major trends is represented by the aging population, which represents a shift in demographics like never seen before. According to the US Census Bureau estimates, in just the US the number of people over 65 is set to outnumber the under 18 by 2035 – a year not very far away. This might represent a major change in how web content is consumed too, as the user experience we’re currently offering is often “one size fits all” made to appeal to a younger audience first, rather than adapting to changing demographics.
User behavior is different by age group
According to a recent survey by Lily Ray about how searchers interact with Google results, the user behavior changes significantly with age. As shown in the chart below, the depth of organic research is getting greater with age, with senior users often comparing multiple results and even extending the research to other pages, rather than just focusing on the front-page results.
In other words, the way we interact and perceive the web changes with age, suggesting that to better serve a wider audience, a broader approach should be considered. Therefore, I’ve gathered a few key points to improve the UX among different age groups, focusing on issues that might come more common with age, such as visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairment.
As the population is slowly aging, it’s normal to expect a decline in sight performance, meaning that some visual elements on the web pages should be enhanced to further improve the overall user experience:
Font: The main thing to bear in mind is about font families and font size, which both have a direct impact on readability. As a rule of thumb, 16px is generally considered a decent font size. Regarding the font families, it’s also good to remember to use decorative texts sparingly, for example highlighting just key points.
Space and line height: Line height is another key element in improving readability, especially for senior users. Since the default HTML line height is too small, it’s recommended to add a bit more space between lines, increasing it to 140%.
White space can be a good ally as well as it can make the text more legible, reducing the stress levels and improving the reader’s focus.
Contrast: To follow best practice, it’s important to avoid light gray on white backgrounds and limit the use of bright colors (yellow and pink, to name a few) as much as possible. Modern screens are also helpful in this instance, making texts easier to read due to the improved quality of the displays. To go the extra mile, it’s also possible to add high-contrast accessibility buttons, like the ones available on this Github project.
Images: It’s important to remember that adding any text to images is not only a bad idea for SEO, but it’s also not readable by any screen reader. On top of that, SEO image optimization recommends utilizing alt-attributes to add a descriptive context to the images, making the pages more SEO-friendly for search engines.
Captcha: It’s no secret that fake traffic is constantly on the rise, with some estimations reporting bad bots traffic now making 20% of the global traffic. To tackle this trend, several (and increasingly more difficult) CAPTCHAs have been developed, trying to restrict access to bots without harming normal users.
Google has been at the forefront of this battle, helping webmasters to fight back against spam bots and other malicious software. Their latest solution (which I recommend) is the reCAPTCHA v3, which is not only free, but displayed by millions of websites every day.
According to the National Institute of Aging, approximately one in three people aged 65-74 have trouble hearing, making it an issue more common than we think. Applied to our context, this is particularly relevant, as the number of video and podcasts available on the web will only increase over time. Here are some recommendations to make them more accessible:
Video captions: As you probably already know, YouTube is already generating automatic captions, which are reliable enough for most of the videos and languages. You can, however, add more precise and suitable captions on your own, as explained in this YouTube captions guide.
Video transcriptions: Especially for SEO, there are many benefits about adding a transcription to your videos. Search engines will be able to add more context to the video itself, possibly enhancing rankings. In addition, having an extra copy box will provide you with more internal linking opportunities, for example linking a content page to product pages.
Podcasts: As you’re probably already aware, Google has recently rolled out podcast results in search, taking another step in making audio a first-class search citizen. The main features were the introduction of the podcast structured data and the possibility to search for the audio content, which is now transcribed by Google. This made the podcast audio quality more important than ever, with elements such as recording a high-resolution file and post-editing significant both for Google and the users.
Mobility and dexterity issues are also more common than we think. Online forms can be tricky to fill in at any age, plus call to actions shouldn’t be a “one-size-fits-all” but be adjusted to suit different demographics. Here are a few recommendations:
Forms: It might not appear evident, but sometimes forms could be a nightmare to fill in, even for a younger audience. As per best practice, it’s important to remember that form inputs should be displayed in a strictly logical order, starting from basic information such as name and email and having them easily accessible with a keyboard as well.
Regarding the design, it’s recommendable to use a single-column design, combined with a straightforward inline form validation field (see image below).
Call to actions: Call to actions targeting a broader variety of age groups should focus on providing more granular and benefit-oriented information. This is because adults and seniors tend to read more and consider a decision for longer than a younger audience. In addition, it’s also recommendable to be as consistent as possible in the wording, avoiding Internet jargon and making sure that the message is understandable by any audience.
Cognitive impairment has an impact on memory, attention, problem-solving and visual and verbal comprehension. According to statista.com, in 2016 it was estimated that around 4.5% of the US population aged 18 to 64 years suffered from some forms of cognitive impairment. The same figure peaked at 8.9% for the age group of 65+. Here are some guidelines:
Simple design: Simple design is key in reducing the impact of cognitive issues, regardless of age. To begin with, the visual of the page has to be free of any clutter, easy to scan, and highlight just the information the user might look for. Search engine homepage evolution is a great example of this, as it’s clearly visible from this 1999 Altavista homepage VS a 2019 Google homepage.
Plain English: Best writing practice recommends using a colloquial language, being concise, avoiding jargon and adding white space to the copy boxes when needed. On top of that, the information should be organized in small paragraphs, with a smart use of anchor texts for links (avoid “click here”) and be populated with lists/bullet points. For more information, you can also visit plainlanguage.gov for the US, or Plain English Campaign for the UK.
Forgetfulness: Future-proof UX should also take into consideration forgetfulness. To minimize the impact of it, best practice recommends to improve page load speed, make clicked links clearly visible and allow the users to access the content in multiple ways, such as offering a resource in a PDF format too.
Improving accessibility is a topic of growing importance, with plenty of resources available online. Among others, I recommend the Nielsen Norman Group study about usability for senior citizens, and the Web Accessibility Initiative, created by the W3C.
As we have seen, future-proofing your UX can be a tricky subject. It involves best practice for visual, hearing, motor and cognitive issues, making it quite a broad topic to navigate. To find a good balance, I recommend using A/B split testing and user feedback, as implementing recommendations is certainly a good idea, but great UX is built by making mistakes and learning best practice along the way.
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