ClickZ's readers aren't as young as you might think. How do I know? Well, after writing a column on sites for seniors, I received a whole lot of email. Almost all of it declared, "It's about time we started addressing those of us who are of a certain age!"
I received comments such as "Right on!" "Power to the boomers," and a wistful "If only Paul McCartney had married an age-appropriate woman." (You have to admit that reader has a pretty good point.)
With all the great tips I received on content development for seniors, I though I'd share some readers' insights. These are lessons learned from those who have bravely ventured into Boomerland and beyond, with very positive results.
Consider a new name. Frank Leyhausen, manager of sales and cooperation for the German-language site Atlantis-City, says in his country older adults do not want to be addressed as seniors. He's come up with alternative phrases, such as "generation 50-plus" and "silver surfers," to describe his site's target audience. Check out his site, complete with forums and chat rooms for the more mature crowd. He's interested in building a virtual bridge between U.S. and German seniors... uh, "50-plussers"... uh, "generation boomers."
Consider older eyes. Many readers warned that older eyes prefer fonts of ample size and bold color. These are "hints" those of us who cut our teeth on print publications learned years ago, but they bear repeating. Dark blue text on a pale blue background is hard for anyone to read, especially seniors. Type in the green-blue-violet spectrum is particularly difficult. The higher the contrast, the better, writes freelance writer and marketer Joe Flood. So, stay away from pastels. Joe suggests bold text, smaller paragraphs, and ample white space.
I must warn that copy should never be "dumbed down" for seniors. In general, this is a sophisticated audience that adores ample content (after all, they're the last generation of newspaper readers). Candace Rich, who publishes the nicely nostalgic and content-hefty The Fifties says she posts buttons saying her site is "Boomer enhanced" and therefore "guaranteed to have NO SMALL PRINT."
Think tone. Carolyn Banks, executive director of Upstart Inc., a nonprofit media arts outreach and education organization in Texas, recommends addressing older readers directly (as in, "If you are reading this, you probably..."). She also advocates using the active voice (e.g., "Please fill this form out in pencil.").
Be eclectic. Yes, older adults are interested in healthcare. And (perhaps more important) controlling healthcare expenses. Depending on the theme of your site, try to be eclectic in your content topics. Education is big with seniors who often have the inclination and time to expand their horizons. Take a cue from my local university, which offers older adult classes in Buddhism, Beethoven, poetry, investing, memoir writing, yoga, desktop publishing, Web site design, genealogy, and astrology. In other words, you're only as limited as your breadth of knowledge.
Don't assume "older" means "retired." A number of sites are dedicated to the proposition that being older doesn't mean enjoying the gold watch. Check out NotYetRetired and 2Young2Retire to get into the mindset of the older adult who plans to use the post-65 years for pursuing a second career. In fact, NotYetRetired includes plenty of content on financing a small business, starting a home business, and simple marketing tips.
Provide discounts. Older users may shudder at the thought of being in an "older demo," but few will refuse a decent senior discount (would you turn down a movie at a reduced rate?). Recognize age has certain privileges, and offer them to your older users. They'll reward you with loyalty.
Refer to topics in the mass media. Older adults are more tuned in to timely news topics than the 40-something or even 20-something crowd. (One of every two network news viewers is over 55.) Topics relating to "issues of the day" are particularly appealing.
For those of you who never thought of targeting senior Web users, I hope these columns have prompted you to think again. For those of you who are well versed in this market, I continue to be interested in your suggestions and feedback. 'Til next time. Go, Boomers!
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.