I’m getting older. You are too. It’s a fact of life that no matter how young we are now, one day we’re going to start feeling the creaks and groans of age settling in.
I can’t stay up as late at night. I’m a little slower to get going in the morning. When I’ve been writing for a long time, I feel stiff as I rise from my chair. Oh, yeah, and my eyesight is going, too.
Somewhere about the time we realize that we’ve flipped into middle age, little physical effects of aging sink in. They’re small at first and what gets noticed is what hurts most. Then other changes come to light, slowly but surely.
Lately, I’ve noticed I’m squinting a little more to read text on my monitor. I’m not keen on grey fonts and black on white serves me best. I don’t like Arial 6 (or 8 or 10, for that matter) fonts on websites, and I have to lean in and strain to read or give up and click away.
That’s important. How you write is key to online success. What you write is even more so. But what your content looks like has a huge, huge impact on your future.
I won’t dig up stats and facts on an aging population. It’s common knowledge that there are more people in the Baby Boomer generation than any other age group. These great people who gave the world so much change, innovation, and freedom are…
Well, getting old.
They’re also retiring. They’re looking for something new and fun or maybe investments for their future. They’re dabbling in hobbies and experimenting with all sorts of things.
They’re coming to an Internet near you – and they won’t be very happy when they have to squint, strain and lean forward to read your content.
You won’t be happy either. How will this age group’s needs affect your site traffic, conversion, readership and sales? Make no mistake – it will be affected.
That means you need good content, and you need readable content too. Think you have it already? Run through this quick list and see:
• Use shorter sentences and concise copy
• Describe less; integrate emotional impact instead
• Break up paragraphs into two or three sentences at most
• Use bolded headings and bullet points in your content
• Use a sans serif font that isn’t thin or wispy
• Choose a font size of 12 point or more
• Avoid italics, changing fonts or colored fonts
• Use a black or very dark font on a white or very pale background
Formatting copy for easier screen reading and accessible content is a challenge. It’s not easy to apply a larger font into the limited real estate space of a computer screen and convey the same message.
It can be done. And if your content is good, limited space and big fonts or not, you will engage your reader and compel the person to scroll down to read more. And that’s exactly what you want.
Reader Comments (44)
Glen Allsopp says
Ever since I created a blog in a niche outside internet marketing I also had to focus properly on getting a design to work in older browsers such as IE 6
Writer Dad says
One of the people I write to specifically in my posts is my father. I do this because I know he jumps all around when he’s reading online and that he likes dark text and short, readable paragraphs. It’s easy to lose perspective when we spend our days writing about ourselves, but jumping inside the skin of someone a few decades ahead of us, may help to teach us a thing or two.
Oh, honey. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I write a blog for baby boomers. My reading eyesight is going, and so is that of my readers.
Bucktowndusty@ FromThePen.com says
The “Jitterbug” cell phone for seniors is a great example of this.
Huge market, huge potential.
Just follow the bullets above and stay away from words like “LOL’d” and “paradigm” and you’ll be alright with seniors.
WebSite Design Orange County says
I understand the cornucopia listening amplification system is making a comeback with the “in” over 67 crowd.
Mark Goodyear says
TheHighCalling.org, one of the sites I edit, targets an older demographic as one of its primary audiences. Here are some of the things we’ve tried to do:
* The site itself includes a button to enlarge all of the text.
* The site also includes a “Print All Of This Week’s Resources” button that sends everything to their printer in a large readable type.
* And we have one piece each week that comes in an audio version.
I like your idea about shorter sentences and paragraphs. It’s something I’ve pushed for as essential to screen reading in general. And the reminder of sub heads and bullet points is a good one.
Jean Gogolin says
I’m SO glad you wrote this. I believe the “over 67 crowd,” as you called it, is the fastest-growing demographic on the web. These are bright, interested (and interesting) people with lots to offer, and I hope more of us will give them the content they want.
Good info. I write my free financial education blog, http://www.insimplelanguage.com, which is directed at the age 40 and over group. And since I am in that group I have to remind myself to make everything user friendly.
I like the idea of the button on the site to make the print automatically bigger. Now I just have to figure out how to do it. I’m not a technie.
If you or anyone can tell me how to put the button on my site, I would appreciate it. My blog is on wordpress if that helps.
Thanks again for a very insiteful article.
This is great that someone wrote about how writing affects aging people. Often when we write web content or blogs, we don’t really think about the difficulties that particular readers might have while reading something on a computer. When designing a website, it may be worthwhile to spend some time on the presentation and how things will look to a variety of readers. You can’t please everyone, but you can certainly make life easier. The bullet points that you brought up regarding making changes in regards to font size, descriptions, etc. are all things that should be taken into consideration for all readers- not just those who are older.
my beauty site: http://www.newbeautysuccess.com focuses on the beauty interests of Beautiful Baby Boomer Women!
I’m on the leading age edge and luv a bigger monitor too.
James Chartrand - Men with Pens says
@ Mark – Those are great ideas, and thanks for mentioning them here. I’m sure that helps motivate some people to consider ways to make their content more accessible.
@ Writer Dad – I think of my mum, who is 76 and terrified to even touch her computer. She’s visited some pretty posh sites but has been completely put off by the fact that she lacks the ability to use the site effectively. Consumer frustration – click, she’s gone.
It is tough to find the balancing line between pleasing all age groups, but I can certainly see more sites finding ways to do so (like Mark’s, for example).
@ Everyone – Great comments, and I’m very glad to see all of you working to find ways to adapt to people’s needs. That’s what good Internet use is all about.
Please explain why good typography and design is not relevant for any age group.
Why do your tips only apply to geezers? (me)
If serif is easier to read on paper, why is it not easier to read on screen?
James Chartrand - Men with Pens says
@ Going – Actually, serif isn’t any better on paper, really, and sans serif still wins. But because we can move the paper closer or further and because we can see more of the text, we have an easier time reading serif in print.
There’s a great article here on all things typography that explains in much more detail:
My tips don’t only apply to aging people, though. (Hey. I never said geezers.) It’s just that younger eyes haven’t begun to harden or have color acuity issues that older people have to deal with, and so they have an easier time.
Ultimate Blogging Experiment says
It depends what niche you are in. Some niches pertain to the aging population and some do not.
Hallelujah to the great and readable font! It absolutely feels friendly to me and my readership, Web 55.0, when web authors pay attention to readability. READ MY LIPS: It doesn’t matter what group you’re aiming at — you can make it readable. It’s cyberspace!! People of all ages have trouble with small fonts. Don’t forget the visually impaired, either, they are also part of your demographic.
Scott Fox, E-Commerce Success Blog says
Well said, James.
I learned this lesson when building web sites for Bill O’Reilly and Larry King’s audiences – they demand big fonts!
My rule of thumb these days: No matter how talented the designer, if you are under 50 you should not be the only/final judge of font size, type face, or color palette.
Just to say that included Copyblogger in my Spotlight Ideas Top 20 (and Top 100) Advertising, Marketing, Media & PR Blogs (organizing blogs into genres).
Copyblogger, also, happens to be, along with three or four others, my favourite blog, and the one I follow most regularly.
Another useful and interesting post here. And original.
Connie Ragen Green says
I was just speaking with a client about the 8 pt font on his business cards. I told him that anyone over 40 would not be able to read it. He is under 30 and had never thought about it from that perspective. This is an important post for anyone hoping to do business with the majority of people – if we can’t read it, we won’t buy it! Thanks, James.
Bamboo Forest says
My blog has long wanted to capture vast segments of the aging community. Hopefully more and more of this demographic will get involved in blogging.
It will really help me out.
Michael Martine says
I’m happy to say I’ve always had a nice big font for the posts on my blog. 🙂
@James Chartrand: I’m in the newspaper biz and have always accepted at face value the assertion that serif is easier to read on paper.
When you suggested otherwise, I poked around and seems there is no in-depth research to prove this.
I learned something today! Yay! Thanks.
However, serif vs san serif on screen is argued in your favor because of screen resolution vs. ink on paper.
I wear tri-focals and have yet to find a site or blog where I have had to enlarge the text to read.
I do notice that many sites are offering a button to enlarge the text just by clicking… seems like a good compromise for the designers.
Geezer: entirely my term. Much preferred to “senior.” 🙂
My roundabout way of saying: “You’re right.”
Chris Wood says
For this reason, I like using large white lettering on a black background for websites, when possible. It is easier to read and I’m told miminises stress on the reader’s eyes.
One of the pluses of posts like this is that they tie in with other pieces of expertise. If anyone knows more about colour / user accessibility relationships, please let me know.
James Chartrand - Men with Pens says
@ GoingSixty – Oh, well, as long as I’m right… 😉
Your site is looking great… I’ve been reading it in the email and haven’t popped over in awhile.
On the subject: I’ve noticed my eyes changing as well but I actually like the dark background with light font. The white backgrounds are way too bright for me. My eyes strain with that. Otherwise, I agree with everything you’re saying… well written.
Sonia Simone says
Good stuff–I was surprised at the sans-serif thing, as there’s so much lore insisting that serif fonts pull better in direct response.
I had some readers who were very happy with me when I went to 14-pt Verdana on RC. The default on Typepad is insanely tiny.
Unlike some others here, I find light type on a dark background extremely hard to read.
Judy Peterson says
Well I can tell you that some of my “Senior” clients are pretty well informed about using the internet. An option to adjust the type size is a great idea!
The worst is light type on a dark background. BTW, calcium with vitamin D, Omega 3’s and frequent breaks help the stiffness 🙂
I don’t think I’d know where to start if I had to write to older people… From the elders I know in my family they do either one of two things on the net:
1. The men look at ‘pictures of women’
2. The women just email forward junk…
With the role models in the family it doesn’t inspire much in terms of what to write.
Most of my geezer buds have glasses, often even progressive lenses (what you kiddies might call bifocals;). I’m not sure I get the short sentences thing. Do we get stupid as we mature?
Sonia Simone says
@Sophmom, you probably don’t, but I seem to. 🙂
James Chartrand - Men with Pens says
@ Sophmom – Well, if you want to get truly technical, yes, the more we age, the less brainpower we have available for various reasons. It’s not about getting dumber, it’s about a body wearing out, period.
But the short sentences thing is just that they’re easier to read than long ones. Overall convenience for any age group but one that lessens additional frustration for aging adults.
@ Sonia – Light on dark is more difficult than dark on light. But there’s no accounting for tastes!
@ Petula – More often than not, it’s the monitor settings that make a white seem glaring and not the white itself.
@ Judy – Of course! Age doesn’t equal level of ability by any means. However, younger generations did grow up with the ‘net at their fingertips and they do have a much easier time than most adults over 35. But I wouldn’t want to generalize at all. No offense meant.
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says
Interesting post James. My target market is my generation – Gen-X, the early 30s to mid 40s crowd. Yes, we’re getting older but we’re not the Boomers.
Yes, I have reading glasses, but I only use them occasionally…
The hearing aid (from too many years of clubbing) will likely come soon.
James, you’re dead on right. It’s all about target audience. Beyond ourselves, for whom are we writing? I’d like to think I’m writing for the folks who like big words and long sentences; but, then again, self-delusion is our national pasttime. Still an interesting post, darlin’.
Jeffrey Simons says
Thank you, James. The link to the Alex Poole article is invaluable. I, too, accepted the “Serif is more legible” argument early in my career, and have tried to get my art directors to tow the line ever since. But the argument about screen resolution seems to tip the scales against those tiny little serifs. Also, kudos to the comments to this post. Lots of great stuff here.
Jean Gogolin says
The answer to what you write for older people is whatever you write for younger people — many of whom also “look at pictures of women or forward junk.” Age is no longer the determining factor in how web savvy people are or how much they have to contribute, if it ever was.
Well, I’m only 53 and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked out of blogs and Web sites because of font size or background color.
The suggestions in the post and the comments are excellent. I hope more designers and bloggers read them.
I would add the fine art of line spacing to your bullet list. One of the things I look at/for when trying to find good WP themes is line spacing that breathes, if you will. The line spacing here on CB is excellent and assists in making the text readable, easily.
I love sans serif fonts, especially well made versions, for their clean crisp lines. I’ll only use serif when I need to for design purposes.
I also saw you noted that light on dark is not as readable as dark on light. And I agree, but is that because it really is not as readable or is it because we are conditioned to reading black on white?
Good article … 🙂
SEO Genius says
A very interesting article, well its relevant to some countries currently, mainly Japan who are currently experiencing a declining population and Russia who are also experiecing this.
The United Kingdom is currently experiencing an ageing population, perhaps this is something more bloggers will have to contemplate when writing articles.
James – A word or two about co-morbidity and the elderly (yeuchh word but worth more than a passing nod)
Thanks for your post – with over 80% of the wealth of western nations held by our ‘aging population’ it really is a good idea to get to know the who, how, why when and what is the best way to communcate with them.
I am delighted to say that as I am working on the committe for the new BS8878 British Standard on web accessibility we are concentrating on accessibilty, usability and a ‘great’ customer expereince for the elderly as well as the disabled and associated audiences. As one of the authors (due out Q2 09 – Public Discussion Doc soon) I have written in the draft about the issue of co-morbidity – a huge issue for the elderly.
Yes I know it is a yeuchh word, but a ciritcal one for marketers and communicators to get thier head around. You wouldn’t think twice about creating a complete socio-economic profile of your customers, stakeholders, so a complete view of how people can, or can’t recieve any form of communcation, marketing, advertising via the web is pretty important – especially among the aged.
Try this post
Co-morbidity – Yeuch word – but the world’s most unrecognised, unsung, untapped marketing opportunity at… http://thedyslexicmarketeer.typepad.com/kmt/
Hope it adds to the debate.
I understand the cornucopia listening amplification system is making a comeback with the “in” over 67 crowd
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