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Surfing for seniors

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It’s no secret: one of the fastest growing demographics these days is adults aged 60 and over. For marketers, the question is how to reach them effectively. Will a mix of traditional methods such as print ads or direct marketing be enough to reach them, get them to take action, and build a qualified lead base?

Surprisingly, conventional methods may only be part of the answer. Research and data show a strong Web marketing campaign to seniors online will significantly help generate qualified leads for your business.

Older adults are not apprehensive of the Internet and technology, as we may believe. In January 2006, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 34 percent of Americans age 65 and older go online, up from 29 percent a year earlier. Compared to 18- to 24-year-olds, seniors spend, on average, 6.3 more days per month on the Internet, stay logged on 235.7 minutes longer, and view 178.7 more unique pages per month.

Another misperception of older adults is that their only methods of communication are the U.S. Post Office and talking on the phone. But the reality is that the Internet is the “long distance carrier” for more and more people 62 and older. Ninety-four percent of wired older adults have sent or received e-mail, compared to 91 percent of all Internet users.”

So it’s clear that the Internet should be a vital part of your marketing efforts. But before you build an online campaign, you need to address the following questions:

How do seniors find the site? Seniors’ online habits mirror those of the general population. Eighty-two-percent use search engines, compared to 90 percent of the general population. So why not target them there like you would anyone else? How? Through Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

There is no quicker and more cost-effective way to establish your online presence than through PPC and SEO. The average cost-per-lead is just 45 cents–versus $1.20 for a lead from a Yellow Pages directory ad. Best of all, these individuals arrive at your site as better-qualified leads. Not only are they searching for specific information–your kind of specific information–online seniors are probably exactly who you want to find you. Of the seniors who have a college degree, 60 percent of them go online. Of those with some college education, 45 percent of them are online, too. They’re also more affluent. You’ll find 65 percent of online “65-plus”-year-olds have an annual income of $50,000 or more.

What do they need to do? Once a senior is on your site, you want them to take action. They need to call your toll-free number, request more information, or conduct sufficient research to get them to make an in-person purchase. By nature, seniors are much more cautious in their Web travels and good Web usability is key.

A visitor should never be more than three clicks away from the information they need. Have your contact information–especially phone numbers–and calls-to-action on every page. Make them easy to read, and in a consistent location.

Link redundancy is good. Have both text links and bulleted links to increase the likelihood that older users will successfully get where they want to go.

How do I keep them coming back? The Internet, with its infinite flexibility, offers smart, comparatively quick-to-implement, cost-effective ways to make sure you never fall out of sight or out of the minds of your prospects. For example, e-newsletters and blogging are quick and cost-effective tools to engage your audience. According to Jakob Nielsen’s Nielsen Norman Group, e-newsletters “create a much larger, positive emotional bond between the user and company than a Web site can.”

Another way to keep them coming back is through blogging. Yes, seniors blog. Blogging keeps them informed of current events, helps them make new friends, and gives them a voice for their thoughts and opinions.

The bottom line when it comes to Web marketing to seniors is that seniors are online and their range of online activities, expectations (and sheer numbers) are only growing. Internet marketing is an invaluable lead generator and retention tool. But remember that seniors experience the Web differently and require thoughtful design accommodations. Seniors place high priority on being able to easily find courteous, friendly sales staff when they shop in a store. Going online is no different. Your older customers need contact with you. Make sure you drive their inquiries to your phone number … and a live person at the other end! Use the Internet, and all these marketing techniques, to get them in your door, and then build a personal relationship with them.

David Martino is president of Martino & Binzer, a full-service communications firm that specializes in creating marketing campaigns for the senior industry. For more information visit