Reach a new standard of excellence in website design

Propel lead generation strategy by enhancing user online and mobile experiences.

By Melissa Borgerding

Erickson Living is reaching out to meet seniors where they increasingly are — online and on mobile devices. Research has shown that current and rising retirees aren’t simply embracing technology, they’re demanding that technology grow to embrace and adapt to them.

Our Baltimore-based organization, which includes a network of 19 retirement communities in 11 states, has launched a new website strategically designed to enhance the experience of the senior user.

Building an authentic experience

The new website is the result of thousands of hours of research, development and analytics paired with critical input from our target audience: Seniors.

“Today’s seniors are computer-savvy, and they deserve a site that gives them the optimal browsing experience,” says Mike Hill, director of web development.

For the past year, Hill and his team have focused their efforts on creating and implementing best practices for this increasingly sophisticated audience. Among these optimizations is a clean and contemporary design with plenty of white space to support the senior eye. Based on user feedback, stock imagery has been eliminated. Pages feature more community photography, videos, virtual tours, and resident testimonials.

“Our prospects told us that they want an authentic picture of life here,” says Karen Walls, content director, who oversaw content development for the site. “That means real residents, real images and real voices in their own words.”

Lessons in senior-friendly navigation

When designing for seniors, ease and navigability are key. This posed a challenge. We’re a large organization with a strong corporate presence, with locations as varied as Boston and Houston.

“When you have this much material, it’s very important to make sure that you can easily explore it,” says Hill. He points to improvements including a “Community Finder” tool that shows the distance between the user’s location and the community of their choice.

Another user-friendly enhancement: streamlined menus to cut out the clutter that many seniors find distracting or disorienting.

“The redesigned menus are what we call ‘sticky menus,’” says Hill. “That is, they’re always visible on the screen no matter where you scroll on the page. This alone simplifies navigation.”

Each menu button contains a description of the page it links to. This allows users to easily recognize and navigate to the content they find most valuable.

“It’s all about helping people get where they want to go,” says Hill “We have new visitors who like to skim for a little of everything. But we also have repeat users who just want to go right to floor plans or pricing, and we don’t want them getting frustrated because they can’t find it right away.”

Opening doors for interaction

Hill’s team performed an exhaustive analysis of Erickson Living’s previous website, tracking which pages received the most and least traffic. Not only did they work to enhance content for high-volume pages, but they also sought to improve upon pages that visitors were missing out on.

For example, a robust “Resources” section now links users to valuable materials including frequently asked questions, a glossary of terms, community news, downsizing advice and more.

“People are hungry for materials that are informative and educational,” says Walls. “They want to know what we can do for them and how we can help them.”

The site also includes more opportunities for user interaction. An expanded “Live Chat” tool connects prospects with a full-time Erickson Living employee in real-time.

“Not everybody likes to pick up the phone and call someone, myself included,” says Hill. “So we wanted to give people options. You can leave us a question; you can live chat with us; you can request a visit online. Really, it’s whatever’s best for you.”

Take your content to the audience

As more seniors put down newspapers and pick up iPads, it’s becoming essential “to put the content people want right at their fingertips,” says Deborah Dasch, editor in chief of the Tribune, a national news source with a readership of more than 400,000. Erickson Living’s new website now operates as a hub for all related content, including the Tribune.

“Really, we’re talking about two web launches here: the Erickson Living site and the Tribune site,” explains Dasch. “They absolutely go hand-in-hand.”

Like it’s print counterpart, the online Tribune includes news from Erickson Living’s 19 communities in addition to feature articles, national news, health advice, and reoccurring columns — all geared toward today’s seniors.

Visitors can also subscribe to the Tribune email, which delivers a monthly roundup of important stories directly to their inbox.

A living, breathing site

Ultimately, the goal of the new is to provide prospective residents and their families with the content that matters to them, in a design and structure that’s tailored to them.

“What we never want to do is tell seniors, hey, this is what you should want,” says Hill. “Instead, we have to listen to them and understand what they want from us. We need to be asking, what’s important to you? How can we help you find it? What would make this a better experience for you?”

Although it’s now live, the site is meant to be a work in progress: “A living, breathing thing,” explains Hill.

Currently, the team is working on several new enhancements to roll out soon. Hill promises that these latest enhancements will encourage even more user interaction and provide the site with an extra layer of depth.

“This is a framework,” says Hill of the site that he and his team worked more than a year to build and refine. “And we’re going to continue to grow into it.”

Melissa Borgerding is the senior copywriter at Erickson Living, a national network of 19 continuing care retirement communities based in Baltimore. 

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