The UK saw something of a boom in internet users during 2012, stimulated in no small part by the Olympics and growing by 5% over the 12 months. 

One of the most significant side-effects of the huge draw the Olympics had to online activities, such as live-streaming and keeping up with the medal board, is the resulting demographic make-up of the UK online universe – especially the growth of the 55+ age group, otherwise known as silver surfers.

55+s now the dominant age group

ComScore’s latest data sees those aged over 55 as clearly the dominant group in the UK, with more than 9m unique online visitors during 2012 – 1m more than the second biggest, 25-34 year old, age group.

As a proportion of the overall UK internet universe, 55+s now account for more than 20% of all people who go online. This reflects a growth of 11% during 2012. Additionally, time spent online by silver surfers was up by an impressive 25%.

Unique user habits for 55+s

Unsurprisingly, internet habits for the biggest UK age group online vary from that of younger users. For example, automotive, travel, business/finance, telecommunications and gambling are all popular site categories.

Key websites also include retail brand names such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer (each boasting more than 1.5m users aged over 55), portal pages provided by AOL (2.8m) and TalkTalk (1.2m), as well as religious sites including the Ask Network (4.4m).

Mobile and smartphone importance for 55+s

Adoption of mobile technologies among older users is also making significant ground. Overall, 30% of UK mobile users are now aged 55+. Even among smartphone users the 55+ age group matches that of the 35-44 year olds at 19% and is not far behind the 22% accounted for by 25-34 year olds.

In December 2012 alone, smartphones made up 71% of new devices acquired by those aged over 55. We can expect smartphone penetration among silver surfers to surpass that of feature phones during 2013.

Time to reassess?

ComScore’s fantastic insight into internet adoption among older users is useful for further justifying the need to consider the older demographic as a viable online audience alongside younger digital natives, perhaps even more so. 

However, as we speculate further digital adoption for the 55+ age group over the coming year and beyond, the data does highlight some problems with the potentially unwieldy catch-all ‘silver surfer’ term and potentially soon-to-be very diverse age group. I for one am estimating that there are great differences between online and mobile habits of those who are aged 60 compared to those aged 80.

Certainly, more general telecoms data such as that released by Ofcom are already separating out the 55-64 and the 65+ age groups, and increasingly the 65-74 and 75+ age groups too.

I am excited to see internet and mobile usage data follow suit. After all, the value of being able to seperate out older users who are new to digital technology and, for example, those who are familiar with working online but are moving into the 55+ age group, will only get greater as the onlline universe continues to grow.