A study into how the profile of the web’s most-visited sites have changed since 2004 highlights the increasing concentration of ‘Media’ and ‘Information & Reference’ brands in the Top 50 sites.
In January 2004, nine media companies featured in the UK’s 50 most-popular brands online. This has risen to almost a third (16) last month, thanks to more time being spent on sites for TV broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, and national newspapers owned by Associated, Guardian News & Media, News International and the Telegraph Media Group.
The BBC commandeers two entries, one for its general news and TV business and one for its commercial BBC Worldwide operation.
Meanwhile, in the Top 100 there are also strong showings for Reed Business Information and Hachette Filipacchi UK, the magzine owner of Sugar (online) Red, Psychologies and Elle currently being sold to US giant Hearst.
It appears that as the web matures, the content specialists of the offline world are starting to shine online too. It follows increased investment by media companies in time and resources to their digital operations.
James Smythe, general manager at UKOM, said: "Over the last seven years, we have seen media owners significantly rise in our Top 50 rankings. Clearly they own the very best content and people are responding to that. "With hindsight, I’m sure a few media owners probably wish they had charged for their content from the beginning.
"I think the question of ‘trust’ comes into the equation. Brands are used as signposts and online especially there’s way more content than humans can manage so people look for ones they know and trust."
The ‘Magnificent Seven’ remain
However, while the profile of businesses populating much of the Top 50 has changed, it should be noted the Top 10 has remained largely unchanged, with only the BBC competing among the digital pureplay specialists for time and attention.
Seven brands - MSN, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, BBC, eBay and Amazon - have all retained their Top 10 status, and have since been joined by social-media stars YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook.
Google only reached top spot for the first time in 2006, but has remained at the head of the table each year since, now attracting more than 35 million unique UK visitors every month.
Back in 2004, Microsoft’s MSN dominated the table, although it had less than half Google’s current number of monthly visitors (17 million). Today, a site with this level of users would barely make the Top 10, such has been the growth in online traffic.
The rise of all things social
The rise of social media is the other clear trend following the arrival of Web 2.0 in the mid-noughties, although the speed with which sites can fall out of favour is also apparent.
In 2004, only one web brand among the Top 50 was classifed as 'social media', and that was Friends Reunited.
Today there are 10 social sites, including YouTube, Wikipedia and Tripadvisor. Facebook only made its debut in the UK rankings as recently as 2008 – entering at number 12. It has since risen to become the country’s third most popular web brand, with more than 26 million unique UK visitors from home and work computers.
The Nielsen study also found that the online world is increasingly reflecting the offline world, with the web’s 50 most-popular brands replicating more than ever businesses established in the ‘real world’ and sites serving the interaction between ‘real people’.
Seven years ago, only 18 of the top 50 sites had an established offline presence, such as Argos and the BBC. This has now increased to 25.
Names such as Freeserve, Lycos, Demon and Kelkoo, which once appeared among the web’s elite, have now been replaced in the Top 50 by brands such as Facebook, Twitter, Sky and John Lewis.
The growing popularity of media brands on the web has meant other sites has been at the cost of Telecoms & Internet Services, which in January 2004 used to account for 11 of the top 50 brands, with names like Tiscali, NTL and Blueyonder, but today number just three: BT, Orange and Skype.
This can partly be attributed to the broadening base of established media brands, like Sky and Virgin, which now offer internet connectivity as part of their packages.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the other sector with a diminishing presence in the Top 50 over the last seven years has been technology, losing five brands (such as Real and Macromedia), while travel has lost four (including Lastminute and EasyJet) and Finance, three brands: Egg, Barclays and Halifax.
|Top 100 web brands Jan 2011|
|Rank||Brand||Unique UK visitors (000s) Jan 2011||Unique UK visitors (000s) Dec 2010||Month on month change|
|12||Ask Search Network||10,182||10,247||-1%|
|18||AOL Media Network||7,412||7,438||0%|
|24||Money Saving Expert||5,927||6,072||-2%|
|26||The National Lottery||5,890||6,352||-7%|
|29||News Corp. Newspapers||5,040||4,121||22%|
|31||NetShelter Technology Media Network||5,018||4,753||6%|
|32||Fox Interactive Media||4,941||4,900||1%|
|37||IMDb - Internet Movie Database||4,666||4,187||11%|
|50||Marks & Spencer||3,886||6,347||-39%|
|56||IPC Media Network||3,510||3,725||-6%|
|64||HM Revenue & Customs||3,325||1,742||91%|
|72||Gorilla Nation Websites||2,942||2,989||-2%|
|82||Thomas Cook Network||2,668||1,114||139%|
|84||Trader Media Group||2,621||2,042||28%|
|85||Trinity Mirror Nationals||2,533||2,445||4%|
|88||RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland||2,473||2,489||-1%|
|89||Hachette Filipacchi UK Network||2,471||2,577||-4%|
|91||The Digital Property Group||2,440||1,468||66%|
|97||Reed Business Information Network||2,233||1,460||53%|
|100||Northcliffe Newspapers Group||2,200||1,807||22%|