7 Years Later – Top Internet Properties 2004 – 2011

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The other day, I was reading the press release that comScore sends out every month with a listing and analysis of the top 50 online properties and I got to wondering how far back these monthly updates went, and what an earlier version might reveal. A quick visit to comScore’s press release archive showed that they had stored such items since 2004, and a simple search found the corresponding release for the month of July. The methodology of the collection of the data looks the same, and the actual material is provided in a similar set up of tables highlighting different arrangements of data. So I think it’s relatively safe to compare the results of the two — July 2011 versus July 2004 — and make a few observations about what has changed and what (if anything) is remarkably the same.

Of course, over the span of 7 full years, a huge amount has changed online insofar as technology is concerned. Businesses that never even existed in 2004 now wield enormous influence. But much is also the same. The patterns of life don’t change much, although the details of those patterns may. For example, one theme common to both periods of time was an uptick of interest in businesses related to the back-to-school market. In 2011, Staples.com had a 30% increase in total unique visitors in the previous 30 days; in 2004, that increase in percentage was 40%. Dell increased by 27% in unique visitors over the past 30 days in 2004; 20% in the same period in 2011.

The NFL Internet Group’s visitor count increased by 82% from June over July 2011, showing the interest in football as that sport takes center stage. But here is a case where in 2004 there is no direct corresponding site or even general category, since the sports community had yet to move online with interactive sites and ticket sales. Instead, in 2004, the type of sites that increase the most in visitor counts include hotels (InterContinental Hotels Group is up 29%) and gaming-related sites (Gamefly rose an incredible 162%). In the 2011 figures, neither of those specific sites — nor the site categories — appear. But this can’t be said to reflect a lack of interest in travel or gaming in 2011 versus 2004 — just a shift in timing insofar as travel is concerned (with huge travel sites more prominent, people don’t visit specific hotel sites as much and tend to plan travel further in advance, so a spike in interest in July is less likely now than it would have been in 2004) and technology in regard to gaming.

Looking at some of the specific properties that have longevity online, let’s comare the entries in the top 50  US online properties from July 2004 to July 2005.

The first entries in each of the years are the Big 3 search engine sites. Google’s standing is only number 4 in 2004, while it has shot to number 1 by 2011, almost tripling its unique visitor count for the month (from 63.4 million to 182.3 million). Yahoo and Microsoft have remained in remarkably the same relationship over the 7-year period — Yahoo! Sites at 115.5 million in 2004 to 177.6 million and Microsoft Sites from 114.7 to 174.3 million — basically, a .8 million difference in visitors in 2004 to a 3.3 million difference in 2011.

The company in the number 3 position in 2004 was the Time Warner Network — in 2011, this company is now AOL and Turner Digital, ranked number 5 and 7. So what companies are in those middle positions?

In 2011, the positions are held by Facebook (#4), AOL (#5), and Amazon (#6). In 2004, those spots are held by Google, eBay, and AskJeeves respectively. Number 7 is Terra Lycos and Amazon is number 8.

It’s interesting to look at some companies not present in 2004 that are significant players in 2011, and vice versa. Some cases in point:

2011 Properties Not Present in 2004

Name                             Rank in 2011

Facebook                            4

Apple Inc.                          12

Craigslist                           19

WordPress                         22

Twitter                               34

LinkedIn                             36

2004 Properties Not Present in 2011

Name                           Rank in 2004

AskJeeves                         6

Terra Lycos                        7

About                                 9

Monster Worldwide            10

Actually, quite a few properties are present from 2004 to 2011, but appear at varying points in the Top 50. To even make the Top 50 in 2011, the unique visitor count must be over 24 million. In 2004, that number was just over 11 million. Companies that didn’t grow significantly over the 7 years have moved off the map, while others have stayed in the list, even though their actual visitor count may not have doubled. An example is Walt Disney Internet Group which came in at #14 in July 2004 (25.2 million unique visitors) and is now #37 in 2011 with 32.5 million visitors. Likewise, Columbia House was #50 in July 2011 with 11.1 million visitors, but isn’t on the list in 2011 — perhaps their visitor count is about the same or perhaps their business model never developed as a popular method of media acquisition in the intervening years.

It’s interesting to look at these types of comparisons and see how much change has been wrought in what concerns us and what capabilities are available to us online. The consistency of some companies in maintaining positions in these type of rankings is astonishing when one considers how quickly the environment and technology has changed in 7 short years. Those who can adapt manage to survive the growth of new ways of approaching interactions (such as Facebook and Twitter), while others become the focus of too much competition with no increase in market, resulting in splintering and a fight for survival.

What will another 7 years reveal about the top Internet properties in the US? Will the Top 3 search engines still be top of the list overall? Will shopping-related sites hold onto their top spots in the rankings? How about social sites? Will competition force a current leader to take a drop in ratings or will they be able to hold onto their leadership? What new technology will lead to new categories of Internet activity that will push new or existing properties higher in the ranking?

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