Just 10 websites gobble up half of all internet traffic in the UK, showing surfers in this country are a loyal, predictable bunch.
The top ten will come as no surprise, with Facebook, Google, and Yahoo securing places in the ranking by Nielsen Online. Indeed, it’s clear from the list that Britons love social networking and webmail, but what is it about these sites that keeps us coming back for more?
We take a look a the pulling power of the top ten web brands – and ponder their chances for survival in the quickly changing online market.
1) Facebook – 12.7 per cent market share
It’s no surprise that Facebook topped the poll, taking up over 12 per cent of the market share. Facebook has had a tough first half of 2009 with a backlash from its loyal followers about its new terms and conditions and a large scale phishing attack, but nothing seems able to derail its domination.
But why? The main thing is communication. More and more people are asking to add you on Facebook than for your mobile number these days. It is quick, simple and easy to get hold of people, be they in your office or the other side of the world.
Add to that the great fun of sharing photos and videos from your nights out, playing time passing games or just indulging in being nosey at your friend’s relationship status and you are on to a winner.
But there is a threat there. Facebook has already changed it settings to look more like Twitter as the micro-blogging sensation takes over. Can people be bothered with a whole site anymore when they can get their social networking done in just 140 characters?
So far, the numbers speak for themselves. Although Twitter seems to struggle to retain its followers, Facebook continues to grow, reportedly to over 200 million – and continues to top lists like this one.
2) Windows Live – 9.2 per cent market share
Although Gmail is quickly catching up with Windows Live in terms of email, the latter – think Hotmail – still ranks higher in the UK. A recent tool released by Google which makes it easier to transfer years and years of Hotmail emails to Gmail won’t make things easier for Microsoft’s online side, however.
It’s hard to believe, but Hotmail was picked up by Microsoft in 1997, making it the first free webmail many of us signed up to use. The addition of shiny new services like Messenger, SkyDrive, Live Mesh and photo-friendly social networking all help build traffic, while the launch of the well-reviewed search tool Bing won’t hurt either – not least because the previous Live Search was so incredibly terrible.
MSN has the user base and Microsoft backing to buy it time, but its safe to say it will have to keep improving its offering – especially its dated email – to hold off challengers like Google and Yahoo.
3) Google – 5.3 per cent market share
It’s not really that surprising that Google managed to nestle itself into a place in the top three. After all, it’s been a good year or so for the web giant. Not only is its traditional search business booming, but its enterprise arm is going from strength to strength too.
There’s also the Android factor. What an innovation that is. And the story has only just really started, with many more mobile players set to bring out devices based on this platform.
But when the public builds a company up, it’s never too long before they get knocked back down again. Cue Google’s Street View and the controversy that caused. One particular village even went as far as blocking the road off as Google’s Street View car approached. One has to wonder if it carried on taking pictures while the angry mob grew closer?
Despite the backlash, the privacy debate doesn’t seem to have done Google’s brand any harm, for now at least.
4) eBay – 4.1 per cent market share
Truth be told, it’s a simple idea that anyone could have thought of. But eBay has managed to captivate the hearts and minds of the public around the world. Get a Christmas present you think is awful? No problem, just log onto eBay and flog it. It’s not hard to see why this online trading place is so popular, as it’s very easy to use and is a nice way of making a bit of extra cash.
However, there’s a downside too, including job cuts and the continued talk of eBay selling off Skype by next year.
Then there’s the money factor where the amount you can make seems to be getting smaller and smaller, thanks to various fees (such as PayPal) and the recent change in postal charges (it’s now down to size as well as weight) meaning some sellers are a bit out of pocket if they don’t do their maths right.
The eBay market is also a bit saturated now with the world and its mother seemingly on there trying to sell exactly the same thing as you. Something’s gotta give, so the eBay of the future could well be very different from today.
5) Yahoo – 3.5 per cent market share
Yahoo is having a very tough time of it at the moment thanks to the dominance of Google in the search engine market. Being only a couple a couple of percentage points behind Google is quite surprising though, and shows that some people are still ‘yahooing’ rather than ‘googling’ when it comes to searching for stuff on the internet.
New Yahoo leadership in chief executive Carol Bartz could help, as she seems like a tough customer who could lead Yahoo back to the heights – if anybody actually can. However, it might always be the case that Yahoo looks at his decision not to link up with Microsoft as something which will always haunt it.
Yahoo will survive, but it has to be intelligent in what direction it goes in and the moves it makes. In the search business it is difficult to see past Google at the moment, and this that is the real problem - for Yahoo as well as its rivals.
6) AOL – 3.0 per cent market share
It’s been called the internet for people who don’t understand the internet, a walled-garden for those intimidated by the freedom of the wild, wild web. While its recent divorce from Time Warner could signal the winds of change, it’s going to take a lot to bring AOL back to its peak – although that’s what its chief exec has said he now has planned.
Ten years ago, AOL had 30 million subscribers. That had slipped well below 10 million by last year. That said, some of those are paying customers, and the site is clearly still a draw in the UK.
Indeed, its mail service still ranks higher than Google in many places – hard though that may be to believe. Millions still use the mail service, bringing them back day after day. So if AOL does take advantage of its new-found freedom to remake itself into a modern, innovative web brand, it will only benefit from having an existing, loyal user base.
That said, it’s going to take some pretty shiny products before AOL overcomes its “walled garden” reputation.
7) BBC – 2.3 per cent
Coming in at a respectable seventh, with 2.3 per cent market share, is the BBC. A British institution that may have been thought of as traditional and behind the times has over recent years soared to become one of the most popular brands on the internet.
The BBC news site is the first stop for many as a trusted source of news. A simple layout that is easy to navigate, it is a model taken up by newspapers around the world but the BBC is one of the best of the bunch.
It also has its innovative iPlayer, allowing people to catch up on the week of television and radio programmes from their computers. These elements of choice and flexibility have obviously made the BBC popular and in turn helped it climb up the list.
But the iPlayer and the news site do not stand alone. As previously mentioned, with all the major newspapers, even smaller local ones, heading online, it does face stiff competition and now ITV, Channel 4 and Sky have got in on the act of putting their programmes up to watch on demand.
However as a brand, the BBC stands tall amongst its competitors and it may take a while for Auntie to be knocked off her perch.
8) YouTube – 1.9 per cent market share
Generally when you are looking for a video anything you use YouTube, and this is why the future looks good for it. Can you name me another video file sharing site that people use?
The main trouble at the moment for YouTube is copyright. It has had trouble with big media companies such as Viacom as well as the music industry, which feels that YouTube isn’t paying enough royalties.
But many feel access to free and easy content is the way things will inevitably head, and YouTube is the first stop where it comes to this.
And having the backing of Google is vital. It may not be the most profitable of the sites on the list, but Google are so big that it can handle any losses that it suffers.
The presence of YouTube XL and YouTube Mobile also shows that YouTube on TV screens as well as mobile devices to see free video content is the future - which is undoubtedly bright.
9) Microsoft – 1.5 per cent
Its star may not shine as brightly these days compared to the likes of Google, but it’s still the biggest name in software, so it’s little surprise to see Microsoft’s home page in the top 10.
With the sheer number of software that Microsoft offers, there’s a lot of information to be found on the site and with the company’s reputation for patches and fixes, a lot of people are going to be paying a visit.
Not only that, Microsoft also offers an array of trials software versions for download from the site. And it's not just software, Microsoft also has a good range of PC hardware, and of course its Xbox brand to draw people to its site.
Microsoft may continue to struggle against the big G as far as web visits, but it’s unlikely to be going anywhere soon. With MSN being the default home page of all Internet Explorer users, the position of Microsoft.com is a more accurate indicator of its influence.
Considering its size, it could arguably be disappointed that its only one place ahead of long-time rivals Apple. Could this be a hint that Microsoft is struggling to punch as hard as it should for its weight?
10) Apple – 1.5 per cent
The success of the iPod and more recently the iPhone, has made Apple one of the strongest brands on the world and the UK is one of its strongest arenas. After all, the opening of the London store in 2004 was one of the first to open outside of the US.
The Apple web site reflects the clean look and feel of its products and indeed its stores, and after one of its much hyped launches, users will flock to the site to pore over the details of Apple’s latest gizmos, such as the MacBook Air and the just announced iPhone 3Gs, as well as the updated MacBook line.
It has to reflect well on the company that it finds itself right behind Microsoft in the top 10 list. As well as fascination over the products, its iTunes and QuickTime software will also be driving a lot of people to the site and while it keeps churning out the hits, Apple’s star is only likely to rise.
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