So the July Comscore stats are out (can't link to chart due to subscription issues), but if you filter the most popular 2,000 US sites by highest engagement (minutes per unique US visitor per month) it's interesting to see how the list plays out, especially since engagement is the key metric to predict micro-transaction volume, and that engagement also works quite well with rich media ads and sponsorships, although less so with standard display ads.
- 3 of the top 10 most engaging sites in the US are virtual worlds (Roblox, Meez and Gaia Online), each averaging 27-34 minutes per visit with a healthy number of avg visits per visitor - followed by NeoPets, IMVU, Habbo, WeeWorld all in the top 50, showing how incredibly immersive the virtual worlds are, which is why all those players are seeing revenue increases in spite of today's tough economic environment - deep engagement = revenue...
- The big portals such as Yahoo/Google/MSN/AOL/MySpace are top players due to high avg visits per month, although their average visit length is quite small. What is interesting is how many other smaller portals make the top 50 list (Comcast.net, MyEmbarq.com, Windstream.com), plus a host of others in the top 2000, showing that if you can control the DSL or cable connection, you can eventually deliver a large number of users to your site, although the site engagement is quite low, which is why they need better community features.
- Game sites are popular, but more so outside the top 50 sites since many of them show long visit lengths, but only a few visits per month, primarily I believe due to a lack of community on their sites, meaning users play the single-player games a few times a month, and then head over to other sites to play more games. Big game sites which buck that trend have strong community functionality, such as Pogo.com (#2) and iWin.com (#13), while the others do well due to lots of visits, but definitely lower average visits per user - it's still amazing to me that these sites aren't launching community features like wild, which we at Loki Partners have found are the cheapest ways to both drive repeat visits and micro-transactions.
- The free dating sites then show up as a high engagement category, led by free pioneer Plenty of Fish at #12, and a host of others in the top 100, primarily due to healthy time on site visits as well as average visits per month, although overall ratios are smaller than virtual worlds, but it's the only other category that shows strength in both areas.
- Finally, the social media players show up - what jumps out immediately is how much the longer the MySpace engagement (240 minutes/month) is vs the more utilitarian Facebook (180 minutes/month), meaning that MySpace still leads FB in overall minutes per month - it still shows a possible path for MySpace to counter-punch FB if they can play up more entertainment, gaming and virtual world paths, vs following real-time search. Tagged.com, Orkut, Mocospace, and MyYearbook are also in the top 50, still showing why social media exists outside the Big 2, although it's a struggle to monetize unless they launch strong engagement-oriented revenue sources such as microtransactions.
After those categories, it's a mixed bag of outliers (Craigs List, ESPN, PalTalk), but still tends to favor those key categories above. The only other interesting sector is in the User Generated Literary Content area (who knew people actually still wrote anymore...?), where both FanFiction.net and OneManga.com are top 10 engagement sites across the US, showing incredible loyalty among a smaller set of users, and running below the radar from most folks.
So the conclusion is simple - if you want engagement and the resulting micro-transaction and rich media revenue, then add deep community features to your site where appropriate, but it's not possible for all big sites. For example, on eBay, I don't care at all what the other people think of me since we're bidding against each other, but there are a host of other popular sites (e.g. Gamespot) which still have undeveloped community features. This category used to be unmonetizable, but the advent of virtual goods and alternative advertising models have now improved the ability to monetize these types of sites, and since much of the engagement is driven by users, they're actually cheaper to run, as we have found out at Meez. As a caveat, these stats, of course, ignore FB application developers and other client-driven systems which are much harder for Comscore to measure, but the overall trends are consistent month to month - Big Engagement = Increasing Revenue