Five trends from Google’s list of the world’s top 1,000 websites

The majority of internet users are focused on connecting with friends, downloading illegal movies and discovering bargains, according to Google’s list of the most popular 1,000 websites.

But in a disappointment for Australian online businesses, only two local sites managed to crack the list, and one of those was the local subsidiary of online auction giant eBay. The other was news portal Ninemsn.com.au.

Reseo chief executive Chris Thomas says it isn’t surprising Australian websites didn’t make the top 1,000, with the country lacking an international “blockbuster” site.

“One aspect of that is that a lot of Australians access international sites, such as Facebook, which helps these international sites get even bigger,” he says.

“But the main reason is that we just haven’t come up with a big global website that a lot of users want to be a part of on that scale. There needs to be more of an international presence.”

While Thomas says the local industry lacks the sort of venture capital needed to start such a large international site, he says smaller businesses can take some notice from Google’s list and use analytics tools to compare their performance against rival sites in order to increase traffic.

“Use tools like Google Analytics to stack up sites against you and see how you are going, and use sites like compete.com. That’s how a lot of sites start to realise how they can get more traffic.”

Here are five business trends to take from Google’s list of the top 1,000 most popular sites.

Stealing content

There are a number of torrent sites listed in the top 1,000. These sites offer a type of file known as “torrents”, which are usually used to distribute pirated versions of films, television shows and software.

The technology works by forcing users to download pieces of a file from different users, rather than download that file from a single source. This can dramatically increase speeds, and while the technology itself is legitimate, it also means pirated versions of films and TV shows can spread across the internet just hours after they are released.

But more importantly, the popularity of torrent sites reveals just how big an opportunity the entertainment industry is missing.

A recent poll of internet pirates on News.com.au revealed illegal downloaders are more than willing to purchase content online – if it is easy to access. Over two-thirds said they would buy content online, if it was convenient, with just under 50% saying they would purchase films for about $2, with about 28% saying they would pay about $5.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, the group pursuing ISP iiNet in court for copyright infringements, has said entertainment groups will begin to develop flexible business models when infringement is taken care of.

But the survey shows the majority of pirates download because there isn’t a convenient alternative. If entertainment groups and Hollywood studios offer cheap, easy content for download, it would go a long way to eradicating piracy.

Personalisation

Social networking giant Facebook took out the number one spot, but a number of other sites placing an emphasis on personalisation were in the top 100. Blogspot, Microsoft’s Live.com service, WordPress, Twitter, MySpace and Flickr are just some of the listed sites which operate through user profiles.

The trend indicates users are now becoming increasingly individualistic, with more sites like Facebook focusing on what you can do to customise content.

But what does this mean for business?

A recent IBM survey found customers shopping online want companies to understand what they like to buy and then customise discounts and offers based on that information. The survey found these types of discounts were of the highest importance.

“Understand my personal shopping habits, history, etc. That is what consumers are asking, irrespective of generation, they are asking for personalised discounts based on their previous shopping lists,” Ian Wong, Australia and New Zealand retail industry leader says.

“There is a desire to collaborate with retailers,” Wong says. “But the question is, is there a compelling social network offering to drive Australians to jump onto Facebook or Twitter? When we spoke to consumers, they want to see sneak previews, loyalty points or something to become a Facebook fan or Twitter follower.”

Social networking

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Live, MSN, DailyMotion and LinkedIn – these social networking businesses are all in the top 100 most popular websites in the world.

The list clearly shows businesses can no longer afford to delay their introduction into social media, and could even be hurting themselves if they aren’t setting up a simple profile on Facebook and Twitter.

More users are consuming content through these sites, and countless reports show customers are actually searching for these companies online before they walk into a store or click on a website.

The Nielsen-Community Engine 2010 Social Media Business Benchmark Study released last month found a total of 63.5% respondents agree businesses should no longer ask “if” they should enter social media, and should instead be asking “how”.

“Businesses need to be where their customers are. If you look at this purely from a business perspective, it’s clear that social networking is arguably the opportunity of a generation in terms of creating a long-term connection with your customers,” Community Engine managing director Piers Hogarth-Scott says.

Price comparison

Price aggregators are some of the most popular sites on Google’s List, with entrants such as Bizline making it into the highest few hundred entrants.

The trend is clear – users don’t want to just buy online, they want to find the cheapest possible price when they do. The IBM survey found a massive 92% of users want online retailers to compare prices with other websites, and would be strongly attracted to such a feature.

Retailers have said for some time users browse online to find prices, and then go into a store to buy. If businesses operating online want to make the most of their sites, they need to make sure they are advertising how much potential customers can expect to save.

Gaming

Not only are gaming sites such as PartyPoker and Zynga within the most popular 200 sites, portals with reviews and other commentary on games are also on the list.

The figures confirm the trend seen on Apple’s App Store, where games have become the most popular category on the site and new developers are adding games to the store every day.

Making it big in online retail may be difficult for the majority of companies, but some businesses have found success by offering cheap, simple and addictive games.

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