Net analysis: Portals confront fickle surfers

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Most Web surfers are portal hoppers, according to an analysis by Nielsen/NetRatings. The online measurement firm found that in June, 61% of America Online, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Yahoo! users visited two or more of the online giants, while 22% cruised all three.

Of the 105 million people who visited AOL, MSN and Yahoo!, 39% or 41 million, visited just one , while 39% or 40 million people visited two. The exclusive user bases of the online services aren't that big and there is a lot of overlap, said Greg Bloom, senior analyst, Nielsen/NetRatings. "The majority of AOL users in any given month are going to be seen across MSN and Yahoo!," he said. Consumers may frequent Yahoo! Finance and Launch, but rely on AOL as their primary e-mail address and online community hub.

"The portals have a chance for a captive audience," said David Smith, president, Mediasmith, a San Francisco-based online consultant. In theory, consumers shouldn't have a reason to go elsewhere but that "the majority are not only straying from the mother ship, but they are going to the archrivals, suggests there is a lot of dissatisfaction or that people are not finding what they want."

"In traditional media, you have to address issues of duplication between properties and you still may choose to use media properties with high levels of duplication but for different reasons," said Jonathan Adams, senior partner, group media director, WPP Group's mOne Worldwide, New York, the digital and direct media unit of Ogilvy and MindShare. "Audiences can be using [portals] for completely different things. Does that mean I shouldn't use them? No. But as a marketer, would I buy all three home pages at the same time? No."

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