US Report: Portals much of a muchness

NEW YORK -- Big Internet portal sites have far more in common than they like to admit -- and that could be why they fail to generate user loyalty.

While most users mainly use portals for searching, an increasing number are logging onto them for entertainment and leisure, said Jill Frankle, an analyst at International Data Corp. who helped author a new report on Internet Web portals.

Rather than stick with a favorite, the majority of portal users patronize several Web sites -- increasing the pressure on portals to find new ways to differentiate their brands and drive user loyalty, Frankle said Wednesday here at the Internet World trade show.

Yahoo! has reach, loyalty

Among the report's findings:

Yahoo! (Nasdaq:YHOO) has the greatest reach among home users, with 46.5 percent. Yahoo! also has the most "loyal" users -- defined by IDC as people who visit a portal site four or more days per month.

Some 37 percent of its users do so, compared with 26 percent for AOL.com (NYSE:AOL), 34 percent for Netscape Communications Corp.'s (Nasdaq:NSCP) Netcenter, 25 percent for Excite (Nasdaq:XCIT), 17 percent for Infoseek (Nasdaq:SEEK), and 12 percent for Lycos (Nasdaq:LCOS).

Some 48 percent of AOL.com's "loyal" users are female.

Netcenter has the highest percentage of "loyal" users in the $60,000-plus annual income bracket.

Yahoo! and Excite customers tend to stay on those sites longer than users of the other portals.

'Borrowing' good ideas

One problem in driving loyalty is that most of the portals have stolen one another's good ideas, said another IDC analyst, Barry Parr.

"All these sites, in terms of their capabilities, can be viewed as roughly equivalent," Parr said.

As the sites buy more TV advertising time, their usage can be expected to increase sharply, he said.

"TV has the ability to build brands like nothing else," Parr said.