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Internet users now spend nearly half of their online time visiting content, according to the Online Publishers Association's "Internet Activity Index," conducted by Nielsen//NetRatings.
Time spent with content is up 37% over 2003 levels, the OPA claimed. The Index measures time spent with e-commerce, communications, content and search.
"The index indicates that, over the past four years, the primary role of the Internet has shifted from communications to content," OPA president Pam Horan said in a statement. "[The Internet now handles] traditionally offline activities, such as getting news, finding entertainment information or checking the weather."
"Consumers spend considerable time with social networking sites, which serve not only as places of content but are also increasingly important communications vehicles," Ms. Horan said in the statement.
The OPA suggested several reasons for the shift in how Internet users spend their time online. One was that broadband proliferation, coupled with more accessible and faster sites, had increased overall time spent online. Another was that online video's popularity has increased the amount of time users spend with content.
The association also noted that search is better than before. This lets consumers find what they are looking for more quickly. That reduces time spent on search and increases the amount of time devoted to other activities.
So although the number of searches overall has boomed, the percentage of time spent on searching is still minimal.
If content is consuming so much of Internet users' time, where does that leave search? For those marketing a retail e-commerce site, search still matters.
The American Marketing Association's "Mplanet" survey ranked the online resource consumers were most likely to use first for product information during last year's holiday season in different retail categories. Search engines (43%) and direct visits to company Websites (29%) were the sources consumers turned to first for product information, regardless of product category.
Newer types of consumer-generated content, such as online social networks, blogs and chat rooms, were less important as a primary source for finding product information.
Engagement, as measured by time spent on a particular activity, counts for something. It just does not always count for everything.
Learn more about changes in the online purchasing process. Please read eMarketer's US Retail E-Commerce: Entering the Multi-Channel Era report.
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