U.S. Women and the Internet, Part 1

What do women want?

Women’s use of the Internet and their online presence is huge, yet I feel the interactive advertising industry has treated online women as also-rans. Perceptions have run from “They’re not as exciting as the youth market” to “They’re more comfortable with less technical applications” and “They’re creatures of habit” — and, hence, less buzzworthy.

Recent comScore data caught my eye. In its “2007 U.S. Internet Year in Review,” comScore named women’s community as the second-fastest growing category for the year, behind politics. Remove the obvious influence of presidential elections, and we’ve got women representing the number one online growth sector. ComScore also reports online women now outnumber online men in the U.S. What else do we know about online women, and how can this information influence our ad strategies?

Also according to comScore, as of January, Yahoo sites ranked as the top Web properties for females 18-plus, followed by Google sites, Microsoft sites, AOL, Fox Interactive Media, eBay, Amazon sites, the Ask network, Wikipedia, and Time Warner (excluding AOL). According to Yahoo’s own data, of all visiting females aged 18-plus, the third highest category of media consumption behind TV and radio is online media at 19 percent. And for broadband users, online becomes the second most popular media consumption category at 24 percent.

How women consume various forms of online media should also be examined.

A June 2007 Burst Media study says the Web, primarily due to content, convenience, and community, has become an “indispensable component of women’s daily lives.” In fact, according to the study:

  • Over one-half (54.5%) of women say the Internet is their primary source of information when researching products they might purchase

  • Two-thirds (66.1%) say their lives would be disrupted if they did not have access to the Internet for one week

Burst also found women aged 65-plus use the Internet in the early morning, before 7 a.m., while women using the Internet between 4 and 7 p.m. do so primarily for family purposes.

ComScore reports the most heavily used free online services by women include (in descending order) e-mail, yellow pages/local business directories, online coupons, incentive/reward programs, news/information sites, and instant messaging. But there are also findings that women are adapting to newer forms of online media, such as online video and podcasting.

Online video consumption apparently differs between men and women, according to eMarketer and Nielsen Online. EMarketer reports that of the 97 million females online in the U.S., only 66 percent actually watch videos online, compared with 78 percent of males. But, says Nielsen, it depends on the type of video. Video streams at broadcast network TV sites were nearly two times more likely to be viewed by women ages 18-34 than by men. For the top four CGM (define) sites, streams were two and a half times more likely to be viewed by men than women. Burst Media reports women found in-video ads disruptive and irritating more than men do, 53 to 48 percent, respectively.

Nevertheless, RealNetworks found female casual online gamers don’t feel the same about video ads. Nearly 90 percent indicated they were willing to watch video ads in exchange for free game play, and almost a third said they actually liked watching the video ads for various reasons, including providing a short break from game play and being relevant to their needs. In addition, 34 percent clicked upon seeing an ad to find out more about the product or service. Respondents best liked entertainment-related and hair- and skincare products ads.

U.S. podcast listeners appear to be evenly distributed between the genders — 51 percent male versus 49 percent female, according to an eMarketer analysis.

As to be expected, women definitely gravitate to community, product review, and health information sites. According to Forrester’s “Marketing on Social Networking Sites” report, men just edge women in terms of daily social networking site usage (52.8 percent male), but most of the women-focused ad networks would tell you that many of their successful properties consist of female-focused blogs, community sites, and women’s content sites.

What about the real juicy information that reveals how women respond to online ads, what types of online ads they like best, and what components of online ads they prefer? Stay tuned for part two!

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