Users Shrink, Sites Expand

As Web surfers endeavor to grow thin, the hit counters of health, fitness and nutrition sites get fat, with over 11 million home surfer visits during the week ending Jan. 4, according to online audience measurement firm Nielsen//Net Ratings.

“Traditionally, this is a busy month for health clubs, and we’re seeing this online as well,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst at Nielsen//Net Ratings.

The top sites in the category enjoyed double and triple-digit growth. eDiets.com’s weekly traffic increased 119 percent to over one million unique visitors, compared to 472,000 visitors during the week ending Dec. 28. Competitor Weight Watchers’ traffic went up 97 percent, to 876,000 visitors that week, compared to 445,000 visitors the previous week.

“Some of the visits to health sites were sparked by concern over mad cow disease,” Bhagat observed. The first U.S. case was made public Dec. 23.

WebMD traffic spiked to 853,00 visitors, a 63 percent jump. AOL Health and Yahoo Health grew 59 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

At first blush, it seems users would fare better working out in the gym rather than sit motionless in front of a computer. Bhagat pointed out the sites supply recipes, meal journals, workout plans and weight-loss partners to encourage getting in shape for the New Year.

“The January period is one of our strongest sign-up periods of the year. People are starting the New Year off thinking about healthy living,” said Alison Tanner, chief strategist for eDiets.

To prepare, eDiets ran special promotions on AOL and MSN right after Christmas and during early January. The company, one of the heaviest advertisers on the ‘Net, traditionally uses banner ads.

“About 50 percent of our customers come to us through banner ads,” said Tanner. “We have a regularly placed banner ad campaign on the homepage of MSN.com and the welcome screen of AOL. We have a $10 million 12-month core advertising deal with MSN. This is our third renewal, our largest contract to date.”

According to Nielsen’s Bhagat, the increased visits will translate to more business for the sites as well. “They will see increased income, yes. There is definitely upside,” he affirmed.

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