Women Web sites drawing huge audiences

Women Web sites drawing huge audiences

By Claire Cain Miller / The New York Times
08/13/2008 06:57:41 PM PDT


Heather Armstrong’s wickedly funny blog about motherhood, Dooce, is more than
just an outlet for the creativity and frustrations of a modern mother.
The site, chock full of advertising, is a money-making machine — so
much so that Armstrong and her husband have both quit their regular
jobs.

J.C. Penney and Crate & Barrel hawk their furniture
and offer decorating tips next to posts on Armstrong’s conversations
with her 4-year-old daughter, Leta. Walgreens promotes its photo
printing services next to pictures of the family dog. And the W Hotel
chain of Starwood brags about its Internet-friendly rooms on the Dooce
(pronounced deuce) home page.

These advertisers are eager to
influence the 850,000 readers, mostly women, who avidly follow
Armstrong’s adventures. Although Armstrong will not disclose exact
numbers, Dooce’s revenue this year is on track to be seven times what
it was in 2006, according to Federated Media, which sells ads for the
blog.

Sites aimed primarily at women, from "mommy blogs" to
makeup and fashion sites, grew 35 percent last year — faster than every
other category on the Web except politics, according to comScore, an
Internet traffic measurement company. Women’s sites had 84 million
visitors in July, 27 percent more than the same month last year,
comScore said.

Advertisers are following the crowd, serving up
4.4 billion display ads on women’s Web sites in May, comScore said.
That’s more than for sites

aimed at children, teenagers and
families. "Moms are the decision makers of the household as far as
purchases are concerned," said Chris Actis, vice president and digital
director at the ad agency MediaVest.

The rapid growth in
advertising and traffic to women’s sites has attracted the attention of
major media companies and venture capitalists.

Last week, for
example, the cable giant Comcast paid about $125 million to buy the
shopping and entertainment site DailyCandy, which calls itself "a free
daily e-mail from the front lines of fashion, food, and fun."

In
July, Peacock Equity, a venture partnership of NBC Universal and
General Electric, and Venrock, a venture capital firm, invested $5
million in BlogHer, a network of 2,200 blogs by and for women.

In
March, Yahoo created Shine, a site that publishes original content,
blog posts from readers and articles from traditional women’s magazine
publishers like Hearst and Conde Nast.

Draper Fisher Jurvetson,
a major Silicon Valley venture firm, sees so much opportunity that it
has made several bets in the sector, including in Glam Media, a network
of 650 women’s sites that draws more visitors than its rivals and has
raised $114 million from investors.

"I love women. Women are
more than half the population, and they do most of the shopping," said
Tim Draper, the venture firm’s co-founder and managing director. "We
are constantly looking for more sites that cater to women." In addition
to Glam, Draper Fisher Jurvetson has invested in CafeMom, MyShape and
NearbyNow.

Although men are heavy users of the Web, they don’t
tend to visit sites explicitly aimed at them. AOL’s Living channel for
women had 16.1 million unique visitors in June, while its Asylum site,
a top men’s destination online, had only 3.3 million. ComScore does not
even track men’s sites as a category.

Joni Evans, a literary
agent who found a second career as chief executive of wowOwow, a site
for women over 40, said the gender disparity comes from the fact that
women thrive on sharing anecdotes. "Women love to reach out and talk,"
she said, adding that the Web is perfectly suited to that.

The notion of building a Web business around women’s interests is certainly not new. A decade ago, iVillage, Women.com
and many other sites thought that the women’s market would be their
ticket to riches. Instead, the sites struggled to find an audience and
advertisers.

One reason was that brands that market to men,
like car and technology companies, were the first to feel comfortable
advertising online, said Chas Edwards, chief revenue officer and
publisher of Federated Media. Brands that are aimed at women are now
catching up.

To the disappointment of some women who want sites
that focus on other issues like politics, advertisers are not
interested in every kind of women’s content. They gravitate to the
tried-and-true topics of women’s magazines: fashion, beauty,
celebrities and love life.

So do the readers. "Time and time
again, women are happy to see their relationship with their food, their
clothes and their relationships externally manifested in entertainment
and how-to content," said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC
Universal’s women and lifestyle entertainment networks, including
iVillage.

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