There are a multitude of intended uses and unique audiences associated with the highest-trafficked sites in the world. But despite the different experiences they offer, the most popular domains on Earth have a few traits in common - and your site can incorporate them, too.
First thing's first: how do we know which sites are the most popular on a global scale? I used Alexa rankings to answer this, a widely accepted web measurement system which analyzes sites across a diverse spectrum of factors including traffic, demographics, audience geography, and more.
Their Top Global Sites list encompasses pages from all locations, in all languages, and in all categories. The list is updated daily, but the top positions generally hold steady pending major internet disruptions (Ie. the birth of major networks like Tumblr and Pinterest)
If you're interested, you can download a free copy of Alexa's top 1,000,000 sites here.
A million sites is a lot to analyze with the naked eye, so for the purposes of this article I'll be sticking to the Top 15. Here they are, in order:
Right off the bat, we can see that search engines take up 40% of the real estate in the Top 15 positions (depending on how you categorize "search" sites; YouTube is often labeled as such). Coming in second, social media sites account for 5 of the 15 destinations.
With search, social media, blogging, eCommerce, and informational sites all lumped together, it might seem difficult to identify parallels among the different categories. But with closer inspection, several themes emerge.
These themes are telling of global internet usage and preferences, and can be leveraged as aspects to consider including on your site to get the most out of it. Let's review:
Ease of Use
There's a reason Google is the preferred search engine in many countries, and it's the same reason Facebook is the world's most popular social network. While search engines and social networks saturate the web, the ones providing the simplest functionality to their users are the ones climbing to the top.
User friendliness is not a foreign concept to developers and designers, but sometimes it gets lost in the race to create a site which satisfies the needs of key players on the back end. Focus on your end user, create an experience they can easily enjoy, and you'll see a correlation to higher conversions and more traffic.
We are an impatient culture. Some studies show that users will abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. In addition to wanting easy access and simplified online experiences, internet users increasingly demand nearly instantaneous access to desired content.
If you look at the sites above, the need for speed is consistent with the experiences offered by the top 15 sites. Wikipedia, Baidu, Amazon - none of these sites make users wait around and dig through mountains of content to get where they want to go.
Creating a consistently fast site is easier said than done, and it will require a lot of thought into what you can and cannot sacrifice in the name of speed. Depending on your CMS, you'll need to minimize the add-ons and content you're including on each page wherever possible.
Content (A Lot of It)
Working in Inbound Marketing, I'm admittedly biased toward the general awesomeness that is content marketing. But personal preferences aside, content is undoubtedly on the rise.
Did you know over 6 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube every month? Or that Facebook users upload an average 350 million photos every day? Here's another one: a Google search for "The" yields 24,960,000,000 results (in .3 seconds, to boot)
In the same way we have grown to expect speed in our internet use, we have grown accustomed to unlimited access to a solar system sized bubble of online content. As such, we reward the sites that provide easy access to it.
There are two types of content: the kind we search for, and the kind we create. Social networks, blogging platforms, and information-based sites (like Wikipedia) are constantly developing new ways to foster the sharing of user generated content. Search engines and eCommerce platforms are holistically focused on adding more content, all the time.
Whether it's a product image or a rich snippet in a search result, value added content rules the virtual landscape that houses successful sites.
You may be tired of hearing it, but I have to say it anyway: killer content is an invaluable asset to your site, and dedicating time to creating it is no longer merely an option.
Enhance your site's copy, allocate resources to your blog, and improve the visual content you're putting out there. Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, it will be worth it.
One More Thing
Speaking of a solar system of content, many anticipate that the web and it's users are rapidly approaching a state of content overload. To see this in action, just take a look at your Twitter feed or any Google search result - there is simply too much content for one person to digest.
The next big thing is relevance, which is seen in initiatives such as Google's personalized search and Facebook's new Storybumping algorithm feature. It remains to be seen just how customized the web can get, but surely the Top 15 sites will blaze the trail. Will you be along for the ride?