Beyond Social Media: How Do You Waste Your Time Online?

If you’re like me (and probably most Americans), you probably spend a majority of your waking time, even when not at work, in front of a computer. There have been loads of studies showing where workers (and everyone else) spends time on the Internet. Unsurprisingly, social media and online games tend to dominate the list. But as a social media marketer, spending time managing my profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like can start to feel like work. And waiting for flash games to load on my slow computer at home takes most of the fun out of wasting time; I could just as easily be playing console games.

No, when I waste time on the computer, it’s almost always reading funny articles and fake news: my websites of choice being Cracked.com and TheOnion.com. I’ve (sadly) spent countless Saturday afternoons on my computer reading lists like The 15 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Bootleg Toys, 5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out, and 7 Terrible Life Lessons Learned from ‘The Neverending Story.’ Before you click through to those articles (and who wouldn’t want to?), be warned that depending on where you work, they may not be considered “safe for work.”

When I looked into the data for this post, I thought I had a pretty good idea in my mind what the yearly unique visitor comparison graph would look like for these five popular time-wasting sites. The sites I looked at were Cracked.com, EbaumsWorld.com, Fark.com, TheOnion.com, and SomethingAwful.com. Let’s take a look at the chart and see if you’re as surprised as I was:

unique visitors time wasting sites cracked the onion fark something awfulInteresting, right? If you’re like me, you probably thought that content-aggregating  EbaumsWorld.com has been completely irrelevant since around 2007 when they were bought by HandHeld Entertainment, especially since sites like Digg, Reddit, and YouTube seemingly rule the content-sharing market. At first I was shocked, content-producing sites like The Onion and Cracked are vastly superior in my opinion, and I was distraught that awesome writing and original multimedia content appear to do so poorly against EbaumsWorld’s aggregation.

In an attempt to ease my dismay, I took a look at two more metrics on Compete.com: average stay (the average time users spend on the site once they’re there) and monthly attention (the percentage of time spent on a site out of all the time we collectively spend on the Internet). The results looked a little more aligned with what I had expected at the start:

average stay time wasting sites

attention time wasting sitesDespite the fact that EbaumsWorld had around 2M+ unique visitors in every month of 2010, those people didn’t spend very much time on the site at all before navigating away from the page. The biggest surprise for me was the disparity between how popular I imagined The Onion to be versus what the data suggests. Beyond unique visitors, it seems as though The Onion sees a similar pattern as EbaumsWorld in that once they attracted the traffic, visitors don’t stick around for very long. They consistently have the lowest numbers across the board in terms of average stay (user engagement) and attention.

Granted, these aren’t the only sites people might frequent when they’re looking for something funny to read. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to speculate as to why users behave the way they do on these humor sites. Apparently the people at SomethingAwful are doing SomethingAwesome if they can manage to keep people interested for as long as they do, despite the significantly fewer unique visitors. Would that number increase with a stronger marketing push? Will EbaumsWorld ever really fade into obscurity? Can The Onion, with their original content, ever see numbers like Cracked? We’ll be sure to keep an eye on sites like this to look for the answers (and maybe waste some more time while we’re looking).

Besides social media sites and online games, what are your favorite websites for wasting time? Do you think sites like these would benefit from more aggressive online marketing? Let us know in the comments!

About Jared DeLuca:
Jared is currently the Associate Digital Marketing Manager at Compete (Millward Brown Digital). He is a graduate of Northeastern University, having achieved his B.A. in Communication Studies. If you like what you read, you can connect with him on Google+, Twitter, or on LinkedIn.