New York Life, Fidelity Investments and Lincoln National Life held on to their customary positions as the top three consumer sites in the rankings by Dalbar Inc. of life insurance and annuity websites during the first quarter. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Lincoln Life and Allstate Financial retained their standings as the leading sites for financial professionals.

Dalbar, a Boston research firm, rates life and annuity company sites each quarter based on their value to users. The company focuses its grading system on such factors as a site’s range of helpful functions, ease of use, speed of loading, and currency and consistency of content.

Among consumer sites, Fidelity now has earned Dalbar’s “Excellent” rating for 24 straight quarters, far more than any other company.

Dalbar classifies a site as Excellent if it scores a minimum of 80 points on its 100-point scale.

Fidelity’s perennial competitor for top consumer site, New York Life, now has earned Dalbar’s Excellent rating in eight consecutive quarters. The company finally edged out Fidelity for the top consumer spot in the third quarter of 2005.

With a score of just over 82, the consumer site of Guardian Investor Services LLC finally earned the Excellent rating, after falling just a fraction short in the fourth quarter of 2005.

TIAA-CREF rose five spots to 12th place in Dalbar’s consumer site rankings. The company improved its standings by allowing consumers to apply online for an individual retirement account, adding useful links to its home page, and providing new consumer guidance on retirement, general investing and wealth management, according to Dalbar.

Western Southern Life advanced three spots to seventh place by improving its educational offerings for consumers, including information on asset allocation, diversification and systematic investing. It also speeded up load speeds, increased the number of retirement planning tools and surveyed users about what they thought of the site.

Dalbar applauded a couple of firms that are using their sites to reach out to consumers in various ethnic groups.

New York Life developed a Korean language site in addition to web pages it previously had designed for African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian Indians. MetLife launched a Spanish language website, following its earlier rollout of a Chinese language site.

Among sites devoted to agents and other financial professionals, Ameritas Life Insurance Corp. climbed into the ranks of best sites, advancing from the 26th to 16th place. It did so with a number of enhancements to make its site more useful to professionals, including a link to financial information about the company, wholesaler contact information, and a search engine to enable advisors to look for client information and transactions. The site now also lets advisors see their commission statements and provides access to live online assistance from a customer service representative.

ING rose four spots to 11th place in the professional category by adding an online referral-generation system to help locate prospective clients, making third-party carrier ratings available on the site and providing scripted sales presentations.

American Skandia rose three places to the fifth spot by providing access to commission statements, adding more sales materials and offering scripted responses to typical client questions.

A number of companies added specialized search utilities to their professional sites, making them much more useful, Dalbar noted.

It cited MassMutual for an improved search tool that gives advisors faster results and allows them to supplement the basic search by adding keywords and form numbers. The site also added the ability to print multiple documents quickly.

Principal Financial Group added single-click admittance to supply-ordering resources, allowed users to view combinations of forms and offered more headings to ease navigation. It also inserted new banner advertising, tailored to user interests, that highlight current promotions, online statements and e-newsletters.

AIG Life Brokerage developed an agent lookup tool for its licensing and contraction section and enabled users to search for agents by number, name, tax ID or Social Security number.

Among professional sites, Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lincoln Life have earned Dalbar’s Excellent designation for eight straight quarters. Both companies’ professional sites scored over 90.