New York Life Insurance Company held its position at the top of Dalbar Inc.’s ranking of best life insurance and annuity company websites for consumers during the second quarter, while MassMutual remained first among sites for financial professionals.

New York Life has held the top position among sites aimed at consumers since the third quarter of 2005. In the second quarter rankings, Lincoln Life, Fidelity Investments and Guardian Investor followed in that order, each earning Dalbar’s Excellent rating.

Although Fidelity’s consumer site dipped to third place from second in the first three months of 2006, the company earned the Excellent designation for the 25th consecutive quarter. To earn that designation, a Web site must score 80 or better on Dalbar’s 100-point scale.

The ratings by Dalbar, a Boston research firm, evaluate insurers’ online presence for ease of use, convenience, helpful functions and other criteria.

Among notable changes in the consumer rankings were by AIG Valic, which rose four spots to sixth place by improving information on variable annuities and shortening page-loading times, according to Dalbar.

Prudential rose to 12th place from 16th by making it easier for consumers to return to previously viewed pages and clearly spelling out investment fees and expenses.

Other notable improvements cited by Dalbar in the second quarter were by Pacific Life, which climbed four spots to sixth place; and The Hartford, which advanced three spots to 11th.

USAA posted the biggest decline in the quarter among consumer sites, falling to 16th place from 9th as its score declined from around 74 to 70, partly due to what Dalbar said were inconsistencies in its page transitions and appearance.

Among trends emerging in the quarter for consumer sites was a penchant by some carriers to carry their marketing and advertising programs onto the Web.

For instance, AXA Advisors placed its “800-pound gorilla” TV ads, which advocate retirement planning, on its site, while Prudential added two of its TV commercials–”Happy Birthday” and “This Much”–which position life insurance as a way for consumers to protect their families.

Pacific Life used its site to support a newly launched education campaign, Destination Independence, which is aimed at baby boomers thinking about retirement.

Specialized calculation tools continued to be a popular addition to consumer-oriented life and annuity sites. Dalbar cited New York Life’s new online calculators that allow users to tote up current spending habits, figure payoff times on credit balances and perform other functions, then to visualize the results of their calculations as graphs.

Prudential offered a calculator that helps mothers figure the dollar value of their home responsibilities.

Both companies tie their calculators to automated lead-generation systems that allow consumers to invite contact from a company agent.

Looking at sites devoted to financial professionals, the most dramatic change seen by Dalbar researchers was for Fidelity Investments, which jumped 28 places to 17th place.

Its redesigned pages allow producers to gain access to and manage existing accounts, open new accounts, download forms and applications and view Fidelity-sponsored podcasts on the economy and markets.

Transamerica’s professional site rose to 16th place, from 19th in the previous quarter, by adding financial planning tools and a new survey that lets financial advisors register their opinion of the site.

A key addition to a number of sites for professionals was support for compliance with new federal rules requiring life insurance producers to take precautions against illegal money laundering, Dalbar noted. Among companies adding online training in the subject were Pacific Life, Allstate Financial, John Hancock Annuities and ING.