New York Life Insurance Company remained on top of Dalbar Inc.’s list of best life insurance and annuity websites for consumers in the third quarter, while Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company continued as Dalbar’s top-ranked site for financial professionals.

Dalbar, Boston, evaluates financial websites on a variety of features that measure their value to users.

Among the top 10 sites aimed at consumers, MassMutual, Pacific Life, TIAA-CREF and Nationwide all improved on their second quarter scores.

The most impressive gain was by Hartford Financial Services Inc, which jumped to 8th place from 14th place.

Dalbar gave Hartford added points for an array of enhancements, including improved access to accounts, adjustable font sizes for easier viewing and deeper product information, such as data on investment performance and fees.

Among recent trends in the third quarter, Dalbar points out that a number of firms tied their sites to Life Insurance Awareness Month, which the industry observes each September. New York Life, Western Southern, AXA Advisors, Principal Financial and the American General division of AIG all offered tie-ins to the promotion on their websites.

Some offered a link to a video by the LIFE Foundation, Arlington, Va., featuring actress Molly Shannon talking about the important role life insurance has played in her life, Dalbar noted.

Dalbar also lauded several firms for adding new online information designed to alert consumers to fiscal security issues.

For instance, AXA Advisors, Pacific Life and MassMutual offered information on fraud or added protections to help consumers protect against financial scams, SPAM and other risks.

In Dalbar’s rankings of life insurance and annuity sites targeted to financial professionals, AIG American General and Nationwide showed significant improvements since the second quarter.

American General rose 3 spots, landing in 5th place by redesigning its site to highlight useful information more clearly, Dalbar says. It also added new information about its products, including minimum investment levels, annual performance and daily unit value data, and costs of fees and other expenses associated with specific products.

Nationwide climbed 6 spots to 9th place on the professional site list with a number of useful additions, including contact information for internal company departments, Dalbar said. It also included new information on regulatory and compliance changes affecting Nationwide products and the industry in general, and made it easier for advisors to manage their clients’ accounts online.

Fidelity gained 3 spots, landing in 15th place with a broad range of product information advisors can use to educate clients. The company also accelerated the load speed of each page on the site, Dalbar found.

In general, a number of firms improved their professional advisor sites during the third quarter with enhanced sales illustrations and client resources, Dalbar noted.

For instance, Fidelity developed a Web-based retirement income and expenses calculator and added an online tool for employers to use to calculate employees’ average projected retirement income, based on current savings rates and account balances.

Prudential also developed a retirement planning device, the Investment Analytics Tool, which allows advisors to track the performance of specific investment options offered by the company, Dalbar reported.

Notwithstanding the ups and downs of carriers in the Dalbar rankings from quarter to quarter, overall scores in recent years have gained, steadily and sometimes significantly, in both the consumer and professional categories.

The scores, based on a 100-point scale, rank websites on a range of factors, such as usefulness, timeliness and consistency.

In the third quarter of 2003, the top life insurance and annuity websites for consumers was by Fidelity, with a rounded score of 88, well above 2nd-place Hartford Financial, with 74, and 3rd-place Thrivent Financial, with 73.

In comparison, the top 3 consumer sites in the third quarter of 2007 had rounded scores of 90 (New York Life), 85 (Lincoln Life) and 83 (AXA Advisors.)

Among professional sites, advances over the 4-year period were even more striking.

In third quarter 2003, the top 3 scores belonged to Hartford Financial, 80; Allstate, 75; and Fidelity, 74.

In third quarter 2007, the leaders were MassMutual, 91; Allstate, 90; and Lincoln Life, 89.