New York Life Insurance Company again headed Dalbar Inc.’s list of top-rated consumer websites by life insurance and annuity carriers during the second quarter. Among carrier sites aimed at financial professionals, Lincoln Life & Annuity also held on to its lead.

Dalbar, a financial services research company in Boston, rates companies’ on-line presence in its quarterly WebMontior report. Its researchers evaluate sites daily on a variety of qualities, such their ability to provide practical financial guidance to consumers or effective job-related support to professional financial advisors.

Dalbar researchers score sites on such criteria as range of resources provided, simplicity of navigating site, ease of contacting the company, and support for customers in handling finances or for advisors in managing accounts.

Among consumer sites, Dalbar gave New York Life close to 83 on its 100-point scoring scale in the 2nd quarter, about a point higher than the company scored in the 1st quarter. It is the only consumer-oriented site to earn Dalbar’s “excellent” rating, which the rater reserves for sites that score at least 80 on its scale.

AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, New York, moved back into 2nd place, which it had ceded in the 1st quarter to Pacific Life. It improved its score by redesigning its Web face to combine a number of separate AXA sites, Dalbar notes.

Dalbar also praised the company for providing a simple way for site visitors to send pages directly to other people, provide feedback to the company and adjust the look of Web pages.

AIG SunAmerica had the most improved life-annuity consumer site in the rankings, appearing on Dalbar’s top-25 list for the first time. It landed in 9th place after revamping its appearance extensively. (The company’s professional site made a similar strong advance.)

Among improvements, AIG SunAmerica, a division of American International Group Inc., New York, freshened up the site with drop-down menus, improved user help, and clearer product and purchasing information. It also strengthened account-management features, making it easier for clients to update information, view subaccount data and download statements, Dalbar says.

Dalbar researchers report a number of new trends among life and annuity sites: increased use of Web 2.0 technology, new Web pages devoted to the financial needs of women, and more consumer education.

Web 2.0 is a system for designing on-line sites that make it easy for users to connect with each other.

Dalbar credits New York Life for effective use of Web 2.0. Its site allows consumers to save and tag educational articles and place them on social networking sites Del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit and Google. NYL also allows visitors to rate information on a given page, view ratings by other visitors, and post comments, Dalbar says.

Allstate Corp., Northbrook, Ill., uses Web 2.0 to link visitors to its own YouTube channel, where they can view short company videos on insurance-related topics. It also offers discussion boards for singles, couples, parents and empty nesters, Dalbar notes.

Among insurance and annuity websites that have also been paying more attention to women is that of Western & Southern Life Insurance Company, Cincinnati. The company has developed a new Women’s Information Network., offering articles and a calendar of on-line seminars slanted towards women’s finances, Dalbar notes.

In addition, Prudential Financial Inc., Newark, N.J., began a new section, “Women & Money,” with articles and tips, help with business and retirement planning, and an interactive personal finance guide.

Companies singled out by Dalbar for strengthening their general online financial education were Nationwide Financial, Columbus, Ohio; TIAA-CREF, New York; and MetLife Inc., New York.

Among websites designed for financial professionals, Lincoln Life, which headed the list, has now won Dalbar’s excellent rating for 17 straight quarters–more than any other carrier.

As it did with its consumer site, AIG SunAmerica advanced 18 spots, putting it 8th on Dalbar’s professional site list.

Among other upgrades, the company’s site allows professionals to view client information through third-party account management software. It also offers a smoother flow between the public and private sections and has improved graphics and navigation, Dalbar says.

The site also offers better account-management features, such as interactive charts that let professionals get a quick view of the products, clients, policies and premiums they manage.

Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, advanced 4 spots to 10th place by adding a “virtual supply” feature for ordering forms and sales literature easily. Principal also made it possible to send articles and other materials to clients and colleagues directly from the site.

Another company making a strong move upward in the professional site rankings was Securian Financial Services Inc., part of Minnesota Mutual Insurance Companies Inc., St. Paul. Securian advanced 4 places to 13th after introducing a number of new features, including LaserApp, a tool that lets users prefill applications and forms.

Another new component lets advisors view selected portfolio contract information and to design a portfolio through Ibbotson Associates, an asset-allocation consulting unit of Morningstar Inc., Chicago.

Securian also enhanced its marketing resources and strengthened account-management functions, Dalbar says.

Looking at new trends among professional sites, Dalbar reports advances in online quoting, increased use of podcasts for training and education, and new e-mail notification systems.

It cited 2 companies for their online quoting capabilities: AIG American General, a division of American International Group; and Allstate. Both companies encouraged the use of e-quotes as a fast alternative to official quotes, giving advisors a fast way to send client information to the carrier and to get back a tentative rate within a day.

Among insurers Dalbar singled out for providing educational podcasts for professionals are AIG American General and Transamerica Life Insurance Company.

AIG American General and Fidelity also launched e-mail notifications about new company literature and sales materials that can be ordered online and to alert advisors about the status of policies, commissions earned, or licenses and contracts.