What Google’s Hot Trends of 2011 Say About Consumers

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Today Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) released its Zeitgeist 2011 report, which tracks the hottest searches of the year. And when we say “hottest,” we don’t mean the things people searched for the most. Rather, Google likes to track the “fastest rising” search terms – those that saw the biggest leap in popularity over the previous year.

That explains why the fastest-rising search in the U.S. in 2011 was Rebecca Black, the viral video star who was unknown until her music video, “Friday,” exploded on YouTube in spring 2011. She ranked just ahead of Google’s own Google+ service, the Facebook competitor that launched in the fall. And Osama Bin Laden was also one of the fastest-rising terms in 2011, after his death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS suddenly made him a topic of conversation again. We’re guessing people won’t be talking about him too much going forward.

What we searched for online gives us some insight into the American consumer. What types of food did we start to take interest in? What products did we want to read about? What trends will take center stage in 2012? Here are a few answers to those questions about the American consumer that stuck out to us.

We can’t stop talking about Apple’s unreleased products. As one might expect, “iPhone” was a popular search term, taking the top spot in Yahoo!’s (Stock Quote: YHOO) simple rankings of the most popular search terms. But Google’s methodology means that the more specific term “iPhone 5” placed in the fastest rising rankings. That doesn’t come as any great surprise, as similar rumors made “iPhone 4” one of the fastest-rising search terms back in 2010.

Of course, there’s one big difference: The iPhone 4 actually exists. By contrast, Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) never actually released a product called the iPhone 5, instead shocking everyone in the fall by launching the iPhone 4S instead. It’s a testament to the popularity of Apple’s flagship smartphone that mere rumors were enough to make a non-existent product one of the hottest searches of the year.

MySpace is so over. Google also shows the fastest-falling search terms in its report, and it’s an interesting snapshot of the companies that no longer hold our interest. Checking in at #2 on the list (right behind “2010 calendar”) was “Myspace.com,” a signal of the huge drop-off in traffic to the once-great social network. “Mapquest Driving Directions” likewise saw a sharp drop in popularity among Google users, who apparently noticed that Google has a pretty good map service of its own. And Limewire, the file-sharing service that was effectively shuttered in late 2010, was the sixth fastest-falling search term of the year.

It will be interesting to discover which tech-related terms will see their popularity plummet in 2012. We’re looking at you, Google+.

America loves its pizza. In addition to its fastest-rising and fastest-falling rankings, the report also contained a number of subject-specific rankings of the most popular searches. Interestingly, in the “restaurants” category the top three were all pizza places: Pizza Hut, Domino’s (Stock Quote: DPZ) and Papa John’s (Stock Quote: PZZA), in that order. It’s curious that those would all rank ahead of McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD), which is the quintessential American fast food restaurant. Our theory is that while people are more likely to walk into a McDonald’s than a pizzeria, they’re a lot more likely to look up phone numbers and menus from a pizza place so they can get food delivered. Either that, or America just really loves its pizza.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.

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