2012 Yahoo Year In Review: Over 500 Top Searches In 50+ Categories

Last year, Yahoo celebrated ten years of sharing its annual Year In Review feature, marking the occasion by releasing 30 categories of the most popular searches on Yahoo in 2011, one of the biggest lists up to that point in time.

For 2012, Yahoo one-upped themselves by providing us with the top 10 most popular searches in over 50 categories, giving us a mega list of the most common queries and questions asked by Yahoo searchers over the last year.

Vera Chan, senior editor and Web trend analyst at Yahoo, has possibly the 2nd best job at Yahoo next to Marissa Mayer, as she has been involved with putting this annual feature together since 2005; she clearly enjoys looking for the “why” behind some of these popular search trends.

Every year, Ms. Chan hosts a press conference call to share insights and give some context around these searcher behaviors, as she explains that we now live in a “Freakonomics” world — and people like Nate Silver are bringing new meaning to number crunching — she’s clearly one of the people making sense of ‘big data’ at Yahoo.

As explained in the methodology below, she says that Yahoo measures not just overall volume, but notes the changes since the previous year, rolling averages across the year; so, even though new items might spike, it may not not be enough to crack the top 10 in any category over the course of the year.

For example, the “iPhone5″ didn’t exist last year, but the spike in volume of searches was significant enough to propel it to the top in several categories. And, the recent “megamillions” jackpot wasn’t just a trend from last week’s massive prize money; it appears for the year because of many lottery law changes and several states joined the program in 2012; so, searches were up significantly since last year.

How Far Has Yahoo Come Since 2001?

One trend has seemingly stayed the same since 2001 when Yahoo first began these lists: searchers are most intrigued with gadgets, entertainment and celebrities. Chan reminded us that the #1 search in 2001 was for “PS2″ and #2 was “Britney Spears,” while sports and breaking news stories continue to capture the attention of Web searchers in the US.

My Search Engine Land colleague, Chris Sherman, first covered the top searches at Yahoo in 2001 in an article at SEW where he included the top 10 for that year:

  • PlayStation 2
  • Britney Spears
  • WWF
  • Dragon Ball Z
  • Napster
  • World Trade Center
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Dale Earnhardt
  • NASCAR
  • Internal Revenue Service

In that same article, he also referenced Google Zeitgeist and the Lycos Top 50, which placed the 9/11 attacks and searches for “World Trade Center” at #3 and #8, respectively.

As these lists get more in-depth every year, Chan never fails to point out topics that almost made the cut from newly emerging trends in pop culture.

For example, she noted that “archery” nearly made the list, with archery’s growing popularity being spurred on by Katniss, the main Hunger Games character, the 2012 Olympic games, the Avengers’ Hawkeye, and Disney’s animated archer in Brave.

It’s also not always the latest shiny new gadget or pop princess drawing attention. Chan noted that history does interest the Yahoo audience and special events, such as the 100th anniversary of the tragic Titanic voyage (and subsequent movie re-release) as well as the historical TV mini-series, the Hatfields & McCoys, which drew significant attention.

Top Memes & Popular Searches For Tech Geeks

Chan pointed out some of the most popular memes are a phenomena unique to the Internet; such as topics like #Kony2012 first started on the Web, and then spread to the general offline world. Meanwhile, the now infamous “Invisible Obama” and “Eastwooding” became popular via Twitter, as chronicled by Know Your Meme.

She noted that the Kony meme was interesting on two levels: first, because of the initial documentary story, but then the meme was given fresh legs when the filmmaker’s breakdown made news everywhere.

Below are some of the most interesting categories overall, and I’ve highlighted items in Yahoo purple that may be of particular interest to tech / Internet geeks and have also linked to relevant stories on Search Engine Land /Marketing Land about some personalities mentioned below, and for topics such as SOPA and Facebook’s IPO.

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